Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Songs of the Day 9/19-20/09

Pretty much every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. We missed Saturday, spending the day helping yet another New Yorker become an ex-New Yorker and there was no internet service where they were. And why spend a hour on the  Blackberry when we could do it in five minutes the following day?

So, Saturday’s song was #312:

Chicha Libre – Sonido Amazonico

The greatest one-chord jam of alltime, a melody that will someday be as well-known as, say, Fur Elise or Satisfaction. Although the band is American, Chicha Libre have almost singlehandedly resurrected chicha, the intoxicating Peruvian hybrid of Colombian cumbia, American surf music and psychedelia that was wildly popular in the Amazon oil boom towns of the late 60s and early 70s. The original by Los Mirlos (available on the amazing Roots of Chicha compilation) is a lot of fun but it’s this version, the title track to Chicha Libre’s 2008 debut cd, which is the best, keyboardist Josh Camp’s vintage Hohner Electrovox adding a hypnotic swirl.

And today’s is #311:

Elvis Costello – No Dancing

Here the preeminent musical psychopathologist of our time dissects what being a killjoy is all about over wickedly catchy, slightly doo-wop inflected janglerock. From My Aim Is True, 1977. The link above is the album version; here’s a fascinating live video with the Attractions from what looks like the following year.

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September 20, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Chicha Libre on the Rocks Off Concert Cruise, NYC 5/15/09

There have been more intense, more riveting shows this year but for sheer fun factor, this one tops the charts, a perfect match of band and milieu. Chicha Libre get plenty of ink here because they (at least at this point) seem to be the sole American practitioners of chicha, the intoxicatingly fun, reverb-drenched Peruvian hybrid of Colombian cumbias, American surf music, psychedelia and all kinds of other latin styles. The way Chicha Libre play it, on the surface it sounds a lot like surf music but it’s bouncier and although the music gets pretty dark in places, the band can’t resist taking pretty much anything – Michael Jackson, the Clash, Erik Satie – and doing it chicha style. They did pretty much everything last night. With much of the crowd gathered on the prow, the boat rocked on the waves as it left the harbor, guitarist Vincent Douglas gamely going with the flow and letting his richly twangy chords ring out while the floor shifted.

In two sets and what had to be at least two hours of music, the band mixed obscure chicha instrumentals by los Mirlos, Juaneco y Su Combo (whose anthology Chicha Libre’s own Barbes Records just put out) and others with originals which are arguably even better than the first wave stuff. Who knows, once word gets around and other bands start playing chicha, maybe someday Chicha Libre will be considered a good second wave act something like what the Specials were to ska. Douglas likes effects pedals, this time using a chorus box to add some aptly watery flavor to the title track from their album Sonido Amazonico (ranked in the top three on Lucid Culture’s Best Albums of 2008 list). As usual, the band couldn’t keep from grinning as they intoned “pavane, pavane, pavane” on their chichafied version of the famous Ravel Pavane, turning a requiem into a celebration. Both their versions of the Clash’s Guns of Brixton and Alone Again Or by Love held pretty close to the originals, while Popcorn Andino (a cover of the silly 70s novelty hit by Hot Butter) gave Electrovox keyboardist Josh Camp a chance to build eerily reverberating atmospherics over the rattle and clatter of the two percussionists, Greg Burrows throwing in the occasional big cymbal splash, equal parts high drama and carefree buffoonery. The best songs of the night were two eerie new ones, so period-perfect that it was impossible to tell whether they were covers or originals (one suspects the latter). Finally, on the tongue-in-cheek Hungry Song (also from the album), the band finally cut loose and jammed out, percussion and Electrovox again leading the stampede. 

A word about the cruise: it’s nothing like what you would expect. Since Rocks Off is independently owned and operated, there are no officious ushers or corporate security goons, no garish ad banners and in fact it’s hard to tell the crew from the passengers, since everybody seems to be having such a good time. Disabuse yourself of any horrific memories of freshman year booze cruises or Cancun. This is a different animal, a distinctly New York version. The boat was clean, there was never a wait for a bathroom, no sorority girls passing out, no fratboys bellowing over the music. Just a bracing breeze and Chicha Libre.

May 16, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Juaneco y Su Combo – Masters of Chicha Vol. 1

On May 2, 1977 five members of Peruvian chicha band Juaneco y Su Combo died in a plane crash. Compounding the tragedy was the fact that the band were at the time the country’s most popular practitioners of the style, a wildly psychedelic, danceable blend of Colombian cumbia, Brazilian and Latin dance music and American surf rock with reverb guitar and trebly electronic organ. Over 20 years later, small but influential Brooklyn label Barbes Records has made a full album of the group’s work available for the first time ever outside Peru. It’s about time.

