Chicha is a corn drink that has been popular in Andean countries for millennia. It is brewed from fermented maize and can be made either into a mild alcoholic beverage called Chicha de Jora (which was very popular among the Incas), or into a soft drink called Chicha Morada.
Chicha also refers to a particular brand of Peruvian pop music that “educated” Peruvians usually look down on. The music is often labeled tropical, which means that it relies on a standard Afro-Cuban percussion section (mostly bongos, congas , bells and timbales). It also draws heavily on Cumbia, which Columbia has been exporting to the rest of the world for half a century. Chicha is also known simply as Cumbia Peruana.
According to Wikipedia, Chicha is “a lower version of the Cumbia, which is more popular with the lower social class.” And so it is: very much like Forro, Musette, Tango, or Son (not to mention jazz), Chicha was born in poor, urban neighborhoods .
Most modern Chicha uses the canned sounds of cheap keyboards and low-end guitar effects, but it did not start out that way. In the late sixties and through most of the seventies, bands throughout Peru started playing Cumbias. They borrowed the style from the Colombian model but updated it to reflect both the national sensibility and the times. They incorporated elements from English and American music – especially Surf music – and replaced the accordion with the electric guitar.
A similar phenomenon occurred the world over. As radio and television started playing Western programs,, local groups from all countries began to emulate British invasion and American psychedelic bands. Most copied the format, using drum sets, electric bass, and guitars. Malaysian Pop Yeah Yeah, Cambodian rock, Uruguayan Invasion bands – these all started out as imitators, even if their brand of pop eventually developed a specific national character.
In Peru, Chicha was syncretic from the start. Bands used a standard Latin rhythm section of congas, bongos, and timbales, but mixed it up with a rock format of bass, electric guitars, Moog synthesizers, and Farfisa organs. The sound was modern – the guitars and organs had that modern sound imported straight from North America — and it was also distinctly Latin, not Peruvian. It was pan-Latin: like the new instruments — the Farfisa, the electric guitar — the rhythms were borrowed, yet, the music was undeniably national. Jut like the drink itself, Chicha stood for a specifically indigenous brand of Peruvian pride.
The first wave of Cumbia bands came from Lima and from the Amazon.
From Lima, Enrique Delgado’s Los Destellos established the first template, drawing from Rock, Cuban Son, Boogaloo, Huyanos – and of course, cumbia. Many bands followed – Los Diablos Rojos, Manzanita, Los Orientales de Paramonga, Los Hijos del Sol, who drew more from Andean Huaynos.
From the Amazon (from Iquitos, Pucallpa and Tarapoto) bands such as Juaneco y Su Combo, Sonido 2000, Los Tigres de Tarapoto and Los Mirlos sung about partying, oil (or both, as in La Danza del Petrolero), and life in the forest. The goal was to entertain, and the lyrics could be tongue in cheek or even outright funny. Still, a particular sense of regional and ethnic pride runs through all these lyrics; bands refer to it as Poder Verde, or Green Power.
The oddly post-modern combination of western psychedelia, Cuban and Colombian rhythms, Andean melodies and idiosyncratic experimentation was close in spirit to the pop syncretism of Brazilian Tropicalia bands such as Os Mutantes.
But unlike Brazilian Tropicalia, Chicha was not an intellectual movement. Its main proponents were working musicians who mostly came from poor backgrounds. Their job was to make people dance. They didn’t travel to London. No discourse was elaborated around the music. It never became popular with the Peruvian middle class. Art students didn’t embrace it. Critics and intellectuals didn’t write about it. As a result, the music was scorned nationally – and largely ignored outside of Peru.
JUANECO Y SU COMBO
Formed in Pucallpa in 1966 Juaneco is the most mythical of all Amazonian bands. They claimed the regional Shipibo Indian identity by dressing in traditional costumes. Their songs, which can be both funny and poetic, often deal with the clash between tradition and urbanization. Their sound doesn’t seem to owe anything to anyone and hasn’t aged a bit. They released their first single in 1970 and toured in neighboring Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia. In 1977 most of the band died in a plane crash, including Noe Fachin, the band’s first guitar and main composer. Band leader Juaneco and singer Wilindro, who were not on the flight, reformed the band with new musicians and kept the sound alive. Juaneco (Juan Wong) died in 2004.
Originally from the Amazonian town of Moyobomba, San Martin, band leader Jorge Rodriguez Grandez moved to Lima in 1973 where he formed Los Mirlos with two of his brothers and a cousin. They are the band most associated with Cumbias Amazonicas and coined the expression Poder Verde, Green Power. Lead guitarist Gilberto Reategui sounds significantly different from other bands of the same time – his sound is darker, more processed, and sometimes closer in spirit to surf music. The lineup has changed over the years but the band is still active.
EUSEBIO Y SU BANJO
Eusebio Pérez Campojo introduced the banjo into Amazonian music. Although he didn’t have many disciples, his songs have become part of the Chicha canon and he is one of the early codifiers of the genre. Mi Morena Morelde was his biggest hit.
Bandleader and guitarist Enrique Delgado grew up in Lima. He started playing guitar professionally at age 13, when he joined Pastorita Huaracina‘s band – the iconic singer and composer of folkloric music. Equally schooled in the Andean and Criollo forms, Enrique embodies the fusion of all the various Peruvian traditions. He was also chicha’s first innovator, As early as 1968 he was,recording with a Moog, using wah-wah pedals and drawing from rock, boleros and guajiras as well as classical music (his cover of Beethoven’ Letter for Elise – Para Elisa, is included here). He died in 1996 and is still revered as a guitar hero by chicha aficionados.
LOS HIJOS DEL SOL
Angel Anibal Rosado was born in the highlands but moved to Lima as a child. He started out as a composer of Huaynos and criollo music and his songs have been recorded by some of the greatest Peruvian singers, including Lucila Campos and Eva Ayllón . He first took on writing cumbias as a challenge and formed Los Hijos del Sol in 1977. He scored a first hit with Si Me Quieres, followed by Cariñito in 1978. Of all the chicha precursors, his songs owe the most to Andean melodies. His guitarist, Jose Luis Carballo, went on to form the group Chacalon y la Nueva Crema, which , in the 1980’s imposed the use of the name Chicha and became its biggest star.
LOS DIABLOS ROJOS
Marino Valencia Garay formed Los Diablos Rojos in 1970. Their rhythm section is more traditionally “latin” than many bands of that era. They mix up Cuban guarachas and boleros with cumbias . The band is still active. Sacalo Sacalo was released in 1974 and El Guapo in 1977.
All tracks on this compilation were recorded between 1968 and 1978 and released by Odeon, Infopesa and Iempsa.