New York Music Daily

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Tag: cumbia

A Rare New York Appearance by Peruvian Amazon Psychedelic Legends Los Wembler’s de Iquitos

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.

Kiko Villamizar Puts on a Furious, Funny, Politically Woke Dance Party at Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center’s Viviana Benitez introduced firebrand singer Kiko Villamizar as an artist dedicated to the cause of keeping families together. Although his eclectic, psychedelic tropical dance music addresses other pressing issues, he didn’t waste any time confirming that particular one. The burly, bushy-bearded Colombian-American singer and his slinky five-piece band opened their debut show here this past evening with wih Hasta Que Se Fue, its rumbling chalupa beat underpinning an allusivey harrowing lyric about immigrant families being ripped apart in US concentration camps.

Villamizar blends ancient Afro-Colombian coastal gaita flute music with undulating chicha guitar music along with other styles he grew up with after his family moved from Florida to Colombia. “You don’t have to more your hands like “We Are the World,” but c’mon up here!” he told the crowd, who had been pretty sleepy on this rainy night so far. And suddenly everybody was up on their feet for as the guitarist played echoey, ominous spaghetti western licks over an irresistible cumbia groove. But this was a party for the right to fight: Villamizar’s big anthem addressed the lethal consequences of oil pipelines, which lave contaminated large parts of the world south of the equator.

Villmamizar is also an impresario: he books the annual Wepa cumbia festival in Austin, his home base these days. But it isn’t limited to cumbia, as he reminded with the scampering, skanking El Arbolito, a tribute both to his roots and our endangered forests, a long gaita solo floaitng over the rumbing beat from the bass, drums and traditional tambor alegre.

He dedicated the souful, trickily rhythmic minor-key ballad after that to “the most important person in the universe: her name is Natalie – where are you?” he wanted to know, then imperceptibly shifted the beat into cumbia and then reggae. Villamizar’s sardonic sense of humor is relentless: he explained that an as-yet-unreleased, punchy, syncopated cumbia addressing the South American refugee crisis and the xenophobic Trump response was about “family values.”

From there the band hit a punchy, swinging quasi-ska beat it was like witnesing Peruvian chicha legends Juaneco y Su Combo, but with an otherworldly, swirly edge fueled by the gaita. Villamizar returned  to catchy cautionary tales with Aguas Frias, a swaying eco-disaster parable, then blended Santana-esque psychedelic with hard funk.

After blending what sounded like a traditional call-and-response cumbia with a classic 70s American disco shuffle and a spacerock guitar solo, Villaizar got the crowd singing along with a couple of centuries-old Colombian  trance-dance chants. By now, everybody except the old people and bloggers were up their feet.

“The word ‘ceremony’ doesn’t exist in most of those languages down there, it’s just the way you’re supposed to live your life,” Villamizar explained, then invited up members of the NYC Gaita Club to validate that with another ecstatic processional tune. His Austin buddy Victor Cruz joined them for a thunderous invocation of the spirits and then a communal circle dance by Colombian bullerengue legend Emilsen Pacheco .

The next free show at the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is on Sept 19 at 7:30 PM with Korean janggu drummer Kim So Ra and her thunderous percussion troupe. Get there early if you want a seat.

Star Colombian Accordionist El Rey Vallenato Beto Jamaica Shreds at Lincoln Center

Alberto Jamaica Larrota a.k.a. El Rey Vallenato Beto Jamaica really is a king: he won top honors at the Leyenda Vallenato Festival in his native Colombia. He was also reputedly the big attraction at the final night of this year’s Bryant Park Accordion Festival, a big event that this blog unfortunately had to miss. Trying to come up with words to describe his slinky, slashing, virtuoso performance this past evening at Lincoln Center wasn’t easy: this guy puts on a party. An all-ages Colombian massive filled the dancefloor and packed the seats at the Broadway atrium space to watch the accordionist/bandleader and an unusually small five-piece lineup – bass, guiro, tambor and vocals – run through a set of hits that even got the people in the press seats up on their feet. Good luck trying to write, or text, or do much of anything other than dancing, in the middle of that.

The former construction foreman, who sold off his wardrobe and prized cassettes to buy his first accordion, is a pretty shy guy: he doesn’t even front his own band. But he shreds, building his way to a fullscale vallenato inferno. He and the group opened with a merengue-flavored tune, the bassist puncing his way up the scale to an enveloping solo. The clever shift from a circling 6/8 beat to a pretty much straight-up clave wasn’t lost on the dancers.

