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Q&A: Andean Flute Player Brings Music for the Soul to East End Festivals

Peruvian native Walter Purizaca worked his way up from agricultural laborer to professional Andean flute player — and one of the most recognizable faces at East End Festivals.

If you’ve been to any festival on the East End, including the Riverhead Country Fair, you’ve seen Andean flute player Walter Purizaca — or you’ve at least heard his music, a soothing set list of traditional Andean spiritual music and modern new age, a blend that never seems to fail or get old no matter how many times you wander by his tent at the street fair.

Purizaca, a 40-year-old resident of Greenport, is a native of Piura, Peru, a coastal city in northwest Peru. He studied agriculture, ecology and traditional Andean music in Peru before coming to the U.S. in 1998, where he worked for two years in a New Jersey apple orchard as part of an agricultural exchange program. He went back to Peru in 2000, where he pursued his music full-time, solo and with a band.

In 2004, he decided to come back to the U.S. to give his music a try in the states, living with family members and working in a factory in New Jersey at first and ending up in Greenport to take a job at a North Fork greenhouse. But in 2007, he left behind the world of laboring to once again pursue music full-time with much success between performing on the summer festival circuit and making and selling his own CDs and Andean flutes.

Purizaca recently played the Greenport Maritime Festival and the Riverhead Country Fair and will play the first-annual Archeology Festival at the Montauk Indian Museum this Saturday. He’ll also be appearing with his bandmates, Max Ulloa and Rodgrigo Orellana, at a concert in Riverhead on Oct. 30 at Saint Johns Place behind the fire department. The concert is a benefit to raise money for a Peruvian friend of his that was recently — and he believes unfairly — arrested in Texas.

Patch asked this dedicated musician a few questions before he went off to play another weekend full of gigs.

Patch: Have you always been fascinated by the Andean flute and that traditional style?

Purizaca: You know, it’s funny, I didn’t start playing until I was about 20, when I was in college, but yes, I’ve always loved the flute. When I was little, I’d walk by this arts and crafts store every day, and they had these Andean flutes hanging in the window. I’d always ask the owner if I could buy one, but I never had enough money. When I was about 10, I’d follow around this street band, who played tradition Andean music at markets and such. I’d go with them for days at a time and sometimes they’d ask me — “Why don’t you go home already?”

In college I was able to buy a flute and study the tradition music for credit. It’s a very natural style of music —  I liked the sounds from the first. The spirit is very strong, and it really is good for your soul.

Patch: You play all over Long Island during the summer, correct?

Purizaca: Yes — Nassau, Suffolk, New York City. I’ve been at it full-time for about five years and the summers are now booked solid – solo, and now with my band once or twice a month. I’m able to play certain restaurants and different venues further west, but not out here. Here it’s festivals but the festivals are great on the East End.

Patch: Why did you decide to stop working in agriculture?

Purizaca: I didn’t quit — my contract at the greenhouse expired and I did not renew. To be honest, I just didn’t like working that hard for those long hours for the low wages. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a college degree like I do or not — you are treated as a laborer and that’s it. It’s tough in the summer, working all day in 100 degrees and it’s tough in the winter too. You just get to a point where you’re tired of not being appreciated.

But now that I’m doing music full-time, I like to volunteer at the smaller farms around here, like KK’s organic farm in Southold. I like to keep connected to nature. I like plant life. Being with nature enforced the spirit and makes you a better person, I think.

Patch: Can you describe the success you’ve found your fifth year into music full-time?

Purizaca: Oh, it’s been very good — sometimes I don’t even have to play and people come up to me at performances and want to buy my CD. And I find lately that I’m getting more recognition than before everywhere I go — “Hey, are you Walter the flute guy?” It’s a certain level of fame that I’m OK with, but I don’t think I want anymore. Being too famous cuts into your personal time and freedom.

Patch: What do you love the most about street performing?

Purizaca: I love it when people come up to me or email me and tell me how much my music has helped them, emotionally or spiritually or has just helped them relax. That really means something.

And I’ll tell you, if it weren’t for Rich Fielder I wouldn’t be based in Greenport and I probably wouldn’t be on Long Island. About five years ago, on a very busy weekend in the village, I walked up and down Main Street, looking for permission to set up and play outside of a shop. Everyone said no until I got to the Fiedler Gallery – and at that point I was ready to pack up and move somewhere else entirely. But Rich said he’d love to have me and we’ve been great friends for years now.  

On the other hand, there are always people who tell me to turn it down. One guy offered me $20 one day to stop playing for the day. I told him I’d take no less than $1,000, and he threatened to call the police. So, you know, there will always be the good people and the bad people, but most of the time, people like what I do. And a street fair would just be boring without music, wouldn’t it?

Catch Walter Purizaca at upcoming performances:

• Solo traditional Andean flute music at the Montauk Indian Museum’s Archeology Festival on Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. (the festival runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.)

• With the Tumi Band for a benefit concert on Oct. 30 at 7 p.m. at 546 St. John’s Place in Riverhead, behind the fire department.

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