New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: chicha

An Improbable, Magic Comeback Album From Psychedelic Cumbia Legends Los Wembler’s

The best short album of 2017 is by a band from the 1960s who until now have never released a record outside Peru. Los Wembler’s de Iquitos play chicha, the surfy, reverb-drenched psychedelic cumbias that were all the rage from Lima to the Amazon from the late 60s til the early 80s, and thanks to Chicha Libre have become arguably the world’s default party music. But unlike so many of their more urban colleagues, Los Wembler’s (the apostrophe is probably just bad English) never got soft with synthesizers or drum machines. Their new ep Ikaro Del Amor – streaming at Spotify  – captures the band pretty much as feral and surreal as they were almost fifty years ago, except with good production values. And producer/Chicha Lilbre bandleader Olivier Conan gives the band a chance to tune their guitars, something they didn’t get to do when recording their big Amazonian hit La Danza Del Petrolero, which first reached a global audience via the first of Barbes’ Records’ two indispensable Roots of Chicha compilations.

The only band member who didn’t live to see this is family patriarch and bounder Salomon Sanchez Casanova. Otherwise, this is most of the original members, on guitars, bass and multi-percussion. The opening title track, a chicha standard, comes across as a bizarrely catchy mashup of ska rhythm, tropical mosquito guitar, Ventures surf twang and a little C&W. There’s a mysterious shout-out to Brooklyn in there too.

The centerpiece is a sprawling, phantasmagorical take of Sonido Amazonico, later simplified into a one-chord jam (and a big hit) by Lima band Los Mirlos, then recorded almost forty years later by Chicha Libre as the title track to their first album. Over time, the song has become as iconic as Pipeline is to surf rock fans, or Anarchy in the UK is to punks. Awash in resonant jangle, wah-wah riffs and endless permutations on an ominous chromatic melody, it’s the creepiest, slinkiest, trippiest jam of the year.

There are two other tracks. The epic La Mentecata has a wryly expanding, Twelve Days of Xmas style series of verses, a bubbly, almost Cuban guitar hook and a steady clave on the woodblock. The final cut is Dos Amores, lead guitarist Alberto Sanchez Casanova airing out every sound in his effects boxes, from a fair approximation of an electric accordion to the kind of low-budget electric piano one might have found in a ramshackle recording studio in the band’s halcyon days.

That this album exists at all boggles the mind; until being rediscovered in the early part of this decade the band would regroup for the occasional block party, but that’s about it. And now they’re wrapping up their first European tour. Big up to Conan and Barbes Records for having the foresight to bring them to the mass audience they deserve.

Orkesta Mendoza Bring Their Slinky Cumbias and Noir Desert Rock to Prospect Park

Tucson-based bandleader and multi-instrumentalist Sergio Mendoza leads Orkesta Mendoza, who might be the most epic psychedelic cumbia band on the planet. When they’re firing on all 24 cylinders – the cast of characters varies, but this is a BIG band – they come across as a slinky, brass-spiced mashup of Chicha Libre and Cab Calloway. They’re connoisseurs of noir, and they do a whole bunch of other styles as well: serpentine mambos, haunting boleros, and latin soul among them. Their latest album ¡Vamos A Guarachar! is streaming at Spotify (with a couple of tracks up at Bandcamp). They’re opening what will be a wildly attended twinbill at Prospect Park Bandshell on June 29 at 7:30 PM; populiat Mexican-American songstress Lila Downs headlines at around 9. You’d better get there early.

The album opens with, Cumbia Volcadora, which perfectly capsulizes why this band is so popular. Mendoza’s creepy roller-rink organ flickers and bends and Marco Rosano’s blazing multitracked horn section punches in over Sean Rogers’ fat chicha bassline, Salvador Duran’s irrepressible vocals out in front. Mendoza plays pretty much everything else.

Then the band immediately filps the script with Redoble, an uneasily scampering mashup of Morricone spaghetti western and Ventures spacerock, the band’s not-so-secret weapon, steel guitarist Joe Novelli’s keening lines floating uneasily as the song rises to fever pitch.

Awash in an ocean of strings, Misterio majestically validates its title, Mendoza’s Lynchian guitar glimmering behind Duran’s angst-fueled baritone and the Calexics rhythm section: bassist John Convertino and drummer Joey Burns. Wryly spacy 80s organ contrasts with burning guitars and brass in Mapache, a bouncy chicha tune with a tongue-in-cheek Ventures reference. Duran’s wounded vocals add extra longing to the angst throughout Cumbia Amor De Lejos over a web of accordion, funereal strings and ominous tremolo guitar.

The band switches back and forth between a frantic pulse and lingering noir in Mambo A La Rosano, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Gato Loco songbook. By contrast, the big audience hit Caramelos keeps the red-neon intensity going at full gas; Mendoza sets up a tantalizingly brief guitar solo with a more enigmatic one on organ.Then they follow the clip-clip folk-rock miniature No Volvere (Not Going Back) with the album’s centerpiece, Contra La Marea (Against the Tide), a briskly strutting noir showstopper, Rosano’s brooding baritone sax and clarinet alongside Mendoza’s reverberating guitar layers.

Mutedly twinkling vibraphone – most likely Convertino – infuses the enigmatically lilting Igual Que Ayer (Same as Yesterday). Mendoza’s insistent wah-wah guitar takes centerstage in the trippy, moody Nada Te Debo (I Don’t Owe You Anything) Rogers sings the album’s final cut, the psychedelic latin soul anthem Shadows of the Mind. Best darkly glimmering party album of the year – and maybe the only one. Hopefully they’ll get the chance to stretch some of these out and get really psychedelic at the Brooklyn show.

The Irrepressibly Fun Bombay Rickey Return to Barbes This Saturday Night

Bombay Rickey are one of the funnest and most individualistic bands in New York. They mash up surf rock, psychedelic cumbias and Bollywood into a constantly shapeshifting, danceable sound. They’re playing this Saturday night, Sept 24 at 8 PM at Barbes. Then they’re at Brooklyn Conservatory of Music the following night, Sept 25 at 7.

They played a couple of Barbes shows over the past couple of months At the first one, frontwoman/accordionist Kamala Sankaram was battling a cold, although she still hit every note in her four-and-a-half octave range, useful since she and the band did a whole bunch of Yma Sumac covers. It was a dress rehearsal, more or less, for an upcoming London show, and since Barbes doesn’t have a dressing room, she word several outfits on top of another. One by one, they came off, but by the time she was down to the final shiny dress – you know how hot it gets onstage at Barbes in the summer – she was drenched.

At the second show, last month, she’d won the battle and was back to her usual exuberant, charismatic self. The group opened with a brisk, ominously bouncing surf tune, Sankaram hitting an arioso high note and squeezing every ounce of drama out of it, saxophonist Jeff Hudgins adding a moody, modally-charged solo that disintegrated into hardbop. Sankaram scatted takadimi drum language as the song shifted shape behind her, hit another operatic surf interlude with a Drew Fleming guitar solo that could have charmed a snake, Hudgins taking it further up and outside over Gil Smuskowitz’s blippy bassline.

A coy mambo gave Sankaram a rare chance to show off her low register – as it turns out, she’s just as strong there as she is way up in the stratosphere. She might just well be the best singer in all of New York in any style of music (unsurprisingly, she also sings opera and jazz). Then the band took a turn into spaghetti western territory,Fleming spiraling while drummer Sam Merrick supplied a boomy drive on his toms in unexpected 6/8 time

Sankaram chose her spots for goosebump-inducing vocalese on the next number, a wickedly catchy blend of Bollywood dramatics and surfy bounce. They followed with a slinky, ominously Ethiopian-flavored tune over a clave groove, sax prowling uneasily over the guitar’s reverb-drenched resonance. Then they took a long, even more unexpected detour into vintage JB’s style funk.

Sankaram then broke out her sitar for what sounded like a 60s Vegas psychedelic pop number on Vicodin, until a purposeful, stately sax solo that echoed Coltrane’s Giant Steps. After a similar one from Fleming, the band took a long climb upward. They brought some funk to a version of Dum Maro Dum, the famous Bollywood weedhead anthem, and finally broke out the chicha for an undulating Yma Sumac hit, Fleming’s spiky solo skirting skronk and postbop. Then they went back to surfy Bollywood. Couples were dancing; so can you, this Saturday night at Barbes.

Vox Urbana at Barbes: One of NYC’s Best Shows of the Year

Saturday night at Barbes, Tucson psychedelic cumbia band Vox Urbana played one of the most deliriously fun shows anywhere in New York this year. They sound like Chicha Libre with horns – yeah, that good.

They opened with a slinky, eerily vampy number, the musical equivalent of a red-on-black Sequeiros tableau. The tremoloing funeral parlor organ in tandem with frontman Kiki Castellanos’ watery, vintage chorus-box guitar gave the music both a menace and a retro allure with tight, bright brass overhead. The number after that sounded like a Burning Spear reggae hit from the 70s reinvented as cumbia, morphing cleverly and almost imperceptibly into a bouncy tropical rock groove. Then they went back to a swaying, hip-tugging slink with an enigmatically anthemic number that hit a big peak as the organ grew smokier while the horns traded riffs with Castellanos, the dancers gathered at the front of the room taking his advice to get down and have some fun.

By now the place was packed, and it was hot: “It’s like Tucson up here!” Castellanos said drily. The band responded with another number that paired purposeful, punchy horns against a lurid, organ-fueled backdrop. Considering how psychedelic the band’s music is, it’s amazing how tight they are: throughout the show, solos were short and concise, and the band kept the unstoppable sway going throughout a big percussion break – Saul Perez on congas and Casey Hadland on drums – into the next tune. Their Spanish lyrics turned out to be much the same, entreating the dancers to do their thing, encouraging global unity and late in the set, sending a shout-out to a popular Tucson community activist. The organist switched to accordion for that one.

The night’s best number was an instrumental that mingled hi-de-ho blues and dark dub reggae into a cumbia….or it might have been a minor-key party anthem a little later on, where Castellanos shifted through his pedalboard and switched out the ice for various degrees of heat, finally taking it out with a wild volley of tremolo-picking. Then the band moved toward ska and then back to the tropical rock – and then an eerily bouncing, modal Ethiopian tune!.

And for what it’s worth, this group draws a really goodlooking crowd. As sadly as this neighborhood has been whitewashed over the years, it was encouraging to see pretty much every New York demographic dancing and reveling in the fact that this is still a multicultural city.

An Unbelievably Cool Playlist of Rare Rediscoveries from Peru

The Peru Maravilloso compilation sends a shout-out to the people of the nation that invented punk rock (largely unknown, but true) and the joie de vivre that that fueled the amazing music that kept that country’s citizens going through decades of repression under murderous dictatorships. Although there are some iconic bands and songs on this album, most of the tracks, dating from the 60s and 70s, are obscure and previously unavailable outside Peru. As you might expect, the majority of the tracks fall under the the broad category of chicha, the deliciously psychedelic blend of American surf music, Colombian cumbia and indigenous Peruvian flavors. But there’s also salsa, funk grooves, a track that sounds like a movie theme, and chicha band Los Ecos outdoing the Beatles on the surfy instrumental Me Siento Feliz, which you might know better as I Feel Fine. To call this a wild ride is a considerable understatement. The whole thing is streaming at Tiger’s Milk Records’ Bandcamp page.

The best song here is Los Zheros’ haunting beautiful Para Chachita, a slide guitar-driven shuffle that sounds more Russian than Peruvian (if you listen closely, you can hear the rhythm guitarist run out of gas as the song nears the end). Paco Zambrano y su Combo’s Meshkalina is a surreal, creepy treat: over a slinky minor-key East LA lowrider groove, Zambrano recounts how “We were having fun even though we were dying,” in good English.  Zambrano got his start in Amazonian legends Juaneco y su Combo, represented here by the reverb-drenched La Cumbia Del Pacurro, the late Noe Fachin playing ominously meandering lead guitar over droning, keening Farfisa. Toro Mata, by Lucia De La Cruz‘s orchestra, has a Vegas noir intensity, its flamenco riffs making the rounds of the entire ensemble, from the strings to the Spanish guitar to the piano and funeral organ.

El Zambito Rumbero, by Manzanita y Su Conjunto is another tasty, darkly reverberating psychedelic cumbia treat, the lead guitarist building suspense with his rattling tremolo-picking. Félix Martinez y sus Chavales’ La Gallina is a briskly bitter kiss-off to an unfaithful woman. The closest approximations of American surf rock here are El Chacarero, by Los Gatos Blancos, which is sort of Dick Dale airlifted to the jungle, while Los Fabulosos en Onda, by Aniceto y sus Fabulosos blends woozy tropicalia into what could be a loping Lee Hazelwood southwestern gothic theme.

Los Orientales’ catchy, clanging Bailando en la Campiña works a chicha tune around a droll car-horn riff, while Pedro Miguel y sus Maracaibos’ Piraña puts reverb-drenched trumpet front and center. John Benny y Los Ribereños’ Trinan las Golondrinas builds hypnotically from guitar salsa to an unexpectedly scrambling, frenetic guitar solo out.

Lucho Neves y su Orquesta’s early 60s Mambo de Machaguay is a famous cumbia that gets covered by a lot of bands; their original version is a catchy, simple mambo vamp with gusts from the brass and tumbling piano over a tight groove. On the salsa side, there’s a track by Chango y su Conjunto that swaps in a couple of electric guitars in place of the usual piano, and Zulu’s insistent, brass-heavy macho seduction theme Sueño de Amor. Not only is this a great playlist, it’s a valuable piece of history – and make you want to get to know these bands better. Or take a trip to Lima or Pucallpa with an empty packing crate.