In their Lincoln Center debut Tuesday night, La Yegros bounced their way through just about every delicious flavor of cumbia on the planet. There have been some pretty awesome dance parties in the atrium space here this year, but this one seemed to have even more bodies than usual out on the floor. No surprise, considering that bandleader Mariana Yegros led the group through slinky, misterioso Lima cumbia, jauntily strutting, hypnotic cumbia selvetica, and rustic Colombian coast gangsta cumbia, with a touch of reggaeton and a little funk. Drummer Gabriel Ostertag and accordionist Nicolás de Luca opened a couple of numbers with spiraling wood flute duets over the trippy sonic morass spilling from the mixing desk along with the bass (this group doesn’t seem to bring a bassist with them when they tour the US). Meanwhile, Yegros twirled and pounced across the stage, building a fiery celebration of alegria (i.e. fun, and the title to the evening’s catchiest, most anthemic singalong).
That was the message throughout the night. Yegros introduced song after song as “being very important to us,” since the group’s irrepressible grooves first spread over the airwaves. from the native Argentina, to Uruguay and then points further north. Americans may be spoiled by instant internet gratification, but the reality is that only forty percent of the world is fully online. In the case of La Yegros, it’s heartwarming to know that a band this good can actually get commercial radio airplay at all.
Guitarist David Martinez opened the first number with an ominous, Lynchian, reverbtoned twang, later reverting to the same kind of distant minor-key allure on the group’s biggest hit, the shadowy Viene de Mi. The quartet surprised and then energized the crowd with a thumping, clattering, jungly drum-and-vocal interlude midway through their roughly hourlong set, then a little later mashed up elements of both Middle Eastern habibi dance music and bhangra in the night’s most ambitious number. Entreated back for an encore when it didn’t seem that the group were going to do one, they treated the crowd to a second take of their hit Chicha Roja, Martinez adding some bluesy metal flourishes as if to say, “I can play that rock stuff in my sleep,” de Luca firing off incisive minor-key riffage and Ostertag anchoring the song with a hypnotically thumping, circling groove while Yegros lept and spun and kept the dancers on their feet. New York’s own Chicha Libre – who pretty much singlehandedly spearheaded the psychedelic cumbia revolution on this continent – may be mothballed at this point, but this was a good substitute. And Lincoln Center impresario Meera Dugal made sure there was some Chicha Libre in a pretty rad global dance mix pulsing from the PA before the show.
The atrium space at Lincoln Center has lots of enticing shows coming up, some of them more dance-oriented, some more low-key. On Dec 1 at 7:30 PM, saxophonist David Murray leads his band performing latinized versions of Nat King Cole classics – an unlikely concept, in fact so unlikely that it could actually be pretty amazing. Then on Dec 8 Lakecia Benjamin, who’s best known as a powerhouse alto saxophonist, but also writes very cool oldschool JB’s-style funk and retro soul songs, brings her eclectic band to the space. And possibly the most eclectic of all the upcoming bandleaders here, cellist/singer Marika Hughes, brings her kinetic blend of jazz, funk, chamber pop and art-rock with her group Bottom Heavy on the 15th.