Chicha is originally the name of a corn-based liquor favored by the Incas in pre-Colombian days. Chicha is also the name of Peru’s particular brand of cumbia first made popular in the late 60’s by bands such as Los Destellos, Manzanita, Los Mirlos and Juaneco y su Combo. While loosely inspired by Colombian accordion-driven cumbias, chicha incorporated the distinctive pentatonic scales of Andean melodies, some Cuban son, and the sounds of surf guitars, Farfisa organs and Moog synthesizers; an oddly post-modern combination of western psychedelia, Cuban and Colombian rhythms, national melodies and idiosyncratic inventions which were close in spirit to the Congolese rumba of Franco or the pop syncretism of Os Mutantes.
Chicha Libre started out in 2007 as a tribute to Peruvian pioneers but quickly evolved into an original project which MTV has cited as one of the world’s preeminent Tropical Psychedelic band. Indeed, while they remain true to their Chicha roots, Chicha Libre’s music has taken a definitely more psychedelic turn drawing more and more from its members’ alternative background.
Chicha Libre’s sound and approach are completely indebted to the Peruvian bands it originally emulated. Like their mentors, they use surf guitar, organ sounds and Latin percussion to play a mixture of borrowed and homegrown sounds. Their sound has become more processed, synth sounds and treated guitars and the borrowings are differ from that of Peruvian precursors – classical music and pop debris from 3 continents in Chicha Libre’s case – but the latin rhythms that form the basis of the music are both as inherent and as foreign to them as they were to the Shipibo Indians who first took up the electric guitar.
Chicha Libre has performed around the world, including Turkey, The UK, Germany, Portugal, Belgium, Denmark, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, the US, Canada and, of course, Peru. They have showcased at WOMEX, in Copenhagen, and Globalfest, in NYC. They have played in Los Angeles with guitarist Jose Carballo, of Chacalon y la Nueva Crema fame, in Lima with Los Shapis and in Berlin with Ranil, the legendary cumbiero from Iquitos. They have toured with Cambodian psych-band Dengue Fever and shared the stage with bands as varied as Brazilian Girls, The Skatalites, Frente Cumbiero and the Orchestre Poly-rythmo de Cotonou.
Chicha Libre’s music has been featured on TV shows Weeds and Homeland as well as a Simpsons’ 20th anniversary special in which they were asked to play the Simpsons’ theme “chicha” style alongside the likes of Red Hot Chili Pepper and ZZ Top. They have also scored a Vaclav Havel play which was performed at Colombia’s Miller theater in the author’s presence and two Charlie Chaplin films which they performed at NY’s prestigious Merkin Hall. Their two albums, Sonido Amazonico and Canibalismo, are available from Barbès Records in North America, Crammed Disc in Europe and Random Records in South America, as is their EP Cuatro Tigres.