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Friday, October 24, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 49.0° F  Fog/Mist
Music
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Guitarist Richard Hildner imports Peruvian huayno style
Happy tunes, melancholy words
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A musical family: Hildner (left) with uncle Numa Armacanqui.
A musical family: Hildner (left) with uncle Numa Armacanqui.

The intersection of Regent and Monroe streets, site of Camp Randall Stadium, is a hub of Wisconsin culture. Statues enshrine Badger football. Front-lawn beer parties reign on fall Breese Terrace Saturdays. Tailgaters fill the air with the smell of grilled brats.

But in an apartment building across from the old Field House, a different culture has presided for decades. It's a culture of Peruvian music, born of one family's immigration from the Andes.

Richard Hildner is a native Madisonian who grew up in that family. Today, he's one of the most accomplished world and jazz guiarists in town. He's active in a variety of local projects that reflect the breadth of Peruvian musical styles.

Hildner's full name is Richard David Hildner Armacanqui. His mother immigrated to the U.S. from Peru in the 1970s on a scholarship to learn English. "She met my father at the University of Minnesota," says Hildner. "He's from Cleveland." Hildner's father is a professor in the department of Spanish and Portuguese at UW-Madison.

"Music is a huge part of life in Peru," says Hildner, 30. "I began to learn Peruvian music when my grandfather came here to live with us. He lived in the apartment downstairs."

Hildner's late grandfather, Nicolas, was a guitarist who played huayno, a style Hildner describes as "the most popular music for dancing in Peru. The music is happy or sad, but the lyrics are almost always sad. It's full of pathos."

His grandfather arrived when Hildner was in third grade. "I took to his music the first time I heard him play," he says. "Then two of my uncles also emigrated from Peru to Madison."

They lived in the apartment building, too. "That's when I really learned a lot. My grandfather's style was more simple, but my uncles knew songs passed down in my family for generations."

After graduating from West High School, Hildner left Madison to attend Duke University. There, he studied jazz in the Duke Jazz Ensemble, led by Thelonious Monk saxophonist Paul Jeffrey. "I remember the first time I heard Charlie Parker, it reminded me so much of huayno music," says Hildner.

"There's a great African influence in Andean music," he adds. "No art form in Peru is not influenced by African culture."

The ties between Afro-Peruvian music and jazz inform Hildner's participation in different groups and genres.

When he performs solo, Hildner plays huayno style. His acoustic songs are peaceful and brim with melancholy. His playing shows off the technical features of Peruvian guitar.

Every Thursday at Restaurant Magnus, Hildner performs with Jose Gomez. "Jose's music originates from the coast of Peru, so we're able to exchange ideas between Peruvian coastal and mountain music," says Hildner. "Then we try to make it accessible for our audience by adding in songs from artists like the Beatles." Hildner also plays with larger ensembles like Kikeh Mato and Mandjou Mara, acts that gravitate toward West African pop.

Hildner studies climate change as a graduate student at UW-Madison. "Madison has changed a lot since I was a kid," he says. "There used to be one place in town to get Mexican food. Now there are two Peruvian restaurants."

He thinks Madison is getting more diverse, if not more integrated. "Everybody likes music," he says. "That's what can bring us together."

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