Silvia Rothlisberger: Sofia, you are a poet and a singer-songwriter. What came first the poetry or the music?
Sofia Buchuck: I think music. My grandmother was a Quechuan lady from indigenous background and she used to always sing in the kitchen, in the house, so, from very little age, maybe, I don’t know five, four years old I was already singing for my own entertainment. And then when my dad died, maybe when I was eight years old I started my poetry.
SR: do you remember how this first poem came about?
Sofia Buchuck: Because my dad died and I couldn’t go to the funeral nor my family went and I felt very lonely and I think it came a lot of feelings altogether that I didn’t know how to express, and the best way for me to express it was by writing poetry. And since then I haven’t stop.
SR: Sofia I noticed that in your music and in your poetry you write in Quechua as well. Tell us a bit about Quechua, about the language and about your connection with it.
Sofia Buchuck: Well, Quechua is not only a language is a culture, it’s a Cosmo vision, is the way how we see everything that surrounds us and we have a different way of thinking, our own philosophy. It also has spirituality, we believe in nature, Mother Moon and Mother Sun, the Mother Earth. It’s a very deep philosophy of life as well. An economy, in a way, because we don’t use money, we work with retribution and I learned the language and the culture from my grandmother, my mother’s mum and then obviously because I lived in Cuzco until I was 12 or 13 years old, I have been involved in the culture from a very early age. And then when I came to London it just emerged naturally because it was already in me. In some of my songs I talk about this cosmo vision, for me is very important as part of my identity and as part of the identity of so many people out there that share this Cosmo vision. Is very present in my singing, is very present in the books and I think is very important to keep it alive because is a living culture.
SR: Your music is going through a path of healing. So why did you go through that change and what is it about?
Sofia Buchuck: I’ve been doing healing for 20 years mainly with Mama Coca, which is a Coca leaf and it’s a sacred ritual where you gather, especially women and with the moonlight and you heal your emotions and music was very much part of that because you know music also in-tunes with your emotions very much. So, from that point of view I was already healing. But this wasn’t public; this was my private thing to do and I was already doing my art separately. It was separate roads.
Then in 2004 when I went to Mexico I started to go more into depth about music and healing, especially with the Huichols. The Huichols in Mexico they use art to heal, mainly painting but also dances. From then on I started to go in depth more into the role of healing and learning more and more. And then all came together I think in 2014 when I go back to Peru for the first time. I started learning more songs about healing. But the songs where mainly with pan pipes, pan flutes, and I thought that people were very attached, especially people who had problems with depression, they feel very attached to the soothing sounds of pan flutes and some other instruments. By now I can say I completely work on both fields. I completely united my healing with the music. So in Peru I was doing lots of ceremonies where I heal people with plants and I sing all through the ceremony or play instruments, sometimes pre-Columbian instruments and here in England too; I’m doing some workshops with singing, healing, workshops with healing.
SR: Your next album Heart Portal to the Cosmos is coming out in July is going to be different from all your past works.
Sofia Buchuck: In a way different, but it has most of the instruments I’ve been using in past albums. I use a lot the guitar, for example the charango, I use pampais, I use flutes. This CD is going to specialize on healing, the songs are for healing, but the instruments are almost the same. We are still using the same instruments and I’m doing two albums: one with Chano Díaz Límaco, who is very well known. He was the director of Killa Raymi my second album. We are using more ocarinas, like clay instruments, singing, maracas; is more tribal in a way. It’s very ethnic. It has very few songs with guitar.
SR: What is the literary collective Hispano-American Women Writers on Memory about?
Sofia Buchuck: This collective of women…well, we were at the beginning four, and then we became six women from different countries, from Chile, I am from Peru, there were some women from Spain, from Mexico. The idea was to share this memory of who we are here in London. Because is so interesting how we build up our identity here in London.
We build, we create our own identity here in London. Because we come from South America with this other identity that is very Peruvian, very Chilean, but here in London we become Latin-Americans. And not only Latin-American, but we also have this Spanish identity that also crosses with other identities; and the English identity, because we’ve been living here, in my case 25 years. So, the memory of who we are, who we become, who we are still, you know? It combines also with some memories of exile, memories of migration which is very interesting as well and memories of home, because home is also England for us, living here for such a long time. Home is also, in my case, Peru.
It was a very interesting… it is a very interesting group of women. Some of them are academics, some of them not, but all of them have very strong ideas, very lovely poems about life in London as well. Which I think is very good to document, to see how Hispano-American people have created this lovely memory of being in London.
SR: Sofía, where and why did you study Ethnomusicology?
Sofia Buchuck: In Mexico at Escuela Nacional de Música at the University of Mexico (UNAM).
