In the middle of ancient Incan ruins in the foot hills of the Peruvian Andes, 14-year-old Renata Flores Rivera brings together two things dear to her heart: the ancient Indigenous language of South America, Quechua, and Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.” The result is gorgeous:
Flores spoke to Fusion from home on Monday afternoon after a full day at school.
“It’s a project called ‘Las juventudes tambien hablamos Quechua‘ (the youth, we speak Quechua too),” she said. She said it’s important for her “to be able to appreciate this language again, because we are losing it here in Peru.”
Flores’s mother, Patricia Rivera Canchanya, kicked off the campaign this year through a cultural association, la Asociación Cultural Surca, which she founded 11 years ago to promote arts and Peruvian culture in their home city of Huamanga (also known as Ayacucho). Rivera is also a musician, and set up a music school through the association. She said she saw an urgent need to pass on Quechua to younger generations, before the language is forgotten in Peru.
“I speak Quechua, but not very fluently anymore because we don’t use it,” she said. “They teach a lot here, English, which is also really important because it’s the global language, but we can’t abandon our roots because this is ours, it’s a heritage that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to lose.”
Though it’s one of Peru’s two official languages (along with Spanish), Quechua is not taught in schools and is spoken by just around 13 percent of the population, Rivera said.
Dialects of Quechua are spoken in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Brazil by a total of about 8.3 million people, according to 1987 data cited by UCLA’s Center for World Languages, with about 4.4 million of those in Peru. The number of speakers has likely declined since then.
Flores said she’s received messages praising the song. She’s planning a concert this September in Huamanga to keep up the momentum. That’s the next step. But ultimately, she said, she’d like to study music professionally after high school. In her spare time right now, she plays the guitar, dances and sings–she’s also learning Quechua. She was on The Voice Kids during her most recent summer holidays.
Asked why she chose a Michael Jackson song for this special treatment in Quechua, she said, “When I was five years old I listened to a lot of Michael Jackson, I liked and admired him a lot … as for this particular song, I think I had sung it before in English and then my mom had the idea that I could record it in Quechua,” she said.
Interviews were conducted in Spanish and translated to English.