BY JENNIFER KELLY
The track slouches in on shimmering wah-wahed guitar, navigating the familiar blues chords from the opening to Hendrix’s “Hey Joe.” Still, you are not very far into this cut before it shifts into a more heated gear. A rattle of congas quickens the pace, the guitars jangle in agitated counterpoint, the vocal, in Spanish, unfurls in quick bravado, floats to impossible falsetto. You can imagine the members of Jeliko, a late 1960s band from Lima, Peru, huddled with headphones over a battered Hendrix single, swallowing American psychedelic rock whole and spitting it out spiked with Latin syncopation.
Peru Bravo: Funk, Soul & Psych from Peru’s Radical Decade (Tiger Milk) is a double-vinyl, 16-track compilation that documents an extraordinary period during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when despite harsh political repression, a genre-omnivorous blend of rock, jazz, funk and traditional Peruvian music blew up in Lima. The set documents the entire reign of General Juan Velasco Alvarado, who took over the government as a socialist reformer 1974 (albeit in a military coup), but eventually sought control of all elements of Peruvian society – its economy, language, education system and culture. Like a lot of authoritarians, Velasco favored indigenous folk arts over foreign imports; he made Quechua an official language of Peru. So, just as Peruvian musicians were beginning to get easier access to Western recordings – and to absorb influences like West Coast psych, American R&B, funk and heavy rock – this kind of eclecticism became politically dangerous.
The music that Peru Bravo celebrates grew up underground, drawing in traditional art forms but mixing them with forbidden ones. It’s a heady mix, where slinky chicha grooves meet Tower of Power horn blasts, where smouldery Booker T. organ vamps sidle up to scorching hand drum syncopations.
There’s hardly a dead spot on this compilation, and the best stuff is very good indeed. Among the highlights, I’d count Black Sugar’s blistering hard salsa rampage “Checan,” Laghonia’s garage rock raveup “Bahia,” Los Holys’ super tight surf Latin cover of the Meters’ “Cissy Strut,” and The Image’s “Outasite,” a dreamy psych soul reverie that reminds me a lot of Tommy James’ “Crystal Blue Persuasion.” Speaking of covers, Los Texao offers their take on Steppenwolf classic “Sookie Sookie.” Also included is psych band Traffic Sound (“La Camita”), which has long been a favorite of BLURT’s editor. But the best cut on the disc by a pretty good margin belongs to chicha heavyweights Los Destellos. Their “Onsta la Yerbita” starts in acid-trip bloops of wah wah and echo-shrouded spoken word, then kicks to life in a back-slanting, hip-shifting syncopated groove. An organ shimmers like a highway heat mirage and through it rips a lacerating fuzz guitar. It is radiantly beautiful and abrasive at the same time, and one of the most remarkable moments on an excellent disc.
You don’t really need the historical background to enjoy Peru Bravo, but it’s there if you want it in an extensive essay on Lima’s 1960s and 1970s music scene and notes on the artists and tracks. Along the way you learn how “in Peru, ‘bravo’ has a double meaning. It can refer to something that is edgy or dangerous but can also be celebratory, as in English.” The collection was expertly compiled by award-winning chef/restaurateur and best-selling author Martin Morales (he’s additionally worked with such artists as Matthew Herbert, Chucho Valdez, Oi Va Voi, Omara Portuondo, Tata Guines, Orquesta Aragon and Novalima), along with Duncan Ballantyne (who has managed Soundway Records, Brazilian label Far Out and Naive in the UK) and Andrés Tapia del Rio (of Lima’s Recycled Records).
But mostly if you like funk, soul, psych or rock, you’ll like Peru Bravo. Great stuff.
DOWNLOAD: “Onsta la Yerbita,” “Checan”