Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: The Roots of Chicha

What the soundtrack to The Harder They Come was for reggae, what the Nuggets anthology was for garage rock, The Roots of Chicha promises to be for chicha.  Like Australian country music, Japanese salsa or British rock, chicha is a quintessentially urban kind of alchemy, in this case a creation of the oil-boom cities of Peru beginning in the late 60s and continuing throughout the 80s where musicians raised on sounds from south of the border picked up electronic instruments and started mixing in surf music and psychedelic rock. Like bachata in the Dominican Republic or blues here in the US, the ruling classes in Peru scorned it. The radio didn’t play it and it was largely confined to the slums. Where it thrived.

 

The 17 tracks here are hypnotic and incredibly fun. Some of this sounds like scary surf music. Some sounds like salsa played by a psychedelic rock band (think early Santana without the 20-minute jams), with tinny guitars using all kinds of cheap effects. The beat is like ska but slower, and it swings more, but not as much as reggae. The feel is raw, direct and lo-fi; some would call it primitive. A labor of love created by Barbes Records’ Olivier Conan (leader of the sole American chicha band, Chicha Libre, whose intoxicatingly good debut cd just came out this year), this is the anthology that brought chicha out of Peru for the first time. None of the tracks here have ever been released outside the country, which is more surprising than it is tragic because these songs are so delightful. This is party music, after all (chicha is to Peru what malt liquor is here), and you don’t need to speak Spanish to appreciate it.

 

The Roots of Chicha includes song by five of the most pioneering chicha bands from the late 60s and early 70s. Los Mirlos open and close the cd on a similar note with tersely eerie, one-chord jams with the same mood as Egyptian Reggae by the Ventures, but stranger. They also contribute El Milagro Verde (The Green Miracle), another spooky, tinny reverb-guitar instrumental which is sort of the chicha national anthem, along with Muchachita del Oriente (Little Asian Girl), a party song that has nothing remotely Asian about it. Los Hijos del Sol are represented by another bouncing, incisively reverberating instrumental as well as two characteristically minor-key vocal numbers, the guitar taking off with the central catchy hook on the chorus.

 

Juaneco y Su Combo have three songs included here. Vacilando con Ayahuasca (High on Ayahuasca, a native psychedelic) isn’t the long psychedelic suite you’d assume but rather a catchy instrumental punctuated by a woman’s orgasmic sighs! Another faster instrumental sounds like a ripoff of Muchachita del Oriente – or maybe Muchachita del Oriente rips this off. Obviously there was a lot of cross-pollination going on. The third track is remarkably different, with a considerable Afro-Cuban influence.

 

Los Hijos del Sol follow what seems to be an effective and popular formula, verses that come straight out of salsa, with a lot of call-and-response to get the party going, followed by surfy guitar on the choruses. Los Destellos contribute a gorgeously hooky instrumental, A Patricia, that with a little exposure ought to be picked up by surf bands everywhere, as well as a vocal number and the world’s funniest Beethoven cover. Los Diablos Rojos manage to be both the most overtly surfy and most overtly latin of the bands here, equal parts dazzling Dick Dale tremolo guitar and third-generation Cuban son. There’s also a cut by electric banjoist Eusebio y Su Banjo, the defiant Mi Morena Rebelde (My Rebel Girl) which is more of a traditional cumbia than anything else here. Barbes Records continues to mine the rich vein of classic chicha with a brand-new anthology of songs by Juaneco y Su Combo, available for the first time outside Peru.

 

If the concept of seeing this stuff live intrigues you, Chicha Libre includes some of these songs in their set along with their sometimes even wilder originals. They play Barbes pretty much every Monday at 9:45ish, early arrival always a good idea.

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October 29, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment