Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Roots Of Chicha 2-Psychedelic Cumbias from Peru (Barbés Records, 2010)

And the chicha fever continues to spread! Remember when a couple of posts below I told you this one was coming up? Well, I just got the CD on the mail today and I was extremely happy to find out that it comes with a neat 24 pages book full of incredibly detailed information on the history of the genre, plus kitschy color pictures galore! I barely ever listen to CDs anymore, but this one has such a nice packaging and design that it makes me wanna leave it out on the coffee table for the visits to browse.
What I found the most interesting is the retelling of Olivier Conan's (the compiler and the mastermind behind the band Chicha Libre) personal experience when going back to Perú just a few years after the unexpected success of this collection's first volume (from 2007) and seeing the shift in people's perception of chicha music.
Something has been a very recurrent topic in plenty of this blog's posts, but that doesn't make it any less fascinating: the sudden appreciation by Latinos of their local popular music after the approval of a foreigner. This happened also in Perú when chicha, a genre that was vastly considered low-brow and belonging to the under-educated masses, was "discovered" by a New York gringo -thirty years after its heyday- and for the first time exported to the "first world." All of a sudden, chicha was accepted by segments of the hip urban youth or Lima, something unthinkable a few years ago. Pretty much the same happened everywhere else throughout the continent thanks to the help of Richard BlairSeñor CoconutEl GDiploOro11Up Bustle & Out...  
The compilation consists of 16 tracks and unlike its predecessor, it focuses more on the chicha produced in Lima's outskirts rather than the Amazonian jungle. And it goes beyond just cumbia. Yes, cumbia  is still there, but in a much less evident way and in some tracks, I'd argue there's no cumbia at all and there's more Andean folk sounds instead. Still, a quite illuminating trip of musical archeology to take and I suggest you do so with the CD (I wish there was a vinyl version but unfortunately...) so you can read all this info while you listen to the album, you know, the way we used to listen to albums way back then.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

POLOCK-Getting Down From The Trees (Nacional Records, 2010)

First thing I thought when I first played this was: What? A band from Spain singing in English? Are we still in 1992? What's wrong with these guys? Can't they just do it in their own language? Why are my friends in Nacional Records releasing this?
Then after I played the second song I decided they sounded way too much like Phoenix. And that reminded me that I used to love that one Phoenix song (back in like 2001) and hey! Those Phoenix guys are French and I wasn't pissed off by their singing in English, in fact, it didn't bother me at all. Maybe I should give these Spaniards a fair chance. (By the way, don't you hate the word Spaniard? What's wrong with the good ol' Spanish? Is it too Mexican for your Gringo ears?)
So I uploaded the album to my Ipod and listened to it while I walked around the lake in the hottest day of this summer, wishing I could be naked at the beach instead, and it was the most adequate soundtrack I could've ever imagined. OK, Polock, you are forgiven, you can sing in any language you like, I don't care.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

RANIL-Ranil's Jungle Party (Masstropicas, 2010)

I was recently DJing at this Peruvian event and this one extremely hot Peruvian girl approached me, with a glass of Pisco Sour in her hand. She said she was from the jungle, in the Amazonian part of Peru, near the frontier with Brazil. She also said that the hottest women in Peru came from there, and judging by her looks, I have to agree.
So I asked her, "hey, do you know Ranil?" and she looked at me as if I just landed with my spaceship in Machu Pichu and I was asking for directions to the Andromeda galaxy. She said she never heard of that name, and then she confessed that she barely knew any chicha (that's Peruvian Jungle psychedelic cumbia for you) because she left the country when she was too young, and waaaaay before Barbés Records from New York unleashed the current world-wide chicha fever that made this music cool for youth consumption... four decades after its original release.
Anyway, Barbés is still publishing some chicha gems (they're coming out soon with the second volume for The Roots Of Chicha compilation) and recently Spain's VampiSoul put out the Cumbia Beat comp too and now to add to this world-wide phenomenon, a Massachussetts-based new label releases in limited-print vinyl-only the first of a series of LP's compiling the work of unknown chicha masters of the golden age. This first one focuses on this guy called Ranil who was an influential musician in the genre back in the 70's and later retired to work as a music industry exec, a journalist and politician.
How do I know this? It's not like I'm a chicha expert myself. I was just showing off in front of that voluptuous beauty, but I also wouldn't have any idea who this dude was if it wasn't for the fact that my fellow blogger from the masstropicas blog asked me to translate the story for the LP's insert and then, in exchange, sent me a free copy of the record. And you know, there's few things in this world I like more than free vinyl!
There're twelve tracks of pure psychedelic guitar, many of them instrumentals, but some with vocals too and you can get your copy from this link. Hurry up, they only printed one thousand.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

