The Brooklyn band updates the South
American chicha genre with a rich blast of sonic humidity and an instant party
starter for musically adventurous globetrotters.
BY CARL HANNI
Largely responsible for the
revival of interest in vintage South American chicha music with the release of The Roots of Chicha CD in 2007, the folks at Barbés Records (and the
Brooklyn club of the same name) eventually took it to the next level and formed
a band to play an expanded version the music they had developed a passion for,
Chicha Libre. Four years after their debut, Sonido Amazonico, they are
back with a follow-up, Canibalismo.
Chicha, as it was originally
played in the late 1960s into the late 1970s, was a Peruvian hybrid of South
American cumbia and percussion heavy tropical jams with a startling overlay of
surf guitar, cheezy organ and an Amazon take on psychedelia. Originally party
music for working class Peruvians to blow off steam to on weekends, its revival
through a series of reissue compilations on Barbés, Vampisoul and other savvy
archival labels has been one of the most consistently pleasing and unexpected
discoveries of the last several years.
Chicha Libre was founded by
Barbés records guy Olivier Conan, who is French by birth, and the band is a
multi-national affair featuring another Frenchman, players from Venezuela and Mexico
and two from the U.S.
Like it’s predecessor, Canibalismo marries the old to the new with a
seamless synthesis that blurs the lines between the two. Apparently these guys
have the chicha gene in their collective DNA; they play it with remarkable
fluidity and authority, and basically get everything just right, as least to
these ears. They’re also savvy enough to not simply re-create chicha in Brooklyn and call it done: they definitely bring their
own 21st century perspective to updating music with roots going back several
decades and several thousands of miles away.
Starting with the rolling,
loping bass lines and steady, Afro-Cuban percussion drive of classic cumbia,
Chicha Libre mix and match layers of twangy surf guitar, vintage Electravox
organ, some early synthesizer and other old-school electronics, all of it
presumably analog. Cumbia, and by extension chicha, may be all about dancing,
but the astonishing richness of the sound here – caked in reverb and delay, shot-through
with burbling keyboards and electronics, top heavy with bright, tropical sounds
– is the real key to its appeal. This is, above all, happy music, brimming with
wit and good cheer.
Everything here hits the high
water mark, starting with the opening cumbia groove and space-age organ of “La Plata (En Mi Carrito
De Lata),” the surfing-on-The Amazon psychedelic swirl of “Danza del
Millonario” and the sophisticated, ascending and descending grooves of “El
Carnicero De Chicago.” Other highlights include a moody Moog tango on “L’Age
d’Or” and the methodical, trippy, downtempo “Lupita en la Selva y el
Doctor.” The final number, “Once Tejones,” is an insistent, steady
rolling vamp that ties everything together nicely at the end. And, just for the
heck of it, they toss in a surf-cumbia take of Wagner’s “The Ride of the
Valkyries.” Wagner, one supposes, would not be amused by their cheeky version,
but that would be his loss.
Everyone in the band plays
together impeccably, but special note must be given to Joshua Camp for his work
on various keyboards, synthesizers and effects. Camp and Conan also provide
most of the song-writing, occasionally helped out by other band members, with
Conan also playing the cuatro, a smaller guitar that has four nylon
strings. Timbales player Karina Colis, bass player Nicholas Cudahy, guitar
player Vincent Douglas and multi-percussionist Neil Ocha round out Chicha
Libre, with various members adding vocals to most numbers, although the vocals
generally seem more like part of the overall instrumentation than any sort of
A rich blast of sonic humidity
and an instant party starter for musically adventurous globetrotters, Canibalismo is the record to top in 2012 for tropical ear candy.