Tthe percussive attack of the second number more than counterbalanced the blithe tune ,Ironically, it was on the third song of the night, a slowly swaying cumbia anthem, where El Rey got shreddier. The one after that belonged to the bass player, slamming out booming chords and swooping octaves over the bandleader’s staccato attack.

A thundering cumbia hit by the late, great Celso Pina was lit up with hypnoticlly circling upper-register accordion riffage, as the rhythm shifted again to a straight-ahead dancefloor thud. Then they went lickety-split through a vampy two-chord number where it seemed like Beto Jamaica’x axe might burst a button or three. As these guy proved earlier during the show, they can slow the show down, just as they did at this point, and still drove the energy higher, this time around with sizzling minor-key accordion riffs, bass all over the place, haunting vocal harmonies and a thorny thicket of percussion.

From there the rhythms followed a roller coaster of dynamic shifts, El Rey paying his respects to his big Mexican influences as well as several squeezebox favorites from his home turf. Anyone in the house who was hearing vallenato for the first time got as solid an introducion as anybody could want.

The next free concert at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. – New Yorks best place for discovering new sounds from around the or world, or just revisiting them  is next Thursday, August 29 at 7:30 PM with the Haitian funk band that started it all, Boukman Eksperyans. If you’re going, get there early.

Accordions From Literally Everywhere Around the World in Bryant Park This Week and Next

Last week’s kickoff of the annual Bryant Park accordion festival was a chance to revisit some favorites and make some new discoveries. Organizer Ariana Hellerman, who for years published the extremely useful summer concert and events calendar Ariana’s List, has booked every conceivable style of music that uses accordion (and ringers like the bandoneon, concertina and harmonium) into the series. With the rainout this week, next week’s installment begins on August 7 at 5:30 with a series of acts rotating around the park’s four corners and also the Sixth Avenue terrace. The lineup includes but is not limited to klezmer/Mediterranean shredder Ismail Butera, the wryly lyrical Susan Hwang, Mindra Sahadeo (the ringer here) on Indian harmonium and the bouncy, effervescent Nordic Smorgasbandet.

Last week’s lineup was typically eclectic. The irrepressible, timeless Phoebe Legere can still hit those operatic high notes, and engaged the crowd with her quirky sense of humor. She spent most of her show playing to various audience members, encouraging random people to ring the dinner bell on her accordion, and at one point, trailing a cop who was making his way through the crowd. Her funniest number made fun of the OKCupid dating service and had a spot-on punchline.

Romany song maven Eva Salina didn’t let being pregnant with her first child phase her a bit: “Gotta work til I can’t,” she grinned. Her first set of the evening was a little more low-key than usual, full of angst and longing for home and alienated anomie. Singing mostly in Romanes, relying on a forceful low register, she covered both older traditional tunes from Serbia and the Romany diaspora as well as a couple of numbers from the catalog of tragic heroine Vida Pavlovic. Eva’s longtime accordionist Peter Stan supplied his usual chromatic fireworks with lightning trills, uneasy close harmonies and turbulent rivers of minor-key arpeggios.

Foncho Castellar drew the biggest dancing crowd, no great surprise since the Colombian expat played so many oldschool cumbias. His two-man percussion section, on guiro and conga, kept a tightly swinging beat going as Castellar began with a brightly pulsing vallenato number. Then he kicked out the cumbia jams, and picked up the pace even further with some merengue toward the end.

In two hours at the park, you can either catch full half-hour sets from as many as four acts, or wander around and sample everybody. From this perspective, the evening’s coda – one of the most sublime sets by anyone who’s ever played this festival – was a slinky, rapturously microtonal set of bellydance themes by the Egyptian-born Nabawy. Rocking a formidable, sleek black quartertone model, he started out with a stark chromatic dance in the western minor scale and then brought in the Arabic tonalities. For a drum, he plugged his phone into the PA and ran a couple of loops of traditional beats. A concertgoer went up to him to thank him for playing: the fast-fingered guy wasn’t satisfied with the electroacoustic element. “I’ve got to get some kind of drum,” he mused, shaking his head. It was hard to argue with thirty nonstop minutes of the otherworldly torrents he’d fired off; then again, he has a long background playing for dancers. Let’s hope he comes back.