I was studying Spanish and Latin-American Studies at the Metropolitan University in London and one of my teachers was Marta Dueñas, a lovely lady from El Salvador, and she knew me very well because I was so passionate about Latin-American studies. I loved the literature, I loved economics and I loved so much Anthropology; Anthropology and Ancestral cultures. I was so passionate about it, and not only about the music, but the history behind the music, the history of the instruments.
And then she said to me: ‘Sofía why don’t you study Ethnomusicology? This would be so good for you.’ And I said ‘What is that?’ And then I did an essay about the music of Tito La Rosa which is a very famous composer in Peru and he does a lot of ritualistic music actually. And I did a research of his music and the silbatos pre-colombinos, which are pre-Columbian, whistles. And then she said: ‘Why don’t you send this to México and apply for a scholarship, maybe you can study there musicology’. And I did! I was awarded a scholarship to study there Ethnomusicology and it was fantastic. I was so grateful to Marta and so grateful to the UNAM as well because they were very generous to me.
SR: And did you introduce what you studied there, what you learned in your poems, in your music or in your short stories?
Sofia Buchuck: Completely; I think it changed my view about everything because before, music was only restricted to ‘oh, yeah, music is to remember this or to remember that or to have an idea about this and that.’ But when you study Ethnomusicology you go deeper than that. You understand the history of music, Latin- American music, where did it start, what is Latin-American music, what is La Nueva Canción, what is ancestral music, what is popular music. You study all of these things in depth. So I had a deeper understanding about music and the new emerging cultures as well, and it really overlapped very well with my other career in oral history. I studied oral history at the Museum of London and it’s very similar to Ethnomusicology because you do a lot of interviewing, and then you allow people to have their own identity. It brought in me ideas, because when you just study Folklore you have this music and it puts people in boxes. But with Oral History and Ethnomusicology you are more open because is like life: We are here, then I am in Peru. You have these crossed identities and that comes in my stories, my poems, even about the time I was in Mexico as well. And I did like ten different albums about Ethnomusicology here in London. I recorded a first album of Latin American musicians in the UK. I recorded young people doing music and their identities in the UK and we did some videos and I worked with the Museum of London collecting the stories of Latin American refugees and we collected their poems, their music, and their stories.
It was a big research, with two lines Oral History and Ethnomusicology, that overlapped very well together. Also, recently last year I was teaching Ethnomusicology in Peru at Universidad Nacional José María Arguedas which is the only university for arts and culture in Lima that does folklore and dance and music.
SR: You are one of the founder members of the literary group Spanish and Latin American Poets and Writers (SLAP). Why did you create this collective and what is it about?
Sofia Buchuck: I knew many poets, obviously after all this time of being here in London. We met at so many places. I knew Isabel del Río for example, who is a very well-known poet, for 25 years. I also knew Eduardo Embry, a very well-known poet from Chile living in Southampton, and so on. And also, I knew emerging poets like Denisse Vargas Bolaños from Bolivia and Soraya Fernandez DF from Ecuador, and so many young poets. And I thought it would be great to create a collective. One day talking with Eduardo he said ‘Why don’t we have a group? It would be so interesting to mix all this poetry, all these different tendencies on poetry, the way we write with different kinds of flavours.’ And then when we got together, we were so many, I think we were like 12. We ended up being I think like 9, but still a big group. Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes is also part of that group, Mabel Encinas, Isabel Ros López. So it was a combined art as well, not only poetry. There were people who do painting, people who do music, like me. Others who do also other things like multimedia art.
And it was a fantastic group. We did a few performances and the idea was to share these mix identities. There were people from different parts of Latin America and people from Spain.
SR: What books do you recommend?
Sofia Buchuck: On poetry: Wonder Makers: Navigators of the Thames the poetry book but also the short stories are really lovely. It’s both in English and Spanish and you can really sense the strong identity they have still about Latin America but also the life in London and how you become a Londoner as well.
Now for understanding poetry I like a lot Sylvia Plath. In Spanish definitely I love Vallejo, it’s my favourite. It’s not an easy poetry but that doesn’t mean that it is not strong and actually one of my teachers of the UCLA, Stephen Hart used to say: ‘To understand Vallejo you have to break the wall.’
But I think for writing poetry is not only learning the technique, is not only learning the language, is a journey as well. It’s a discovery journey. I think it helps when you travel; it helps when you go out of your own boundaries and you see the world with different eyes.
There are great other poets as well like Sandra Cisneros, she writes about identities, about migration. And music is fantastic as well, because music gives you the kick to feel the emotion and then as a poet you can come and write about that. Go out and live the world, live the life, travel, fall in love, fail, win, do everything, and you will write great poetry.