The Chicha Street Art

Elliot Tupac is bringing the street art of Peru to Washington, D.C.

A brush in one hand, a can of spray paint in the other, a tanned Tupac is emblazoning the word "Libertad" — Spanish for freedom — in big bold letters. Their neon colors are so intense they could practically glow in the dark.

The art he's creating is called chicha. It's definitely fun to look at it. And it turns out to be a bit controversial as well. In March, the government of Peru painted over a Tupac mural with the words "Antes sonaba" (I used to dream) and many other street murals in a historic district in Lima. The reasons are unclear; the government reportedly says it was trying to preserve the historic district.

As for Tupac, he just keeps on making chicha-style murals. That's why theSmithsonian Folklife Festival brought him to town for its celebration of Peruvian culture.

If you've not been to Peru (or the festival), you may be wondering: What exactly is chicha?

The word itself has a murky origin. In Latin America, most people use it to refer to a popular fermented corn drink. Some say it's derived from the word for maize (chichabin Kuna, a Colombian language) or fermented water (chichiatl in Nahutl, an Aztec language).

But in Peru, chicha is more than just a drink. It's a music genre that uses rock 'n' roll instruments like electric guitars and synthesizers to rock out funky beats and folk melodies.

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