Psychedelic Cumbia Icons Chicha Libre Reunite at Barbes

It was late 2006 at a long-gone Curry Hill honkytonk “I’ve got this Peruvian surf band playing on Sundays that you should really check out,” the club’s talent buyer suggested to an e-zine publisher who would eventually become the proprietor of a daily New York music blog. The future blog owner never made it to Rodeo Bar to see an embryonic Chicha Libre, but the group did go on to become the funnest band in New York, toured internationally and also pretty much singlehandedly introduced psychedelic cumbia to the world north of the Texas border.

They played a brief, maybe 45-minute set at their longtime home base, Barbes last night. It was their first New York show since early 2015, but it was like they’d never left. It was amazing to watch the faces of pretty much everybody in the band. The expressions spoke for themselves: “I can’t believe we’irre doing this, and that it’s still this fun.”

Vincent Douglas is still the most economically slashing surf cumbia guitarist on the planet – this time he hit his distortion pedal again and again, for simmer and burn and sunbaked ambience. Frontman/cuatro player Olivier Conan is more serioso in front of the band than ten years ago, notwithstanding the fact that this multinational act is just as much a copycat as the Peruvian cult favorites they imitate were, forty and fifty years ago.

Conguero Neil Ochoa had the songs’ machinegunning turnarounds down cold; timbalera Karina Colis not only added extra layers of devious flurries, but also perfectly replicated Alyssa Lamb’s vocal harmonies from the band’s first two records. Bassist Nick Cudahy held the center while Josh Camp used two small keyboards and a labyrinth of effects pedals for a decent recreation of the tremoloing, oscillating, keening dubwise effects he used to get out of an old Hohner Electrovox synth. Maybe it’s a lot easier to switch between a couple of keyboards than to strap on the heavy accordion body that houses the Electrovox. “Electronics have always been an issue for this band,” Conan confided.

The songs were sublime: jangly, and trebly, and swooshy, just like the classic Peruvian bands the group modeled themselves after. Pretty much everybody in the crowd was dancing or at least bouncing. Surprisingly, the one song that gave the band trouble was the broodingly otherworldly Sonido Amazonico, the national anthem of chicha and title track of their classic 2007 album. But no matter – they jammed it out, a little faster and more dubwise than they used to do it

The uneasily waltzing Depresion Tropical, a snide commentary on IMF bloodsucking in the Caribbean, had special resonance. Camp sang a cumbia version of Love’s Alone Again Or. Conan’s account of the little drunk guy in El Borrachito, who tells a girl in the bar that she should stop picking on him and be his girlfriend – in Spanish, obviously – was as cruelly funny as it was when the band played it ten years ago here. Same with the tightly shuffling Hungry Song, told from the point of view of a couple of guys who are so high they can’t tell weed from chicha. Speaking of which, Barbes now has that sour, beerlike corn mash liquor on draft. As a thirst-quencher on hot days, it’s better than beer.

They closed with their outrageously silly cover of the schlocky cheesy pioneering 1972 proto-synthpop hit, Popcorn, They’re back at Barbes tomorrow night, June 26 at 10, and if stoner music, or dance music, or cumbia is your thing, this may be your only chance to see this band, ever. They’re doing a couple of South American dates next, but after that, who knows.

Slinky Colombian Party Music with Los Mochuelos at Barbes

When Los Mochuelos hit the stage at their most recent Barbes show earlier this month, there were maybe two people in the room. Then little by little, a crowd started to trickle in, and by half past eleven the place was packed.

This was on a Monday.

Even though Barbes is a working-class bar – at least as much as a bar in Park Slope in 2019 can be – the venue has a tradition of big Monday night shows. The house band, Chicha Libre used to pack ‘em in on Mondays for years. Lately there’s been a Colombian music scene developing, with monthly residencies by feral singer Carolina Oliveros’ Bulla en el Barrio – who play coastal trance-dance bulleregue – and also by a spinoff of that band, the flute-driven NYC Gaita Club. Los Mochuelos are the latest Colombian Monday night addition.

This particular Monday, the five-piece group played a lot of vallenato, but they also did a bunch of cumbias, a bouncy 1-4-5 tune that sounded like Veracruz folk and a big ballad that also could have been Mexican, but from further north. As Ariana Hellerman, founder of the Bryant Park Accordion Festival has pointed out, music played on that instrument tends to be as portable as the instrument itself. It’s hard to think of a more entertaining cultural cross-pollinator.

