Renata Flores Rivera, a 14-year-old from the Peruvian highlands
Ayacucho - Arab Today
Renata Flores Rivera has teenage cuteness, a velvety voice and a mission: to revive the Quechua language with songs like "Chaynatam ruwanki cuyanaita" -- better known as "The Way You Make Me Feel."
Flores, a 14-year-old from the Peruvian highlands, has racked up more than a million views since posting her cover of the Michael Jackson hit on YouTube on July 27.
The sleek video features the almond-eyed high schooler, sporting a jean jacket, a schoolgirl skirt and a Peruvian hat with earflaps, performing the song against the backdrop of the ruins of Vilcashuaman, an ancient Incan administrative center.
She made the video as part of a campaign called "Young people speak Quechua too," which aims to combat perceptions of the indigenous language as unhip and backwards.
Quechua, the language of the Incas, has faced such stigmatization since Spanish conquistadors colonized Peru in the 16th century.
"I sing in Quechua as a voice of warning, because the language is being lost. Children and young people are ashamed to speak it. They think only poor people in the Andes mountains speak it," said Flores, who lives in Huamanga, the capital of the Ayacucho region in southern Peru.
"We did this in Quechua so the world sees that we have an identity and that we're proud of our culture, that we're not at all ashamed of our culture or the Quechua language," she told AFP.
- Bob Marley, Alicia Keys -
Around 3.6 million of Peru's 30 million people speak Quechua, particularly in the highlands.
Another 4.4 million people speak it in Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Colombia and Brazil.
In Peru, it is an official language, alongside Spanish. But experts have been warning for years that social stigma could eventually endanger its survival.
"For young people, Quechua is synonymous with backwardness and poverty, because the colonial mentality of discrimination, contempt and racism still persists in Peru," said Elena Burga, the head of an education ministry program to promote bilingual education.
She said more funding is needed to protect and promote the language.
The campaign that Flores sings for was launched by her mother, Patricia Rivera, a 41-year-old music teacher.
"This project came about because we realized our children were no longer speaking our language," said Rivera.
"We older people speak nicely. We tell jokes that sound funnier in Quechua than in Spanish and our children weren't enjoying it as much."
She called Quechua a language that "sounds lovely, a language to woo your lover."
Others working to boost the language include hard rock band Uchpa and language teacher Demetrio Tupac Yupanqui, who has translated Cervantes's "Don Quixote" into Quechua ("Yachay sapa wiraqucha dun Qvixote Manchamantan").
Flores admits she is not fully fluent in the language, which she is "learning phonetically," she said.
She translated "The Way You Make Me Feel" with the help of her 72-year-old grandmother, Ada.
She is working on another song that will feature the traditional Andean music known as huayno.
"I want young people to not just identify with the melodies but with their roots," said Jorge Flores, one of the musicians in the garage band that accompanies her.
They will give a concert on September 11 in Huamanga featuring Quechua covers of songs by Bob Marley, Alicia Keys and of course the King of Pop.
Their cover of "The Way You Make Me Feel" can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvT9y0HqItE.