In the late 60s, in a remote Peruvian Amazon oil town, the late guitarist Salomon Sanchez started a psychedelic cumbia group. It was a family band: his twelve-year-old son, the drummer, was the junior member. Sanchez named the group Los Wembler’s de Iquitos (the apostrophe was intentional, a mistake of primitive English), namechecking both his hometown along with Wembley Stadium in the UK. In the next decade or so, they put out a lot of records, toured relentlessly and became known as one of the most feral of all the groups mashing up American surf rock, psychedelia, ancient Peruvian melodies and Colombian cumbia into what’s now called chicha music. They never got to Wembley Stadium….at least not so far. But Los Wembler’s – with almost all of their original members – are making an extremely rare US appearance at the Poisson Rouge on Sept 23 at around 9 PM. The more rustic, acoustic Combo Lulo open the show at 8; you can get in for $20 in advance.
Rediscovered by Chicha Libre, the originators of Brooklyn psychedelic cumbia, Los Wembler’s put out an incredibly fresh-sounding ep in 2017, revealing their chops completely undiminshed by the wear and tear of half a century. Even more astonishingly, they have a new full-length album, Vision del Ayahuasca, just out from Barbes Records and streaming at Spotify. Recorded mostly live in the studio in a marathon two-day session in Lyon, France, it’s one of the trippiest and most deliciously strange records of the year. Most of the songs are basically instrumentals; the lyrics are funny and deal with dancing, partying, drugs and the battle of the sexes.
The undulating opening number, Lamentico Selvatico is exactly what the group sound like live: layers of surrealistically intertwining jangle and clang, and wah-wah and reverb, over a minor-key bassline and a rattling, shapeshifting percussion section It’s dance music, but it’s also psychedelic to the extreme, a kaleidoscope of textures rippling through the sonic picture.
There are hints of Indian music, and early 60s Bakersfield twang, in the album’s alternately majestic and trebly title track – or maybe that’s just what you hear while tripping on ayahuasca. Lead player Alberto Sanchez’s riffs in Mi Caprichito, a rapidfire minor-key shuffle, are part Dick Dale, part warped horror surf. Then the band slow things down a bit with the bright, spiky No Me Vuelvo a Enamorar. and the even more unselfconsciously cheery, catchy Cosa Muy Rico.
After five decades of doing this, they’ve earned the right to play Los Wembler’s Para El Mundo, a victory lap reminding how their once obscure jungle sound took over the world (cumbia bands tend to be just as self-referential as rappers).
Un Amor Que Se Va shuffles and clangs along bittersweetly, while Triste y Sola isn’t really a waltz, or cumbia, and it’s not straightforwardly sad and desolate either. Like the rest of the songs here, it defies description.
El Puente De Aguaytia is a mostly one-chord jam with sunshiney lead lines over muted wah riffs. The group wind up the album with the haphazardly swaying Todo Es Mentira, the most vivid and careeningly psychedelic throwback to their early years. If you’re in the right mood and open to the unexpected, there aren’t many albums that make you feel as good all over as much as this one does. Watch for it on the best albums of 2019 page here at the end of the year.