MATORRALMAN-Guateque Estelar (Nacional Records, 2010)

Once again, Nacional Records, somehow managed to surprise me with a totally unexpected release of a great band I've never heard about. I thought I had these guys figured out by now, then yesterday I got this on the mail and just by looking at the cover, I knew I was gonna like it. I was captivated and intrigued by both the artwork and the title, which at a glance made me think of Guateque All Stars, a funk band from Spain that I like quite a bit.
This morning I played it as soon as I woke up and I didn't have to go beyond the second song to know my prediction was confirmed. This, however has nothing to do with Spaniard funk, but it does has to do a lot with retro music.
Those who know me, and those who don't but follow my writing with attention, know that I'm a huge fan of old school sexploitation movies. Well, these guys apparently share this film fetish with me.
They play instrumental music that's meticulously designed to travel back in time and become the soundtrack of a Mexican low-budget spoof of Barbarella, with flying masked wrestlers shooting laser beams from their eyes and semi-nude girl-on-girl fights in the showers of an outer space penitentiary. Even better, that music is sample based (with plenty of instrumental arrangements) and DJ friendly, so you know you'll gonna be hearing some of this shit in my future sets and mixes. At times it sounds like a cleaner version of Chico Sonido's debut album, and that was like my favorite album from last year, so this one might become a competitor for the 2010 best of (which, by the way, was a pretty weak year so far). First, though, I gotta finish listening to it. I was so excited that I couldn't wait and I started writing the review right around the third song. Thanks, Nacional, you made my day.

Monday, August 9, 2010

MALA RODRIGUEZ-Dirty Bailarina (Universal, 2010)

I really don't care about this girl anymore. I got this album about ten days ago and I didn't get around to listen to it until today, not for lack of time but for lack of interest.
I used to be her biggest fan back in the day. When she came out as La Mala María on those first guest appearances on La Gota Que Colma and SFDK albums, back in '98 and '99, respectively, she blew all our minds. And by "our" I'm referring to the minds of the few of us who used to pay attention to Spanish rap back then, most of you were watching other channels. But back then she was amazing, with my homies we used to listen to "Una de piratas" again and again, we couldn't believe that a woman did that!
Then she crossed over with her successful solo career and she's been getting softer and weaker with each new album she released. At least in her earlier work she was still trying to prove herself as a hip-hop MC and she always invited dope guests to flow on her tracks. She was never a great lyricist, but she had more style than most, so she made up for the lack of good rhymes with the help of guest rhymers (from Violadores del Verso's Kase-O to Calle 13's Residente).
For her fourth solo effort, however, it seems as she totally gave up on hip-hop all together. Her beats are more pop and dance oriented, she sings more than she raps, and she has no significant guests, only female MC Mefe on one short verse and flamenco singer Estrella Morente on a loungy downtempo track. Not enough to please the hip-hop heads.
But she doesn't give a shit. Overall, she seems totally detached from the Spanish hip-hop scene where she came from (except for a couple of beats producer by Griffi and Sr. T-Cee). Saying you know Spanish hip-hop because you listen to La Mala is like saying you know Los Angeles hip-hop because you listen to post-Fergie Black Eyed Peas. Wack.

Friday, August 6, 2010

FRENTE CUMBIERO - Pitchito/Ananas Tornillo (NYCT, 2010)

I don't usually do this, but this is a very special occasion and I decided to make an exception. I combined a record review with an interview. The reason why I did this is because I'm pretty sure this one here is  probably the most significant new-cumbia release to touch my hands in 2010, so far. The fact that it's from a new Colombian artist, the fact that it's released in my favorite format (7'' vinyl) by a New York label and also the high quality of the music are signs that this global cumbia fad hasn't gone stale, as some might say, and I'm very optimistic about it.
As you all by now should know, cumbia originated in the Caribbean coast of Colombia (and what's now Panama) hundreds of years ago by the mix of African, Amerindian and Spanish traditions. By the 1950's and 60's it became a popular commercial music genre in Colombia and eventually many Colombian artists started touring, taking cumbia to places like Mexico, Argentina and Perú where cumbia was adopted by the locals who adapted it with their own style. By the end of the century cumbia was the most commercial music genre in the two biggest markets of Latin America, Mexico and Argentina, and eventually that lead to the neo-cumbia phenomenon with the appropriation of the genre by the hip urban youth. However, while all this was happening and cumbia started getting mayor recognition on an international scale, in its hometown, Colombia, cumbia had long lost its popular appeal and was mainly considered traditional carnaval music by the average young people.
In the last couple of years we started getting more and more examples of Colombian new cumbia (Bomba Estéreo being the most successful), a sign that the genre is somehow experimenting a rebirth amongst Colombian youth, and nobody can talk about this phenomenon with more authority than Mario Galeano Toro of Frente Cumbiero. A true neo-cumbia pioneer in all right, Mario has been collecting cumbia records and following closely the migration, dissemination and mutations of cumbia throughout the continent for over a decade, while producing his own sample-based music and traveling the world representing Colombia as a new cumbia ambassador of sorts.
Last year he made a collaboration project with UK dub artist Mad Professor that will hopefully see the light soon. In the meantime he released a couple of tracks in a 45'' for Names You Can Trust, one of my favorite new labels out there. Nothing more appropriate for him. If there's a name you can trust in cumbia, that's Frente Cumbiero's Mario Galeano Toro.
I've been trying to get an interview with him for a while now, and with the excuse of this release I was finally able to catch him on Skype last weekend and pick his brain. He was just coming back from Buenos Aires and Montevideo where he was touring under the sponsorship of the Colombian embassy and this is pretty much a translated transcript of our chat:

