photo by Blanca Santander
Monica Rojas-Stewart was born in Lima, Peru two months before the military coup of Juan Velasco Alvarado. At 17 she became a National Dance Champion during the turbulence of the Shinning Path. In the face of widespread violence and fear, music and dance fed her soul and immersed herself in the Afro-Peruvian community. As a percussionist, she is largely self-taught because historically, women didn’t play percussion and men did not freely share across gender lines. Rojas-Stewart was one of two female percussionists who performed publicly and the first one to teach cajon drumming through music notation in Peru in the early 1990’s.
A mother, wife, artist, scholar, and activist Rojas-Stewart holds a PhD in cultural anthropology and is the founder and director of two community arts organizations. These organizations are DE CAJóN Project and Movimiento Afrolatino Seattle (MÁS) to promote and educate about the cultural contributions of people of African descent in Peru and Latin America respectively. She is currently the Assistant Director of the African Studies and the Latin American and Caribbean Studies programs at the University of Washington.
“Within the pantheon of Afro-Peruvian culture Monica Rojas is an innovator for she repeatedly takes risks by creating original works that push the boundaries of the cannon. By being a percussionist, bandleader, and project director she is redefining the role of women within the Afro-Peruvian community. By exploring the dynamic instruments of her tradition to speak on colonialism and globalization Monica has redefined what it means to be Afro-Peruvian in Seattle or Peru for that matter”
– Martha Gonzalez, Member of Grammy Award winning L.A. Rock band Quetzal