CUMBIA OR DIE!
The superheroes of cumbia have a name. And that name is Chico Trujillo. Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, the band is at the peak of its powers. They play parties. They play stadiums. They play festivals. They play all over the world. And they can’t be stopped. While the outfit’s contagious, recklessly danceable sound is rich in drive and colorful instrumentation, it’s not like the cumbia from Argentina or Peru or any other place you can think of. It’s not a social expression of proletarian vigor or some regional or ethnic identity. Instead, it’s a pure cultural phenomenon. Its fans are not the Southern Hemisphere equivalent of folk revivalists; they’re rock and rollers.
These nine musicians originally came together in Chico Trujillo as a side project of a ska band called La Floripondio. Listening to Chico de Oro, its latest album and debut release on Barbes Records, you might grasp how cumbia is a crossroads. In one direction, it allows the performers to create a link with the past: the Chile before Pinochet’s rule, when fiestas gave way to protest. If the Junta’s rise to power in 1973 signaled a loss of innocence, the band’s exuberance signifies a welcome return to the ludic world of dance parties and nocturnal pleasures.
In the other direction, cumbia offers an essential element in the invention of a new Chilean pop culture – part of a larger Pan-Latin mix of genres and styles that can slide happily under the swaying umbrella of Cumbia.
“The initial influence for us and primitive desire to both make music and people dance has never changed since we started.” percussionist Juanito Gronemeyer told the English-language press in Santiago. “The objective of Chico Trujillo is to party. It’s to generate dancing. For many years, it was badly looked upon (and even prohibited) in Chile to have a good time. We want to lift the stress of the working week from people, so that they can relax, dance and have a great time!”
That’s no lie. Chico de Oro is a barnburner. The ska influences are delightfully present everywhere, especially in the bawdy bluster of tracks like “Lanzaplatos” and “Y Si No Fuera,” which combines robust horns with the sensuous twang of surf guitar and the mondo-martini otherworldliness of a resonant vibraphone. The album also shows off a rowdy sense of humor, as the musicians tap into the spirit of vintage Chilean novelty hits. “`La Cosecha de Mujeres,” a Colombian tune covered and popularized by bands in Argentina and Chile, is as full of mischief as a Marx Brothers movie, shot through with lusty whistles and shouts, loopy choruses, lyrics full of insinuation, and a see-sawing accordion that can make you drunk just to hear it.
And, yes, this is yet another cumbia album from Barbes Records.
Can there be too much? One of the reasons the Brooklyn-based label got Chico Trujillo on board is Barbes’ inaugural Roots of Chicha compilation, which has become an essential part of the world cumbia revolution. The band were huge fans of the recording, and felt that Barbes would be the perfect label for their own music. How can a band as vital as Chico Trujillo not be a part of that? Cumbia is the new universal language, and Barbès is committed to exploring all of its manifestations: Peruvian psychedelic cumbias, North American hybrid, Vallenato, Chilean cumbia and hopefully more to come – including a second volume of Roots of Chicha due out this fall.
It’s the first time since ska erupted out of Jamaican onto the world’s dance floors (three times over) that a popular musical movement not born in the United States is going global. This time, though, it’s a hispanophone movement, making huge headways in Latin America, Europe and Japan. Chico de Oro is America’s opportunity to get on the cumbia party bus with one of the best band on the planet.