The story goes that Alberto Maravi, the former head of the Peruvian label INFOPESA, first heard ‘Mulher Rendeira’ when he was working as a DJ in Brazil. Upon his return to Peru he believed the song would make a great first single for the chicha amazonica band from Pucallpa in the Peruvian Amazon, Juaneco y su Combo. ‘Mujer Hilandera’, a Spanish translation of Zé do Norte’s Portuguese language version, was released in 1970 through INFOPESA and went on to be the band’s first major hit, translating the Brazilian folk song ‘Mulher Rendeira’ for a different culture, style, audience and language.
Musically the song corresponded to the chicha style, itself a fusion of cumbia colombiana, surf rock, psychadelia and other local/regional influences such as the Shipibo culture in the case of Juaneco y su Combo. Unlike the previous English language versions however, the Spanish version was translated almost literally and the verses removed, leaving the repeated refrain of:
Olé mujer hilandera
Olé, olé olé. (x2)
Tú me enseñas a hacer hilo
Yo te enseño a enamora
As in Brazil, the mujer hilandera, or sewing woman, was a Peruvian cultural icon and played a big part in the local and national tradition and heritage. This is in part due to the importance of textiles for many pre-hispanic cultures, whose legacy survived the colonialist period. The song therefore resonated with the Peruvian people who were able to identify with the figure of the mujer hilandera just as Brazilians identified with the mulher rendeira, a well-known symbol of north-eastern culture. The song became part of the Peruvian national repertoire, overshadowing its true roots and reshaping the song as strictly and proudly Peruvian.
After its acceptance as a chicha classic, ‘Mujer Hilandera’ was covered by many groups and often appears in chicha bands’ live sets. Perhaps the most well known contemporary recording was by Bareto on their 2003 album Cumbia. The band have been part of a recent revival of chicha music in Peru alongside the genre’s global dissemination through releases such as the recent El Sonido de Tupac Amaru and Barbés’ series of chicha re-releases including Masters of Chicha Volume I which concentrated on Juaneco y su Combo and featured their recording of ‘Mujer Hilandera’.