- Who is Frente Cumbiero? Is it just you or is it an actual band?
- Right now I was touring with a quartet, we have many formations but that's the current one. Frente Cumbiero is basically myself and an ever-changing entourage of contributors. It can be just me with my computer and my turntables or it can be a live band of up to twelve members depending on the occasion. 

- What was the formation for the recording of this release?
- Those songs are made with samples, in the computer, with some live arrangements added. But that’s mostly sampled. That’s not how the band sounds.

- Are the samples exclusively from Colombian cumbia?
- No, there’s different stuff. There’s even Colombian salsa samples and many breaks I’ve been finding... all of them from vinyl.

- Is this your first official release?
- It’s the first one to come out in vinyl. Three month ago we had a track and a remix on a compilation called Cumbia Bestial, released in Berlin by some guys called La Chusma. We have a lot more material waiting to be released soon, like the stuff we did with Mad Professor.

- I was just gonna ask you about that.
-  It’s almost done. I was actually in Buenos Aires finishing the mixing with Manu Schaller, a friend who worked a lot with (neo-cumbia’s pioneer) Dick El Demasiado. There are seven original songs and six dub remixes, so the idea is to release it as a 13-track album. We’re gonna release it ourselves here in Colombia, but at the same time we’re looking for an international release because we can’t manage exportation from Colombia. So, we're talking with different labels about it.

- And with the current cumbia situation, I’d say there’s a bigger market outside Colombia than within Colombia itself.
- Yeah, of course. Publishing that here would be a totally underground move, we’d do it all independently, no record labels.

- Are there vinyl pressers in Colombia still?
- No. As far as I know there are only some left in Brazil. I don’t think Argentina has any either, maybe some small home operation, but all the big ones closed down.

- Going back to Frente Cumbiero, one thing that called my attention was the lack of accordion among the sampled instruments and the accordion sound is almost fundamental in most Colombian cumbia.
- Yeah, however, there’re many styles of cumbia that don’t use accordion. In reality, I’d say accordion-cumbia only represents a small niche of the total recorded cumbia music. But definitely that was the niche that had the most exposure in an international level. We do have some other songs with accordion though, but not these two.

- There are many subgenres in cumbia. Where would you locate these two songs?
- "Ananas Tornillo" I’d say it falls more into the psychedelic 70’s style of Afrosound. It has that type of sound. The other one, is more like a descarga. It’s harder to label because it has influences from Afro-beat, the melody is obviously cumbia but it’s difficult to label it under a particular cumbia style.

- Frente Cumbiero as a band is also all instrumental or you have vocals in some other tracks too?
- Frente Cumbiero is mainly instrumental. We had used some vocal samples and some guest collaborations with singers and rappers (including Bomba Estéreo’s Li Saumet) in the Mad Professor project. 

- Now, instrumental cumbia is very common in Peruvian chicha and Mexican cumbia sonidera, but is it common in Colombian cumbia? Because I have the impression that Colombian cumbia was always more song-centered... with obvious exceptions like Afrosound.
- Yes, there’s a lot of sung cumbia and that has to do with the buyerengue and tambora traditions. Those are the roots fundations of cumbia and they are sung genres. There’s also a lot of instrumental cumbia too, but yeah, definitely most of them are centered around the vocals.

- What’s the importance for you of releasing this in a 7'' single format?
- Well, for me that’s the best! I’m a crazy vinyl collector. I’ve been collecting records for many years now and for me, seeing my first official solo release in vinyl is amazing. And in 7’’ with a cute design... I think of it as an interesting message for the local scene. There’s very little vinyl culture here in Colombia. Sadly, here people throw their old records in the trash.

