At only 20 years old, Renata Flores was named one of the 100 most influential Latinas of 2021 by HOLA! magazine. The singer claims her identity, the Quechua language and Andean culture in a fusion between traditional and urban rhythms often referred to as “Trap” a subgenre of hip hop music
Her lyrics are messages of freedom and female empowerment. Her stage presence is imposing, full of colors and traditional Andean garments adapted to her modern style. Her sound mixes panpipes, violin, and trap bases.
Flores was in Denver April 26, 2023 as part of the Fabrica Artes of the Americas, part of the Biennial of the Americas taking place in Downtown Denver, 1250 Welton St. The old Emily Griffith Opportunity School and at the Colorado Convention Center through April 30th.
Her performance Wednesday was as dazzling and it was fascinating. It won’t be long till this talented young woman becomes an international superstar. She is just a taste of the quality of international talent from throughout the Americas the Biennial is bringing to Denver.
At 13, Renata Flores was participating in an “American Idol”-style show in Peru but it got canceled, so she posted her song on YouTube. It was a cover of “House of the Rising Sun” by the British band The Animals, translated into Quechua.
The video exploded. Eight years later, she’s a rapper and leader among a few Peruvian artists making music in the Indigenous language.
Flores lives in Ayacucho, which is a 12-hour drive southeast of Lima. In the 1980s, the city was the cradle of the Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path, a communist guerrilla group.
“The songs will have a connection to what I feel and what I experienced and to Mother Earth,” Flores said. “The planet is a living being that provides us with food, but we haven’t treated her well.”
Since releasing her first album in March of 2021 Flores has grabbed national and international attention. She had a small movie role and collaborated with popular Peruvian singers like Eva Ayllón. She also scored a few corporate sponsorships, including with the telecommunications company Entel and the drink manufacturer Inka Cola.
“It’s very difficult to find that mix from trap to hip-hop in Quechua and even more difficult for a woman to do it,” said Rosa Chávez Yacila, a journalist who covers gender issues and Indigenous populations for the website Ojo Publico in Peru.
Quechua is the most-spoken Indigenous language in the Americas — about 10 million people use it. But it has long carried a stigma. He said that during Peru’s civil war, which began in 1980 and continued until 2000, 75% of those killed spoke an Indigenous language.
“At some point in our history, speaking Quechua or an Indigenous language could lead people to die,”
Flores is part of a generation that didn’t grow up speaking Quechua and is trying to reconnect with the culture. In her music videos, she wears colorful, Indigenous clothing, often against the backdrop of traditional celebrations.
Flores’ path to music started with her parents, who used to play in a rock band. Her mother, Patricia Rivera Canchanya, runs a music school in Ayacucho.
The idea of singing in Quechua came from Rivera, who said she played a tape of a blues song in the Indigenous language for her daughter.
“She liked it, and I gave her the task to make a version with the piano because it was her main instrument,” Rivera said. “She sounded it out phonetically and sang it. It sounded beautiful.”
Other covers in Quechua followed, including Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.” At 16,
Rivera says her daughter now carries a big responsibility by addressing her cultural heritage in her music.
By the time she was 14, Flores was investigating her ancestry and talking to her grandmothers.
“We used to speak to her in Spanish, we would only use Quechua when trying to hide something from her,” Rivera said, laughing.
Flores started studying Quechua and now takes classes three times a week.
The rapper has found a big following on social media — on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. But she still doesn’t get radio play.
“I believe it’s because I sing in Quechua, they say people won’t understand it,” Flores said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m using more Spanish in the new album.”
She said that she wants people to understand her, to get the message. Flores is broadcasting to the world that she’s Quechuan and she’s proud.
Credit: Courtesy of Patricia Rivera