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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 10/13/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #839:

The Roots of Chicha 2

This is the first album to make its debut here on this list. Pretty impressive, considering what a major event its predecessor was. In 2007, the first Roots of Chicha anthology not only introduced the world to what, for better or worse, could be called Peruvian surf music: it also spearheaded a revival of chicha music in the land where it was born. Not bad for an album on a small label (Barbes Records) run out of a Brooklyn bar. And where the Roots of Chicha was a good anthology, this follow-up is a great one. More than its predecessor, this is a rock record: the Roots of Chicha focused on the woozy psychedelic cumbias coming out of the Peruvian Amazon in the late 60s and early 70s, many of them with more of a latin sound than the songs here. This focuses more closely on the rock side of the phenomenon, a mix of songs from 1969 through 1981. Some of them vamp out on a chord, hypnotically, all the way through to the chorus. Most of them have a vintage, 1960s timbre, the guitars playing through trebly amps with lot of reverb backed by tinny Farfisa organ and tons of clattering percussion. Many of these have a swaying cumbia beat, but a lot of them don’t. Likewise, a lot of the songs use the pentatonic scales common to Asian music – some wouldn’t be out of place in the Dengue Fever songbook.

The best song here is an absolutely gorgeous version of Siboney, by Los Walkers. It’s sort of the chicha equivalent of the Ventures’ cover of Caravan, a reverb-drenched rock version of a familiar, distantly ominous melody made even more so. Another knockout is Los Ribereños’ Silbando, a vividly brooding minor-key shuffle that foreshadows Brooklyn chicha revisionists Chicha Libre. The best of the chicha bands of the 70s, Los Destellos (see #903 on this list) are represented by a simple, one-chord fuzztone stinger and the Asian-tinged, warped bucolic jam La Pastorcita. Likewise, Los Wremblers contribute two, one more of a celebration than the title would make you think, the other the original version of La Danza de los Petroleros that became a big hit for Los Mirlos. 80s stars Chacalon y la Nueva Crema contribute a catchy workingman’s lament; Manzanita y Su Conjunto have three songs here that showcase their artful ability to switch from Cuban son montuno, to hypnotic acid rock, to catchy cumbia-pop. There’s also a one-chord wonder (well, almost) by Compay Quinto; Grupo Celeste’s scurrying, bass-driven Como un Ave; Ranil y Su Conjunto’s savage, Asian-flavored Mala Mujer; Colegiala, by Los Ilusionistas, an iconic number that was used – albeit in bastardized, almost unrecognizable form – in a well-known television commercial in the 80s; and Los Shapis’ El Aguajal, another famous one. Very little of this has been available before now outside of Peru; much of it was out of print for years in its native land. All of this you can dance to, and like surf music, it’s easy to get completely addicted to it: youtube is a goldmine of chicha. The extensive liner notes to this album are a great place to start. It’s out now on Barbes Records.

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October 13, 2010 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Si Para Usted Vol. 2 – The Funky Beats of Revolutionary Cuba

Obviously a labor of love for Waxing Deep label head Dan Zacks, this is another album (see our review of the Komeda Project from a couple of days ago) that’s as good as it is important, in the best sense possible. None of these songs, mostly dating from Cuba in the 70s through the 90s, have ever been available in digital form, or for that matter, outside of Cuba. What Zacks and Waxing Deep have done for obscure Cuban funk classics from the 70s here is the equivalent of what The Harder They Come soundtrack was for reggae, or what Olivier Conan and Barbes Records have done for Peruvian chicha music: introducing a western audience to an extraordinary blend of indigenous and rock-influenced sounds never available before outside where they originated. Not only are the Si Para Usted volumes (this one especially) great dance music, they’re also great stoner music. Historical documents have seldom been more fun.

As with Barbes’ The Roots of Chicha, the songs here have been remastered from the original analog tapes, and to the engineers’ infinite credit, the tinniness of the originals (Cubans weren’t exactly working with the latest state-of-the-art gear) has been significantly reduced. If anything, the rudimentary sonics adds to the music’s often quaint, sometimes utterly bizarre charm. What’s saddest is that because of chronic shortages of just about everything, Communist Cuban pressing plants had to compete with just about everyone else who used vinyl, making albums something of a rarity and second pressings virtually nonexistent – as this cd’s extensive and fascinating liner notes make clear, some of the greatest Cuban groups of the era simply didn’t record. Fortunately we have this genre-busting, sometimes woozy document to immortalize some of those who were fortunate to leave something behind.

Because every type of latin music has a groove, the songs here, mostly instrumentals, swing and sway – the herky-jerky beat of American funk doesn’t translate, the result being a strange, sometimes slightly uptight hybrid rhythm similar to Peruvian chicha (a blend of American surf music, Colombian cumbias and indigenous styles). There’s Safari Salvaje by Los Rapidos, a wickedly grooving variant on Barrabas’ Wild Safari featuring some wild prog-rock organ work. There’s the best-ever cover of the Ides of March’s Vehicle, complete with another organ solo that builds from a quote from Bach’s Toccata in D. Cuando Llego a Mi Casa by Los Brito (a native sensation) works a slinky, lushly orchestrated Isaac Hayes vamp for all it’s worth with tasty, jazzy flute.

