BY CARL HANNI
For anyone looking for one of the original touchstones of Peruvian psychedelic cumbia (or chicha), here is a motherlode: eighteen tracks recorded in the early 1970s by the legendary Juaneco y su Combo, from the upcountry Amazon Basin city of Pucallpa.
As has been well documented in the last few years on several outstanding compilations, chicha was a remarkably infectious blend of 60s psychedelia and surf music – complete with Farfisa organ and fuzzed out and wah-wahed guitars – and traditional, indigenous music from the Andes and the Amazon Basin, wedded to the percussion heavy cumbia groove imported from Colombia. It was largely party music, aimed squarely at working class laborers looking to blow off steam on weekends. From the late 1960s until late 1970s, a huge number of sides were cut and released locally, regionally and nationally, largely within Peru and perhaps neighboring Colombia. It was a lost music until a few enterprising archivists recently saw it for what it was, and brought it out of the past into the 21st century.
The Birth of Jungle Cumbia documents most of the early recordings of the multi-generational Juaneco y su Combo, who originally played more traditional polkas and rhumbas before electrifying in the mid 1960s. Dressed in a eye-popping melange of traditional Amazon garb and bright psychedelic threads, Juaneco y su Combo look like a confederation of psychedelic brujos beamed on from the outer reaches of the Amazon basin. Led by the son of the original band leader Juan Wong Paredes (Juaneco), and featuring the fluid playing of the legendary guitar player Noe Fachin Mori, omnipotent organ lines and insistent percussion, Juaneco y su Combo’s music has the flawless syncopation and mid tempo abandon that is the calling card of jungle cumbia.
Although one of the originators of a style that quickly spread throughout the country, the band, alas, was touched by considerable tragedy. In 1977 a plane crash killed more than half the band members, including Noe Fachin Mori. The rest added more members and continued on, but the original spark was lost.
Beautifully packaged with extensive liner note and striking graphics, The Birth of Jungle Cumbia is a class project all the way, and absolutely essential for anyone interested in the foundation of jungle cumbia.
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