Friday, July 30, 2010

GRUPO FANTASMA-El Existential (Nat Geo Music, 2010)

Adrián Quesada and his combo Grupo Fantasma (not to be confused with Argentina's neo-cumbia pioneers Fantasma) seem to be set on a mission, to prove the world that cumbia doesn't necessarily have to be a simple and unpretentious music style based on repetitive beats and two-finger-keyboard notes. The Texans Grupo Fantasma have been consistently showing off their uncanny skills during the past ten years, recording some of the best cumbia music available.
Now, the title of their latest self-produced release can be a little misleading, because it could suggest some sort of intellectual aspirations. However, while El Existential is full of skillful instrumentation and fine arrangements you'll never in a million years hear on your average cumbia CD, the lyrics are trivial, mundane and full of grammatically incorrect use of the Spanish language (mostly just typical mistakes done by Latinos raised in the US who never received any formal Spanish education and they just picked up the language from listening to their parents, but I'm a linguistics Nazi and I can't help it, sorry). Anyway, cheesy lyrics should never be a red flag in cumbia, a genre widely dominated by undereducated composers, but paired with such beautiful music the cheesy lyrics stand out a lot and make me wish they had more instrumental tracks (like in their funky side project Brownout) and not because the vocals are bad, in fact they're really good, but also because I'd sample and remix the shit out of this tracks. Release vinyl, please?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

If Juan Data Says It's Carnaval...

Now that everybody and their mothers in the US media are finally catching up and falling in love with French-Chilean rapper Anita Tijoux,  thanks to Nacional Records releasing her second solo album 1977,  it's time to remind everybody, once again, who was the first journalist to write about her around here, both in English and Spanish.

Here's one of the first articles I've ever got published in English. Wrote in the year 2000 after my second visit to Santiago de Chile to see the last show of Makiza's first incarnation before their break-up. The article was published on Vapors Magazine, back then a black and  white fanzine out of Sacramento California. This fourth issue of the magazine that later moved to Los Angeles, came out in January 2001.

By the end of 2001 I wrote this other article, in Spanish, for then LA-based magazine with national distribution, La Banda Elástica, once again focusing on Makiza's female vocalist and her outstanding talent.

Ten years later, you all caught up. Come check out her show next Monday, July 19th at The Elbo Room (her first time in San Francisco!) and see it for yourself. Oh, and next time I tell you to pay attention to a new upcoming artist, you know what to do.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

EL CHAVEZ-Morón City Groove (Bingo Records, 2010)

Morón is one of my favorite places in Buenos Aires outskirts. Located to the west of the country's capital, less than an hour away by train, it has a mythical aura related to the origins of the local hip-hop scene, where some of the first generation b-boys and MC used to gather in back in the 80's. So I used to go to Morón quite a bit, to meet with local rappers or to buy CD's at one of the few specialized record stores that existed back then. But far from being just that idealized hip-hop conclave, Morón always had a lot of cumbia going on and you can sense it from the moment you get off the train and you see all the bootleggers on the sidewalk. It makes sense then that a guy like El Chávez hails from Morón City and dedicates his first album to this legendary place.
I've been waiting for Chavez's debut for a while now. Most neo-cumbia fans should be already familiar with him because a handful of his tracks have been bouncing around the net for the last couple of years and two of them at least had been mandatory pieces of my DJ sets since I got ahold of them. But I wanted more and finally here it is, a whole album of one of the pioneers of the new cumbia trend in Buenos Aires who unexplainably hasn't gotten (yet) the same amount of attention Zizek producers received.
El Chavez comes from a mestizo-rock background very much influenced by reggae and dub and this is very noticeably in his original approach to cumbia. But his aesthetics and topics are a lot more barrio-friendly than the artsy minimalism of most Zizek latest releases, however it does go hand in hand with some of the early Zizek stuff like Fauna's "Canibal" or that memorable Maestroshao's "Anticumbia". Anyway, his version of electronic thirdwroldist new-cumbia shares more with the dirty grimy style of some of Cabeza Netlabel's releases. Still, it'd make a great addition to the Nacional Records catalog, don't you think?
I hope it gets released for the international market soon and having some of these tracks in vinyl wouldn't hurt either. Check out this dope video and you too will be wanting to drop this one at your next party.