By 1973, Lucha Reyes had already reached the peak of her career, and that summer she gets invited to perform in Chicago and at the renowned Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan. She still does not know that she will have to quit the stages forever that year, at the request of her doctors, who see her body deteriorating due to diabetes. But she now feels like an Ella Fitzgerald or a Nina Simone whose voice has acquired an unquestionable weight. Now she is listened to with respect and attention both in working-class alleys and in renowned theaters of the world.
Her triumph in music comes at a time of Afro-Peruvian culture visibility in Peru and in the world, prompted, in part, and from the arts by the siblings Nicomedes and Victoria Santa Cruz.
Lucila Justina Sarcines Reyes was born on July 19, 1936, in the Rímac district. Lima, which had just mourned the death of the emblematic composer Felipe Pinglo two months earlier, was a city on the verge of modernization that clung to its colonial and racist ways. Having been born black marked a difficult path in her life: after the father's premature death and a fire that left her and her 15 siblings homeless, she takes the streets to financially support her mother, and at 5 years old learns to sing in bars while begging for money in the port of Callao. After being admitted to a Franciscan convent and studying only until the third grade of primary school, now a teenager, she returns home, but suffers an attempt of rape by her new stepfather; she is forced to move to the central neighborhood of Barrios Altos, to live with her uncle, a guitarist from the legendary Guardia Vieja, also known as the founders of the Peruvian criollo waltz. This group of non-professional musicians, made up of bricklayers, merchants, artisans, marble workers and other employees, prolonged the oral traditions of their African slave ancestors in working-class neighborhoods of the capital.
While the wealthy reject the music of their peons, which they associate with alcohol and disorder, it is the workers who listen carefully to the European waltzes and Aragonese jotas at the aristocratic halls, and later, back in their famous one-pipe alleys, transform their music under the spell of the night. It is in these sociability spaces that house numerous low-income families, where these criollos cheer up birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and other parties until dawn with the trill of their guitars and cajones.
It is there that Reyes, at 16 years old, picks up the legacy of the Guardia Vieja and her life changes forever: she is often asked to sing in jaranas (criollo parties), and since her voice stands out immediately, she is encouraged to make her debut on a radio show called "El Sentir de los Barrios", whereshe performs the waltz "Abandonada" by Sixto Carrera.