Chicha Libre plays a mixture of latin rhythms, surf music and psychedelic pop inspired by Peruvian music from Lima and the Amazon. The Brooklyn-based band mixes up covers of forgotten Chicha classics with French-tinged originals, re-interpretation of 70’s pop classics as well as cumbia versions of pieces by Satie and Wagner.
Chicha is 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 made popular in the late 60’s by bands such as Los Destellos, Manzanita, Los Mirlos and Juaneco y su Combo.
Chicha was loosely inspired by Colombian accordion-driven cumbias but incorporated the distinctive pentatonic scales of Andean melodies, some Cuban son, and the psychedelic sounds of surf guitars, Farfisa organs, and Moog synthesizers. Peruvian chicha bands were playing an oddly post-modern combination of western psychedelia, Cuban and Colombian rhythms, national melodies and idiosyncratic inventions which were close in spirit to both the Congolese rumba of Franco and the pop syncretism of Os Mutantes.
The music was so fresh, so exciting and its appeal so effortlessly universal that it still seems strange that it never managed to find an international audience. Chicha Libre was started as a way to pay tribute to the music. The group includes musicians associated with the Brooklyn barbès and includes Keyboardist Joshua Camp, who is one half of lit-rock group One Ring Zero and plays an antiquated accordion/organ hybrid manufactured by Hohner called the Electravox; Olivier Conan (who also play with Las Rubias del Norte and is responsible for The Roots of Chicha compilations) on Cuatro and vocals; Bassist Nicholas Cudahy whose former band, Combustible Edison, knew a thing or two about pop syncretism; Guitarist Vincent Douglas (of bands Bébé Eiffel & The Humphries) and percussionists Greg Burrows (Andy Statman) and Neil Ochoa (SiSe & Los Crema Paraiso).
While Chicha Libre’s repertoire has evolved somewhat from the Peruvian canon, the sound and approach are completely indebted to the Peruvian bands it originally emulated. Like them, they use surf guitar, organ sounds and latin percussion to play a mixture of borrowed and homegrown sounds. The borrowings are somewhat different – 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 close and as foreign to them, as they were to the Shipibo Indians who first took up the electric guitar.
Chicha Libre has performed all over the world, including Turkey, The UK, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Colombia, the US and Canada. 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, and in Berlin with Ranil, the legendary cumbiero from Iquitos. They have toured with Cambodian psych-band Dengue Fever and shared the stage with Brazilian Girls and the Orchestre Poly-rythmo de Cotonou.
Chicha Libre’s music has been featured in the TV show Weeds and 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. Their first CD, Sonido Amazonico, is available from Barbès Records in North America, Crammed Disc in Europe and Random Records in South America. Their follow up album is due in the spring of 2012 and a 45 featuring La Danza del Los Simpsons and La Danza de Los Valkyries will be released in May
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