As I mentioned before in this blog, the appropriation of cumbia music by the young urban kids of the MTV generation happened way before the "neo-cumbia" phenomenon exploded in the decade that just ended. Before the hip-hop DJ's and electronic-music home-studio producers started sampling and layering cumbia breaks, there was a whole other wave that approached cumbia from a punk-rock -and often thirdworldist- perspective.
This happened almost simultaneously in many Latin American countries all the way from Mexico to Chile, but in this article, once again, I'm going to be partial to Argentina because it's the scene I know the most -obviously- and because of the specific subject of the story.
I don't know exactly when, but I'd say that this phenomenon started in the late eighties/early nineties, when bands who were playing the classic thirdworldist cocktail of ska, reggae and punk (a.k.a. patchanka, as coined by Manu Chao) incorporated also cumbia (among other traditional Latin beats) to their repertoire of party anthems and sometimes controversial anti-establishment lyrics.
Back then, mainstream cumbia (at least in Argentina) was mostly focused on romantic and silly-funny songs with little-to-no actual message, so the punk-influenced underground brought rebellious attitude into this tropical rhythm, way before cumbia villera officially appeared in the map in 2000.
Probably the earliest example I can think of the top of my head was Los Auténticos Decadentes, the ultimate party band in Argentina. A bunch of former punk-rockers that started playing up-beat Latin music as a joke and eventually became a staple of all weddings, graduation parties, carnaval parties and soccer hooligans' chants. They were never a cumbia band per se, but they had more than one great cumbia hit throughout their career. By the way, one of their members, and the main lyricist, Jorge Serrano, was once part of the über-thirdworldist-punk-rock band Todos Tus Muertos, whose former front-man, Fidel Nadal is currently known as a rastafari reggae toaster intimately connected to the new cumbia scene (he has several collaboration joints with cumbia villera's godfather Pablo Lescano of Damas Gratis).
HASTA LAS MANOS
Anyway, all that has little to do with the topic of today's article. I just wanted to state that the cumbia/punk-rock connection is nothing new, it's been there for at least 20 years and is still very much alive today all across the continent (the most relevant example being of course the Kumbia Queers).
The band that concerns us today is an Argentine thirdworldist-punk band that had one huge cumbia hit in the nineties. Las Manos De Filippi were very well known in Buenos Aires underground since the mid-nineties for their anti-establishment anthems, but they also had one cumbia song, almost as a joke, called "El Himno Del Cucumelo". That song became such a hit in the scene that they decided to record it under a different band's name and thus was created Agrupación Mamanis, as a side project of Las Manos, focusing mainly on ironic cumbias. In 1996 they release their only album Reir Por No Llorar, and if you still don't have it I suggest yo download it from here.
"El Himno Del Cucumelo" (The Cucumelo Anthem) talks about going to Misiones (in the frontier with Brazil and Paraguay) where in the tropical jungle, if it rains, this legendary hallucinogenic mushroom, the cucumelo, can be harvested. Nowadays, cumbia songs talking about drugs are the run-of-the-mill thanks to cumbia villera, but back then it was something totally unheard of and quite controversial.
The song became an instant hit of such proportion that it rapidly crossed over from the punk-rock underground onto the mainstream rock and later onto the cumbia market.
However, and unfortunately for the guys of Agrupación Mamanis, most people in the vast cumbia market did not know the actual authors of the incredibly popular song because they first encountered the song as a cover done by one of the biggest stars of cumbia (and cuarteto) of the decade, Rodrigo. Rodrigo's version of El Cucumelo is also the only one that has a video:
As it usually happens in the cumbia world, popular songs of other genres and scenes are covered in cumbia versions by established cumbia artists (in this case, though, it was a cumbia version of a song that was already a cumbia in its original form). There were many other covers of "El Himno Del Cucumelo" (sometimes retitled "La Cumbia Del Cucumelo" or simply "El Cucumelo") released by several cumbia artists (I had one by Adrián y los Dados Negros, on emusic.com there's one by Algodón, and on youtube I found this recent live cover version done by Los Pibes Chorros). But it was Rodrigo's version (included in his album Lo Mejor Del Amor) the one that became the summer smash-hit of '96/'97 and to this day remains in the collective consciousness as one of Rodrigo's (who died in 2000) biggest classics.
THE KARMA OF BEING KNOWN BY OTHER PEOPLE'S COVERS
As a side curious anecdote, I should also point out that a year later a very similar thing happened to these same guys again. This time under their official name, Las Manos De Filippi had recorded an anti-establishment pseudo-rap song that was covered by another thirdworldist rock band, Bersuit Vergarabat (also known as La Bersuit).
"Señor Cobranza" was the title of the song and it became such a huge radio hit in 1998 that it paved the way for underground cult sensation La Bersuit to become the massive crossover band they became in the following decade (still only a few people know the original authors of that song were Las Manos De Filippi).
Curiously the song that ended up establishing La Bersuit as one of the most successful acts in Argentina and beyond was another song, and yes, it was also a cumbia played by a rock band, called "Yo Tomo," and yes it was also covered by several cumbia artists (even in Mexico!), and it remains to this date as a mandatory song in any Argentine, Chilean, Uruguayan, etc. party.
DON'T CRY FOR THE REMIXES, ARGENTINA
OK, back to the Cucumelo. Fast-forward to the '00 decade and the neo-cumbia scene emerges with a whole new generation of hip urban kids approaching cumbia a global-ghettotech beat. As it's been demonstrated in this article, this didn't happen out of the blue, it was the result of an evolution and it would've never happened if the prior generation in the 90's hadn't had incorporated cumbia from a punk-thirdworldist perspective.
So it wasn't at all a coincidence that Luisao, who was once the bass player for Agrupación Mamanis, and is currently known as a dubstep and cumbia-mash-up producer linked to the Zizek scene through the web-record label Cabeza, masterminded a neo-cumbia tribute to the authors of "El Himno del Cucumelo." For this he joined efforts with his former partner Germán, who once used to perform as a manager and art director for Mamanis and now, relocated in Spain, makes cumbia-dubstep mash ups under the Cherman alter-ego.
Together they came up with the idea of inviting several DJ's and producers to make remixes of Agrupación Mamanis, and of course most of the artists chose to remix their most famous song. The resulting album, smartly titles Remix Por No Llorar, can be downloaded for free here, and it includes four very different versions of the Cucumelo song. My personal favorite was done by ElChavez, there's a great one by Luisao himself featuring rapper Princesa (of Zizek fame) and even one by DJ Kox Tortuga from the experimental hip-hop group Koxmoz. And there's also a hilarious bonus track in which they took the audio of a Chilean TV show where they ask random people at the beach what is a cucumelo!
AND NOW MY--I MEAN OUR REMIX
I've known Cherman for a long time. We were both underground entrepreneurs in Buenos Aires during the second half of the nineties so we crossed paths many times. I often collaborated in his fanzine and for a while we even hosted a radio show together. So when he came up to me with the idea for an Agrupación Mamanis tribute compilation I got very excited. I decided to do a remix of "El Himno Del Cucumelo" myself, but I tried and I failed. So I gave up.
But later, I hooked up with another DJ friend of mine, Dub Snakr, and he has way more experience than me in production, and a lot more studio equipment and we decided to work together in the remix. Unfortunately, along the way his studio computer decided to die with all our files inside and it took a while to fix it, so we were never able to send our remix in time to be included in the compilation.
So I'm offering it for you here. And I hope you like it because it's our first intent at a cumbia remix and hopefully it won't be the last one.
LISTEN/DOWNLOAD: "El Himno del Cucumelo" (Fungus Remix) by DJ Juan Data and Dub Snakr
To end this story, I also wanna tell you about another old friend of mine. An underground hip-hop DJ called DJ Sauka who once also collaborated on my fanzine, back in the day. He now makes lots of mash-ups and cumbia remixes under different aliases and he has also done his own version of "El Himno Del Cucumelo" as Johny Saliva or El Perro Tito, I don't know he has too many names. I personally think that this one is his best cumbia remix so far, very psychedelic with the tempo going up and down all over the place, I really like it. So here, you can have this too.
By now, you must already have so many versions of "El Himno Del Cucumelo" that you're probably as dizzy as me writing this. We should instead make some cucumelo tea, lay back and enjoy the trip while we listen to this immortal cumbia melody. Habilitaaaaaaaaaaaaa!