Harold Rodriguez (of tropical pop band Alma Mia) played that cross-pollinator, a button model, which tends to get a trebly, reedy sound. Counterbalancing that on bass, Sebastian Rodriguez (of wild psychedelic cumbia band Yotoco) started out with a booming presence, almost as if he had a standup bass. Over the crackle of the three-man percussion section, considering the material – a lot of hits from the 1960s and before – the experience conjured up a beachside gangster cabana of the mind.

Frontman/percussionist Christian Rodriguez sang a lot of party anthems and you-done-me-wrong songs, most of them in minor keys. As the show went on, the bass got treblier and punchier, and more serpentine. Because the accordion needed to be miked, the whole Barbes crew got into the act and made sure the sound mix was as pristine as possible. So much for a dead Monday night. Los Mochuelos are back at Barbes at around 9:30 on April 1, no joke.

Barbes: Home Base For NYC’s Best Bands

The problem with Barbes – and if you run a music blog, this can be a problem – is that the hang is as good as the bands. If you’re trying to make your way into the music room and run into friends, always a hazard here, you might not make it past the bar. Which speaks to a couple of reasons why this well-loved Park Slope boite has won this blog’s Best Brooklyn Venue award three times in the past ten years or so.

A Monday night before Thanksgiving week last year was classic. The scheduled act had cancelled, but there was still a good crowd in the house. What to do? Somebody called somebody, and by eleven there was a pickup band – guitar, keys, bass and drums – onstage, playing better-than-serviceable covers of Peruvian psychedelic cumbia hits form the 60s and 70s. The best was a slinky, offhandedly sinister take of Sonido Amazonico, the chromatic classic which has become the national anthem of chicha, as psychedelic cumbia is called in Peru. Where else in New York could you possibly hear something like this…on a Monday night?

On Thanksgiving night, the two Guinean expat guitarists who lead the Mandingo Ambassadors played a rapturously intertwining set that drew a more-or-less straight line back to the spiky acoustic kora music that preceded the state-sponsored negritude movement of the 1960s. Without the horns that sometimes play with the band, the delicious starriness of the music resonated more than ever.

The night after that, there was a solid klezmer pickup band in the house. The night after that – yeah, it was a Barbes weekend – started with pianist Anthony Coleman going as far out into free jazz as he ever does, followed by a psychedelic take on nostalgic 60s and 70s Soviet pop by the Eastern Blokhedz and then an even more psychedelic set by Bombay Rickey, who switched from spaghetti western to sick jamband versions of Yma Symac cumbias to surf rock, Bollywood and finally an ominous shout-out to a prehistoric leviathan that’s been dead for twenty thousand years.

Sets in late November and January left no doubt that Slavic Soul Party are still this city’s #1 Balkan brass party band, whether they’re playing twisted Ellington covers, percolating Serbian Romany hits or their own hip-hop influenced tunes. A pit stop here early before opening night of Golden Fest to catch the Crooked Trio playing postbop jazz standards was a potent reminder that bandleader Oscar Noriega is just as brilliant a drummer as he is playing his many reed instruments.

Who knew that trumpeter Ben Holmes’ plaintive, bittersweet, sometimes klezmer, sometimes Balkan tinged themes would blend so well with Kyle Sanna’s lingering guitar jangle, as they did in their debut duo performance in December? Who expected this era’s darkest jamband, Big Lazy, to take their sultry noir cinematic themes and crime jazz tableaux further into the dub they were exploring twenty years ago, like they did right before the new year? Who would have guessed that the best song of the show by trombonist Bryan Drye’s Love Call Trio would be exactly that, a mutedly lurid come-on?

Where else can you hear a western swing band, with an allstar lineup to match Brain Cloud’s personnel, swaying their way through a knowingly ominous take of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Look Down that Lonesome Road? Notwithstanding this embarrassment of riches, the best show of all here over the past few months might have been by Turkish ensemble Alhambra, featuring most of haunting singer Jenny Luna’s band Dolunay. Back in mid-December, they spun moody, serpentine themes of lost love, abandonment and desolation over Adam Good’s incisive, brooding oud and Ramy El Asser’s hynoptic, pointillistic percussion. Whether singing ancient Andalucian laments in Ladino, or similar fare in Turkish, Luna’s wounded nuance transcended any linguistic limitations.