- How difficult is for a collector to find cumbia records in Colombia?
- It’s getting harder and harder in recent years because of the huge foreign demand. European and American dealers come to buy records... I’ve been collecting for around 10 years and I noticed that in the last four it’s been getting harder. You go to your usual dealers and they have less than a half of their stock available. Of course, foreigners come with dollars or pounds and they buy large quantities to resale over there... so that’s making it difficult for us. Prices had gone up a lot because with the e-bay trade there’s a lot of speculation on the prices. You go to the local dealers and they want to sell you a classic Fuentes records at $70, because that’s the price they get on e-bay. There’s still some places where you can find records in Colombia, but in mid-size towns. In places like Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla, there’s almost none left. 

- What’s the significance of doing this release through a US label?
- Well, that’s a sign of cumbia’s internationalization. I think it’s great that cumbia is finally starting to find its niche, which for many years was lost. Hopefully it’ll go beyond just a fad for the first world and cumbia will be able to establish itself as a recognized genre. So, I’m happy with what’s going on in England and the US and also with the whole Latin American new cumbia scene.

- I think that even if the fad passes by in the first world, the positive thing that we can get out of this is the new acceptance of cumbia by the Latin American youth, ignited by the foreign approval.
- That’s totally right. As soon as you have foreigners interested in your local music, local people start seeing it with different eyes. That’s a long story in all Latin America because we’re always waiting for that first world approval. That’s something that we haven’t been able to outgrow since the colonial times. It’s almost part of the Latin American genetic history.

- The aesthetic values have always been Eurocentric, and that’s especially evident in youth culture and music.
- That’s so truth. We have now here in Colombia certain groups of young urban people that are rediscovering cumbia because they saw it in US-based blogs talking about the phenomenon in New York.

- Do you think Cumbia will ever regain its popularity in Colombia?
- Honestly, I think that'd be very difficult. If it happens, it’s gonna take like 20 years. Nowadays, it doesn’t seem like cumbia could become popular again. Vallenato has completely absorved the market segment that was originally cumbia’s. So in a popular level I don’t see it happen. But there’s a whole underground movement that’s emerging, kids who have this music in their Ipods, they’re starting to collect vinyls, but it’s just a niche.

- Do you have contact with traditional cumbia musicians from the Caribbean coast?
- My main interest has been to get to know cumbia internationally. Obviously, I’ve been in traditional festivals, but I haven’t established connections with the masters of the style. I’m more connected to the young musicians of the local Bogota scene.

- What I’m wondering is if those old-school musicians from the Discos Fuentes' golden age are aware of what’s going on with cumbia internationally right now?
- I don’t think they know. They sure don’t get any royalty money! Only a few of them, who travel abroad, like Totó La Momposina, can probably appreciate the dimension of this boom. Many of the golden age people used to travel a lot to Mexico, Peru and other countries during the 70’s, but since the 80’s the production of commercial cumbia in Colombia has virtually stopped. I think that now they must still be reminiscing of the great times they had decades ago, but they don’t even imagine there’s a new youth movement interested in those sounds abroad.

- Why do you think cumbia lost its commercial relevance in Colombia?
- I think it was because of vallenato. Vallenato came in really strong in the 80’s. There’s also some political implications. The Cesar department, where vallenato came from, was sponsored by some politicians from Bogota, and that had a huge repercussion during the early 80’s. During that time there was a huge money flow from drug trade coming from the US, and the capos were sponsoring vallenato bands as well.

- Why do you think in other Latin American countries cumbia managed to remain as the main commercial popular genre, while it was vanishing from Colombian mainstream?
- Here cumbia was very commercial between the 50's and 80's, but you know how commercial music is very capricious and unpredictable. Same in those other countries, now they have a cumbia peak of popularity but maybe in 15 years it’ll be replaced with other sounds. That’s a normal dynamic in commercial music.

- When it comes to cumbia’s new school, I get the feeling that what’s being produced in Colombia -unlike the cumbia being done in Mexico or Argentina- has a much deeper sense of respect for the genre and it lacks that ironic sense of humor that characterizes most of this new hybrid genre. Do you feel it this way?
- Yes, it’s like that. Because for Colombians, cumbia is part of our national pride. It’s what we identify ourselves with: cumbia is the sound of Colombia. It’s a typical sound that people have been listening for generations. So that irony is not so present. That’s something that happens in Argentina and Mexico, because over there cumbia music is associated to the lower classes and you have all the kitsch culture around it. In Colombia that doesn’t happen at all.