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V/A - The Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias from Peru

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Artist: V/A

Album: The Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias from Peru

Label: Barbes

Review date: Nov. 5, 2007

While it's difficult to say just how the music on this disc is "psychedelic," what's certain is that it sprang from a time when western rock experimentation (late ’60s/early ’70s) was finding its way around the globe, spawning everything from Blue Cheer influenced power trios in Nigeria (BLO) and thunderous, Turkish proto-metal (Bunalimlar) to the local-candombe-rhythms-meets-the-Beatles pop of Uruguay's El Kinto. And as this disc shows, rock inspiration even found its way along the Peruvian Amazon and through its rainforests, where it inspired yet another musical hybrid.

The story goes like this: Brooklyn bar owner and Chicha musician Olivier Conan took a trip to Peru to soak up some new sounds. Countless visits to bootleg street vendors turned up an odd ’70s-era Cumbia-based electric fusion known as "antigua.” When tracking down original masters proved thorny, he started contacting the original musicians, who were more than grateful for the belated outsider appreciation. Because this music was made by and for the poorer, working class of Peru, it never got respect from other classes, nor was it ever considered legitimate. What it was, like such styles as Jamaican ska, ’70s Thai Molam or Indonesian Dangdut to name a few, was a blend of popular western music, in this case, electric rock, Cumbia rhythms borrowed from Colombia and an occasional dose of Andean folk song.

This ultimately became what is now known in working class clubs and pubs all over Peru as "Chicha,” and the music on this comp is the prototype. It's brilliant, too. Bands such as Los Diablos Rojos and Los Mirlos cranked out infectious, rhythmic, guitar-driven grooves comparable to Congolese masters Dr. Nico or Franco. The bands often added cheap organs (what other kinds were there?), wah-wah pedals, middle-eastern overtones and even snatches of classical music on top of factory-precision drumming to create a music that defies kitsch. Mr. Conan has done a service to Peru and the musicians featured here, some of whom are still active; and if that "psychedelic" connection helps sell a few of these discs, so be it.

By Bruce Miller

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