Saturday, 26 January 2013

High in the Andes

In Ken Burn's PBS documentary Jazz, the trumpet player Wynton Marsalis compares the formation of New Orleans jazz to a vat of stewing gumbo, to a seething cook pot of european classical compositions, african percussions, Baptist spirituals, caribbean rhythms, work songs and brass marching music, all savoured by the blacks, whites, creoles, russians, jews, natives and pirates, living both devoutly religious and scandalously libertine lifestyles in close quarters on tenement backstreets.

This culinary metaphor also aptly describes the Peruvian musical pastiche, chicha.  Rooted in Columbian cumbia - which is in and of itself a confluence of coastal, slave-traded caribbean, african, spanish and native musics - chicha further incorporates Andean pentatonic melodies, rural Cuban ambiences, as well as American surf guitars and psychedelic analog organs.  

In 2011 Barb├Ęs Records pressed a double vinyl compilation and booklet set of Chicha black gold, The Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias from Peru.  It anthologizes tracks from the label's earlier two volume CD release and features the choicest cuts, as well as splash pages of tropical photography and titillating album art, heretofore unknown outside of Peru.

This sonic style borrowed its name from the ancient fermented maize drink favoured by the indigenous Incas.  But the word "chicha" soon became an idiomatic shorthand used pejoratively to describe the customs of its impoverished listeners.  Chicha was the music of the camps in amazonian oil-towns and the slums of Lima.  Chicha was the common sound of the maligned cholo

But to those who disparage this musical tradition, the liner notes to this album rebut that chicha is "a sense of defiance marked not by a culture of protest, but defined by silent endurance.  As if by ignoring the harsh topical realities of fear and violence, they were negating them and focusing on the universal values of their everyday lives.  Love, suffering, work, music."


Bask in the entire second volume of the original CD release, which some kind soul has uploaded to Youtube.

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