There’s good music just about every night at Barbes, something no other venue in New York, or maybe the world, can boast.  Tomorrrow’s show, Feb 18 at Barbes is Brain Cloud at 7 followed at 9:30ish by ex-Chicha Libre keyboard sorcerer Josh Camp’s wryly psychedelic cumbia/tropicalia/dub band Locobeach. Slavic Soul Party are here the day after, Feb 19 at 9; Noriega and the Crooked Trio play most Fridays starting at 5:30. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Combo Chimbita Air Out Their Darkly Shamanic Psychedelic Grooves at Lincoln Center

This past evening at Combo Chimbita’s feral, darkly psychedelic show, Lincoln Center’s Viviana Benitez explained that the dancefloor at the atrium space had been opened up, “So that you will feed off their energy and they will feed off you.” She was on to something.

The Colombian-American band were celebrating the release of their first single, Testigo, from a forthcoming album due out in 2019. Drummer Dilemastronauta built a boomy, shamanic triplet groove over an enveloping low drone as Niño Lento’s synth woozed in and out. Then a whistle of wind echoed the rain raging outside, and frontwoman Carolina Oliveros took the stage. Decked out in a striking, stark black gothic skirt and blouse, silvery bracelets and facepaint flickering under the low lights, she was an Incan avenging angel hell-bent on righting centuries of conquistadorian evil. As the group rose to a screaming peak behind her, she didn’t waste time cutting loose, Niño Lento blasting out eerie sheets of reverb from his Fender Jazzmaster. Maybe because the guitar was so loud, she was even more ferocious than usual: their usual home base, Barbes, is a lot smaller.

Next it was bassist Prince of Queens’ turn to get a catchy minor-key riff swirling from his keys, then a reggae-tinged pulse as the guitar fired off a flickering, deep-space hailstorm. A stygian vortex of sound took centstage as Oliveros left her trance momentarily, then the group hit a galloping Ethiopiques beat with a furious, insistent- bullerengue-style call-and-response, which made sense considering that Oliveros also fronts the even trancier, considerably more rustic Afro-Colombian collective Bulla En El Barrio. It was a galloping constelacion of Los Destellos psychedelic cumbia and the Black Angels.

Oliveros stalked across the stage, channeling an increasingly forceful series of witchy voices as the next tune grew from a brooding, reggae-tinged groove to a hypnotically cantering blend of icepick reverb guitar and woozy synth swirl. The song after that was just as psychedelic, a deep-space hailstorm of hammer-on guitar over dubwise bass and Oliveros’ looming intensity front and center, foreshadowing the big crescendo the band would hit with the new single a bit later.

From there Oliveros’ imploring voice rose over an echoing, bass-heavy slink that slowly shifted from reggae to cumbia and back and forth, the menace of Niño Lento’s funereal organ closer and closer on the horizon. Sinister dub bass anchored icy minor-key clang, giving Oliveros a long launching pad for her most explosive, assaultively shivery vocal attack of the evening. After awhile, it was as if the show was all just one long, grittily triumphant anthem. You might not have heard it here first, but this is the future of psychedelic rock: lyrics in something other than English and a charismatic woman out front.

The next free show at Lincoln Center’s atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is this Nov 29, a return to the usual Thursday night programming here with Time for Three playing a similarly surreal if somewhat more sedate set mashing up classical and Americana styles. Get there as close to 7:30 PM showtime as you can if you want a seat.

Doctor Nativo Brings Irresistible Cumbia Grooves and Potent Global Relevance to Lincoln Center

It took Doctor Nativo about fifteen seconds this past evening to fill up the dancefloor at the album release show for his new one, Guatemaya, at Lincoln Center. That’s what a catchy cumbia like Ay Morena can do. But Doctor Nativo’s music is about more than just a good dance groove. Lincoln Center impresario Jordana Leigh spoke of how her programming seeks to reflect the multicultural beauty of New York communities, and that Doctor Nativo’s music and message dovetail with that.

Doctor Nativo, otherwise known as Juan Martinez, is the son of a Guatemalan restaurateur and freedom fighter murdered by an anti-democracy death squad. The defiance in the group’s lyrics reflects a corrosive cynicism toward political corruption, but also an equally defiant sense of hope. Their guiro player opened the show solo with a Quecha-language rap. Behind the band, video of native Guatemalan village life – weaving, cooking, protesting, playing indigenous instruments, parading in costumes that seemed straight out of Chinese New Year, and visiting the graveyard – panned on a screen above the stage.

