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was born in Trujillo, in northwestern Peru, between 1707 and 1728; his exact year of birth is unknown. He was the son of Magdalena Tirado, who might have been a slave, and Miguel de Herrera, a free man of mixed descent. He defined himself as a pardo, or black man. It has been confirmed that he was a slave belonging to the silversmith Martín de la Cadena, which would explain his last name as well as his knowledge of metalwork; however, during the period of time documented in his biography, José was a free man.

Cadena’s first marriage was to Pascuala Velarde. In 1761 he signed his Cartilla música, a small treatise of musical theory published in Lima two years later. He was imprisoned briefly for debts he acquired in printing the treatise. It is probable that between 1763 and 1767 he might have lived in ...