Another cover, the classic son song Siboney is recast by Los Llamas as Os Mutantes-style psychedelia. Interestingly, the group’s musical director was born in 1929, the same year the original was released, meaning that if he was involved with this particular arrangement (history isn’t clear on this), it would be something equivalent to Benny Goodman making a successful transition to psychedelic rock in the 70s. Other standouts among the fifteen tracks here include the wild, trippy, Electric Prunes-esque El Sueno de Andria by Mirtha y Raul (a popular tv news show couple!), the Sergeant Pepper-style Beatlesque pop of Los Barba’s El Cristal, Grupo los Caribe’s cinematic surf instrumental Andalucia and the album’s concluding track, the utterly hypnotic guanguaco number Para Que Niegas by the still extant Los Papines. Kudos to Waxing Deep for the obviously herculean effort it took to track down these songs. The world is a better place – and a lot more fun – for their efforts.

October 22, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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

El Grupo del Verano 2008! Chicha Libre Finally Puts Out a CD

This is the cultural artifact of the summer of 2008. It’s the one album released this year that you want to put on if you’re having a party and you want to get everyone’s attention (or impress everybody with your brilliant and eclectic taste): you’ll get plenty of “who’s that?”s. Readers of this space already know plenty about Chicha Libre’s intoxicatingly good live performances at Barbes throughout the past year: now, the party is available for takeout. On their debut cd, Sonido Amazonico, America’s best (and only) chicha band have revived the amazingly danceable, hypnotic, psychedelic sound that was popular in the slums of the Peruvian Andes thirty-five years ago, while adding their own inimitable vision and wit.

Chicha is what resulted when Peruvian bands first heard American surf and psychedelic rock and then added electric instruments, rock arrangements and Caribbean rhythms to their own sound. What Antibalas did with driving, horn-driven African groove music, what Dengue Fever is doing with deliciously psychedelic Cambodian pop, Chicha Libre is doing with chicha. When frontman/cuatro player Olivier Conan first heard the style, he was hooked, to the point where he found himself traveling to South America to track down as many original recordings as he could get his hands on, as well as the elusive musicians who created it. The result was the fascinating anthology The Roots of Chicha, released last year on his label, Barbes Records.

Chicha Libre’s debut mixes instrumentals and vocal numbers, originals as well as deviously crafted cover songs. While in most surf music the guitars carry the melody, in Chicha Libre’s music it’s usually keyboardist Josh Camp’s vintage Hohner Electrovox (a relic from the 70s which is basically an electronic organ with settings that mimic the sound of an accordion) which serves as the lead instrument. In addition to Conan, the rest of the band includes two percussionists, acoustic bass and Barbes co-owner Vincent Douglas playing reverb-drenched, surfy guitar. The result can be haunting, triumphant, celebratory or absolutely mesmerizing, often all in the same song. While just as in surf music, there’s occasional cheese in places, Chicha Libre thankfully tones it down as much as possible. The vocal numbers (in both Spanish and French) are the most overtly humorous songs on the album.

There are so many great songs here. The title track, a hypnotic yet danceable one-chord vamp that builds to a nasty Douglas solo, and Tres Pasajeros, an ominous train-ride theme written by Camp. The amusing Hungry Song plays with the macho posturing found in a lot of latin music. Their cover of the obscure El Borrachito (The Little Drunk Guy) has the narrator asking plaintively in Spanish, “Why are you making fun of me?”

They take the famous Ravel Pavane and chichafy it, breaking it down into dub reggae at one point, then the band starts chanting “pavane, pavane, pavane,” quiet and deadpan in the background while the guitar solos. Indian Summer tips its hat to Serge Gainsbourg in a big way, Conan and las Rubias del Norte frontwoman Allyssa Lamb doing spot-on early 70s ye-ye harmonies over a slinky spy theme. They also cover Hot Butter’s silly synth instrumental hit Popcorn with a sarcastic, punk edge: the Electrovox is out of tune on the highest registers, and there’s a silly bass solo. And then the band adds their own lyrics, a tribute to corn whiskey and weed. The album ends with its best song, a cover of what is probably composer Erik Satie’s signature work, Gnossienne #1 (you’ll recognize it from a million movie soundtracks). As simple as it is macabre, it’s also extremely difficult to play on the piano because Satie deliberately omitted the time signature, leaving the rhythm completely up to whoever’s playing it. Chicha Libre give it a slightly staggered tango pulse, making it as sexy as it is dark. What else is there to say – this is a great album, a must-own if you like psychedelia, right up there with the Vampiros Lesbos soundtrack and Mass in F Minor by the Electric Prunes. Five maduros con queso. The cd is available at better record stores, online and at shows. Chicha Libre play the cd release tonight at Drom at 10; Las Rubias del Norte open the show at 9.

April 4, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment