New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: cumbia music

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.

Bewitchingly Slinky, Darkly Psychedelic Cumbia from Bareto

For those of us who equate minor keys with excitement and passion rather than sadness, slinky Peruvian psychedelic cumbia band Bareto’s fantastic album El Impredecible is streaming at Spotify. And while they don’t seem to be hitting New York soon, they have a US tour coming up.

Like their northern counterparts Chicha Libre – who are a big reason why cumbia became the world’s default party music – Bareto reference the classic, surfy sounds of the late 60s and 70s while adding their own distinctive, equally psychedelic touches. The album’s opening track, La Voz Del Sinchi has the feel of a Los Destellos classic, but with more of a late 70s feel, lead guitarist Joaquín Mariátegui playing his eerily chromatic chords with a shivery, icy chorus-box tone. The album’s second track, La Pantalla (The Screen) has one of the funniest videos made this century: for anyone who’s come home trashed at 4 AM and clicked through to Univision, or Telemundo, or Venevision, this parody will have you laughing til your face hurts. Lead singer Mauricio Mesones’ deadpan vocal downplays its caustic commentary on moronic south-of-the-border tv. If you think that American networks are retarded, go a little further south. The creepy carnival organ drives it home.

The title track takes a sardonically bouncy detour toward shuffling Veracruz folk, with a lingering psychedelic edge. Likewise, Mariátegui’s No Es Para Mi (It’s Not for Me) has a sunny tropical feel, in this case a wah guitar-fueled shout out to Os Mutantes-style bossa-pop. Then the band completely flips the script with the snaky, deliciously carnivalesque La Negra y el Fantasma (The Girl and the Ghost), also by Mariátegui. The interweave of the spare but resonant reverb guitars – that’s Rolo Gallardo on the other one – along with Miguel Ginocchio’s accordion and funeral organ, over the percussion and drums of Jorge Olazo and Sergio Sarria, is intoxicatingly tasty.

The southwestern gothic dub-flavored Bombo Baile takes awhile to get going, then the guitar starts shooting off sparks, a surreal, mind-warping mashup of vintage C&W and Los Destellos’ six-string legend Enrique Delgado. Similarly, the ominous, lingering Viejita Guarachera goes in a dub direction, referencing the Specials’ ska-noir classic, Ghost Town over Jorge Giraldo’s classic roots reggae bass.

Mamá Motelo, by Gallardo, pushes the trippy swirl along, its surf guitar multitracks evoking classic Lima chicha acts like Los Mirlos and Los Diablos Rojos. Susana Baca guests on vocals on the uneasily atmospheric El Loco, an extremely unlikely but unexpectedly successful mashup of traditional festejo folk and the Church’s late 80s spacerock. La Semilla (The Seed) has a twinkling, nocturnal Hawaiian vibe, while the album’s closing cut, País de las Maravillas (Miracle Land) has the loping groove and trebly guitar textures of a classic Los Destellos hit. Bands like this just make you want to forget about American rock and head for the mountains and the jungle where chicha was first fermented.

Speaking of psychedelic cumbia, it’s worth sending out a special shout to Consumata Sonidera, who literally stopped traffic at their show uptown at 125th St. and the highway a couple of weeks ago. When they took the little stage at the park on the river, there was hardly anyone there. By the time they left, almost down to the second that the rain started, cars had pulled over along with bike riders and seemingly half the people making their walk home, not expecting to hear anything like this fun, eclectic, trippy low-key set with just guitar, bass, percussion and frontman Bruno Navarro’s diamond-cutting alto sax.

Xixa Find Themselves in the Middle of the Year’s Best Lineup of Music on the 16th at Drom

Xixa are a Giant Sand spinoff. Formerly known as Chicha Dust, their name is as coyly entertaining as the psychedelic cumbias they play. But Giant Sand’s Gabriel Sullivan and Brian Lopez don’t just imitate the gloriously trebly sounds of Peru in the 70s, or pretty much anywhere south of the border in this decade: they’ve got an individual, sometimes harder-rocking, very 80s-inspired sound. Their debut vinyl ep Shift and Shadow is streaming at rockpaperscissors and out from Barbes Records.

They’re playing what’s most likely the best multiple-band lineup anywhere in New York this year – who knows, maybe anywhere at Drom on January 16, starting at 7:30 PM for a measly $10. Check out this lineup: Moroccan trance grooves with Samir Langus, psychedelic, surfy, vallenato-influenced art-rock groovemeisters Los Crema Paraiso, the even more psychedelic cumbia/salsa jammers Dos Santos Anti-Beat Orquesta; the magically haunting, soaring all-female Mariachi Flor de Toloache ; Xixa; then the darkly Middle Eastern flavored Nubian sounds of Alsarah & the Nubatones , rustic Haitian/Dominican cumbia/vallenato group Buyepongo and the newschool Ethiopiques-inspired dancefloor intensity of Debo Band sometime in the wee hours around 1 AM. For those in Park Slope, Buyepongo and then Xixa are also at Union Hall on 1/17 at 8 for $10

The ep’s title track welds Lynchian tremolo guitar and slithery minor-key organ to a peppy stadium rock chorus: you can practically see the sea of lighters rising as the sun goes down on Bonaroo or somewhere similar. The cover of the Meat Puppets’ Plateau – famously redone by Nirvana – looks not to grunge but to both the 80s goth-pop of bands like the Damned and Echo & the Bunnymen, as well as Peruvian jungle-rock legends like Juaneco y Su Combo. With its echoey timbale groove and serpentine organ, Cumbia del Platero brings to mind ornately orchestrated late-period Chicha Libre. The final cut, Dead Man slowly winds its way out of the synthy, chorus-box-guitar 80s toward a newschool cumbia slink.

A full-length album is scheduled for later in the year; fans of dusky, distantly ominous, trippy sounds should check this stuff out. And for those new to the genre, chicha is both a Peruvian malt beverage – sort of the Andean equivalent of Olde English or Colt .45 – and a slang adjective that translates roughly as “ghetto.” It’s also a style of psychedelic cumbia that first peaked in popularity in the 70s but was brought to the US by Chicha Libre and…you know the rest.

New York Bands We Take For Granted: The Perennially Fun Chicha Libre

Musicians call it the curse of the residency. In New York, after all, bands typically don’t build a following: you play to your friends. Book yourself into a weekly residency for a month and see everybody come out for the first and last shows…if you’re lucky. Chicha Libre have managed to beat the odds, on a Monday night, of all nights. By all rights, the Brooklyn chicha revivalists would be entitled to weekends at Barbes, considering that the frontman/cuatro player and lead guitarist own the joint. But they graciously let other bands play Fridays and Saturdays and do their weekly residency/live rehearsal on a Monday…which is genius in a way, since it turns a dead night into a crazy party that probably earns the bar just as much as a Saturday.

Chicha Libre get extra props for singlehandedly spearheading the psychedelic cumbia revival: without them, it’s probably safe to say that the wild, trippy sounds of legendary Peruvian bands like Los Destellos, Los Mirlos and Juaneco y Su Combo would never have made it out of Peru. What Chicha Libre does is exactly what those cult acts were doing forty years ago, mashing up Colombian cumbia, British psychedelia and American surf rock into a trebly, trippy, intoxicating, indelibly Peruvian stoner blend. It works just as well as dance music as it does stoner music; that Chicha Libre are recognized as giants of the genre in Peru speaks to how well they’ve assimilated it. “Sorry we’re late,” cuatro player Olivier Conan told the crowd packed into the back room there a couple of Mondays ago, “It’s our only claim to authenticity.” He was being modest.

They opened and closed their first set with the silly stuff: first Flight of the Valkyries reinvented as a droll cumbia, complete with a long, echoey, dubwise intro from Josh Camp’s wah-wah electric accordion. He would go on to reference 70s arenarock schlockmeisters Styx not once but twice – this band can do funny as well as they do trippy and creepy. The last song was a cumbia version of the mid-70s instrumental novelty hit Popcorn, which they ended with a good-natured shout-out to good weed and the corn liquor (sort of the Peruvian equivalent of Olde English) from which the band takes their name. In between they did the surreal, creepy stuff, lots of it, one of the best sets they’ve ever played on their home turf.

The apprehensively Satie-esque 11 Tejones (a tejon is a badger) had echoey, resonant, tersely spaced Vincent Douglas Telecaster licks mingling with Camp’s swirly, funereal organ lines. The trickly shapeshifting Depresion Tropical – third world economics as oncoming storm – kept the uneasy slink going, followed by Papageno Electrico with its irresistible, bittersweetly ominous chorus. For diehard chicha fans, it takes a slinky early 80s style synth tune ten years back in time, when Los Destellos and their compadres were doing it much more organically and psychedelically.

After that the band treated the crowd to a long, trippy take of the Los Mirlos classic Sonido Amazonico, the title track of Chicha Libre’s brilliant 2008 debut album, Camp’s lighthearted salsa organ solo handing off to a long, hallucinatory, sunbaked one from Douglas. From there, they segued into a couple of covers, the second being another Los Mirlos tune, the scampering Muchachita Del Oriente, Douglas’ spaghetti western guitar set against a long, hypnotically crescendoing twin solo from timbalera Karina Colis and an invigorated sub conga player. They wound up the set with a raw, rugged cumbia take of the Clash’s Guns of Brixton and then a similarly edgy, sarcastic original, La Danza Del Millionario.

And a show back in August where Conan was AWOL featured a second lead guitarist firing off lightning-fast flurries of tapping and seriously metal cumbia in his place. Maybe because the guest guitarist was more familiar with iconic chicha material than Chicha Libre’s songs, that set featured a lot more stuff by Los Destellos and Juaneco. You never know what you’r going to get with this crew. And everybody was dancing. Are Chicha Libre the funnest band in New York or what? They’re back at Barbes next Monday, Sept 29 at 9:30 or so and pretty much every other Monday this year: check the Barbes calendar.

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.