Kukuly Uriarte (Peruvian/Argentine vocalist, guitarist)
Andrea Kukuly Uriarte Alvarez knows many people in Knoxville. And even more people know her! She performs regularly at different venues (restaurants, festivals, events) and her band’s multilingual and diverse repertoire promotes cultural awareness in our Knoxville music scene. A long way from her native Peru, she definitely feels at home here in East Tennessee.
Kukuly is a young woman with artistic genes. Her father is an artist and her mother is a makeup artist, TV and cinema special effects artist, crafter, and painter. But Kukuly first love was music. Her grandfather could play guitar, “just a little”, she points out, but it was by attending concerts with her mother that her dream to become a singer/songwriter grew. As a child in Peru, she took some music lessons and learned to play the guitar. When her family moved to Argentina (where she lived from age nine to sixteen) and later to the United States, she absorbed “everything” and developed her own very personal style.
Kukuly arrived to Knoxville about ten years ago and attended West High School. She was a very quiet girl struggling with her shyness and lack of English skills. She had left behind her Argentine friends. But she always had her music. Music was that constant which gave her stability wherever she went.
“Music has been my companion as long as I can remember. I had to move a lot, from one country to the next, and one of the few stable things in my life was music. It is a part of me.”
When discussing family traditions, Kukuly mentions food. Her family was of Argentine and Basque origins and they lived near the coast and ate many traditional fish dishes like colafra, a blend of indigenous, criollo and Peruvian influences. She remembers malfatos which are an Argentinian-Italian dish made of spinach, ricotta cheese, and nutmeg.
The music of her childhood included Leon Gieco, and other Argentine singer/songwriters like Charley Garcia and Fito Paez. She dreams of someday writing and singing her own songs. For now, she plays and sings in a jazz band. Though her soul is still filled by Latin American folk rock music like that of the recently deceased Luis Alberto Spinetta, she has a passion for jazz as well. In Knoxville, Kukuly discovered “gypsy jazz”.46 For three or four years after her arrival, “I had been longing to join a band, and jazz found me,” she said. By then, she was already performing with Bob Grimac at public schools, singing traditional songs from Peru, Mexico, Argentina, and Spain in cultural presentations.
For Kukuly singing is like storytelling, since Argentina is a country where songwriting was common, especially in the seventies, when writing songs was a way to express ideas in a repressive environment. Songs can teach about social issues, she said, “you may think that the song is about two people who meet and fall in love, while the truth is it is about reconnecting with your own personal freedom, your own country.”
“Kukuly” means “dove” in Quechua,47 a spoken Andean language, one of the official languages of Peru. Kukuly was the name her grandfather wanted to give Kukuly’s mother. Though her given name was Sonia, her nickname was Kukuly. Her baby, Andrea, inherited her mom’s black eyes, curly black hair, and also her nickname. Now mother and daughter perform together as the Peruvian folk duo Cantemos! with an interactive show for young children that is very popular at events such as the HoLa Festival.
Kukuly feels lucky to have a strong art community, whose members she considers her teachers. Everyone helps one another. She makes a living as a musician with her own band Kukuly and the Gypsy Fuego, her Peruvian folk performances with Cantemos!, and by teaching guitar lessons. When asked what she needs “to reach the next level”, she mentions the band is yet to travel to perform at other East Tennessee venues. Though the band has a website, they do not have an agent yet.
Kukuly sings with her band in Spanish, Portuguese, and English. They interpret tangos, boleros, as well as more traditional American classics, which make for a very special mix. “Music is part of culture and learning the traditional music of a place is a way of adapting,” KuKuku explains. She is proud of her Latin roots. Through her music, she has carved out a special place in her community.
Throughout the interview, Kukuly embraced her old companion, her guitar. At the end, she sang one her favorite Argentine tunes, “Sambita ribeña” ("Little samba from the coast.")
Photo 98: Kukuly Uriarte performing in her act Cantemos! at HoLa Festival 2010. Photo by Dana Everts-Boehm.