Andrae Murchison’s incisive trombone licks lent a dubwise edge to the spicy, slinky Sabrosura: the sound engineer’s decision to crank the bass paid off, filling out the music’s otherwise relatively sparse arrangements. The next number on the bill had a clever anti-globalist reggaeton rap over a bouncy, vampy backdrop that was part roots reggae and part psychedelic cumbia. They kept the reggae-inspired party for the right to fight going with Zion, another insistent track from the new album, then added a touch of mariachi with the mythically-inspired El Mero Mero.

Doctor Nativo dedicated the number after that, La Voz Popular, to Guatemala’s only radio station that dared play “rebel music,” as he put it, during the genocidal thirty-year civil war there. Once again, the guiro player took centerstage, this time with a jubilant on-air tag to kick off more of the unstoppable cumbia pulse that they’d keep going for the rest of the set. There were also slight detours toward roots reggae (the album’s title track) and hip-hop (a grateful salute to a youthful breakdancer who spent his formative years in the band).

The bandleader took time to explain the Mayan mysticism behind El 20, the night’s most epic cumbia: it’s a matter of energy. The symbolism of Kandela turned out to be more reggae-inspired: bun down Babylon! 

The next event at Lincoln Center’s wildly popular atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is next Thurs, Sept 20, a panel discussion on the devastating effects of gentrification and real estate bubble madness featuring Jeremiah Moss of the indispensable blog Vanishing New York, plus Ensemble Connect playing avant garde and indie classical chamber works by Julius Eastman and others. Admission is free; if you want a seat, get there early.

Doctor Nativo Brings His Catchy, Psychedelic Guatemalan Freedom Fighter Anthems to Lincoln Center

Guatemala’s Doctor Nativo, a.k.a. Juan Martinez, plays a mix of psychedelic tropical styles, from cumbia to roots reggae. His fearlessly political new album Guatemaya, which often brings to mind Chicha Libre covering the Clash, is streaming at Bandcamp. His Spanish-language lyrics address issues from immigration, to cultural clashes and the ongoing struggle for freedom against CIA-sponsored anti-democracy factions who’ve plagued Latin American for decades.

Doctor Nativo’s dad Arturo Martinez was a Guatemalan freedom fighter murdered by an anti-democracy death squad after they discovered that his restaurant was being used for secret meetings. The younger Martinez is bringing that defiant legacy along with his catchy, anthemic tropical band to the Lincoln Center atrium this Thurs, Sept 13 at 7:30 PM. Get there early if you want a seat, and keep in mind that the almost-weekly series of free shows there routinely sells out.

The opening track on the new album is a biting minor-key roots reggae tune lit up by the horn section of trombonist Danilo Rodriguez – who also plays marimba, bass, cuatro, charango and harp here – alongside Sous Sebas Sax. It appears that Ivan Duran is on guitar here – Honduran surf music legend Guayo Cedeno also plays lead guitar on the album.

The second track, Ay Morena, is a slinky chicha party groove, which the band takes to further psychedelic heights with the next track, Sabrosura, the hypnotically rustic, strummy charango contrasting with Cedeno’s snaky wah-wah riffs.

You might think that Zion would be a reggae tune, but instead it’s chicha, speaking truth to power against the kind of oppressors that the Martinez family knew as the grimmest kind of reality. Likewise, the bandleader keeps the theme going on a personal level in B-Boy, a rapidfire, lyrical mashup of reggaeton and psychedelic cumbia, and then in El Mero Mero with its surreal contrast of electric chicha instrumentation and otherworldly chirimilla, the ancient Mayan oboe.

The mix of looming salsa horns, electric and acoustic textures in El 20 is just as strangely kaleidoscopic, anchoring its insistent message of global unity…or else. La Voz Popular also has a brief reggaeton cameo and a snaky cumbia vamp.

The horns get a little spicier in Kandela; the album’s last track is the anti-corruption protest anthem Pa’Que Se Levanten, which ought to get everybody up on their feet at the Lincoln Center gig. If Doctor Nativo is bringing Cedeno on this tour, the shows will be a lot wilder than this tight, smartly produced album suggests.