 

During its initial heyday in the 70s, chicha – like bachata in the Dominican and jazz here in the US – was strictly the province of the lower classes, scorned by the elite. Because of this, Juaneco y Su Combo were a regional band in the purest sense of the word. They adopted the traditional dress of the Shipibo Indian majority of their native city of Pucallpa and frequently made use of imagery from Shipibo mythology in their lyrics (such as they were – most of their songs were instrumentals). Perhaps what’s most striking about the band’s success is that the various elements of their music were all foreign. The latin rhythm is anchored by traditional Cuban percussion; bandleader Juan Wong Popolizio traded in his accordion for a Farfisa organ, and lead guitarist Noe Fachin – known as El Brujo (The Wizard) was a fan of the Ventures and the Shadows. Like most other bands of the era, another major influence on the group’s music was drugs. Fachin – among those killed in the plane crash –  was a devotee of ayahuasca, a psychedelic common to the region. Perhaps as a result, this is the best high-velocity stoner music you’ll ever hear. As his nickname implies, Fachin had great speed on the fretboard, but his playing can be sloppy and sometimes either he or the band are noticeably out of tune. On much of the material here, all of them sound stoned, which only adds to the band’s woozy mystique. Like a lot of south-of-the-border music from the 70s, the overall sound is tinny, likely because much of this was recorded on the fly using low-budget gear. 

 

The cd’s best songs follow a formula common to salsa, two minor-key chords alternating on the verse and building to a big crescendo on the chorus which Fachin would typically make the max of. Un Shipibo en Espana (famously covered by Chicha Libre, Barbes Records’ owner Olivier Conan’s band and perhaps the best chicha band ever) is a prime example. The single best song on the cd – written by their late bassist Walter Dominguez – is La Patadita, a deviously murky, minor-key blend of surf and salsa. Fachin’s Vacilando con Ayahuasca (High on Ayahuasca) isn’t the hallucinatory sidelong suite you might expect, but a ripoff of the Ventures’ version of Caravan (a Duke Ellington tune: what a fun and unexpected game of telephone this turned out to be!). On the cd’s last cut, Recordando a Fachin (Remembering Fachin), his replacement does an enviable job of emulating his trademark frenetic, hanging-over-the-cliff style. This cd’s closest relative, in spirit anyway, is German film composer Manfred Hubler’s legendary 1969 Vampiros Lesbos soundtrack. Except that you can dance to it.

 

Barbes Records – who have a franchise on chicha music outside Peru – have also played a substantial role in building renewed interest in the style’s originators right where it originated, with the latest version of Juaneco y Su Combo (still fronted by original singer Wilindoro Cacique) currently one of the country’s hottest live acts. It’s probably only a matter of time before these songs start getting picked up by American surf bands (how’s that for irony?) One can only hope for continuing releases in the Masters of Chicha series; for now, several other bands, including Los Mirlos, Los Destellos and Los Diablos Rojos are included on Barbes’ seminal anthology The Roots of Chicha, released last year.

 

 

November 12, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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

Brooklyn’s Best Dance Party

There’s no celebrity dj at Brooklyn’s best dance party. For that matter, there’s no dj. No celebrities, either. No ipod that hasn’t been stowed in a pocket or a purse. And no ecstasy, at least the kind that comes in a pill. Chicha Libre’s weekly Monday night residency at Barbes, where the back room becomes a roiling mass of bodies, gets plenty of press here, as Lucid Culture regulars will recall from our NYC live music calendar. The band actually likes it when people dance! The more people jump around, the better the band sounds. A stop by the club to see how the residency is going found them fantastically tight and more fun than ever: this weekly gig has done wonders for them.

In case Chicha Libre are new to you, at this point in time they are possibly the only American practitioners of chicha, a mostly instrumental style of dance music that originated in the slums of the Peruvian Amazon in the late 1960s when indigenous groups discovered American surf music and psychedelic rock and started playing electric instruments. Many of the bands who played it then called it “green music,” not for the dollars they managed to scrimp together for all that equipment, but for what they were smoking when they played it: this is the most hypnotic style of dance music you’ll ever hear.

Tonight the band ran through a mix of originals and covers, both from their sensational new cd Sonido Amazonico as well as Barbes Records’ anthology The Roots of Chicha, released last year. The way the band plays these songs, they’re full of trick endings: unless you have the cd – which is possible, since it’s all the rage – or you know the songs inside out, it’s hard to be sure if you should keep dancing or not. Tonight just about everybody in the mixed Anglo and Latino crowd was moving around on the floor: even the gaggle of drunks at the back table had their heads bobbing. The other great thing about Chicha Libre is that they improvise a lot, especially keyboardist Josh Camp, who ran his vintage Hohner Electrovox (an electric organ designed to look like an accordion, devised as a marketing ploy to open up the Latin market to the company’s instruments) through a labyrinthine circuit of weird, spacy wah-wah and reverb effects. Their version of the famous Ravel Pavane was as amusing as always, frontman Olivier Conan intoning “Pavane, pavane, pavane,” while trying to keep a straight face (that didn’t last long). Then it was the audience’s turn, grins breaking out throughout the room as everyone realized that the band was taking a stab at the Love classic Alone Again Or. While they gave the intro a bouncy chicha groove, the rest of the song was remarkably true to the original. It’s the closest to Arthur Lee (or Bryan MacLean, for that matter) you’ll ever get at this point in time.

Otherwise, they ran through a powerfully propulsive, surprisingly dark version of Los Mirlos’ Muchachita del Mi Amor, as well as amped-up, surfy takes on Conan’s Primavera en la Selva, Camp’s La Cumbia del Zapatero and the cover Un Shipibo en Espana, the latter three of which are all on Sonido Amazonico. If dancing is your thing, if you don’t go out on Saturdays because all the amateurs are out in full effect, Monday nights with Chicha Libre at Barbes are everything we’ve been saying about them for the better part of a year. This band is at the point where they’re about to outgrow the space here: see them while you can.

April 22, 2008 Posted by | concert, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment