The latest release from Brooklyn-based Chicha Libre is a feast to the eyes even before it reaches your ears. The words “Canibalismo” shout out in bright yellow, white and red letters with a background of rainforest vegetation–a clear reference to the late 1960s tropicalismo movement that started in Brazil as a response to the psychedelics of America and Europe during that time.
Asked about the cover, French-born Olivier Conan (who also co-owns Barbès, an alternative performance space in Brooklyn, NY) says that the reference was intentional. “We meant to reference Tropicalia,” he says over an e-mail interview. “The album is named ‘Canibalismo’ after Oswald de Andrade’s autophagous manifesto, which was Tropicalias’ manifesto—and while the graphic style wasn’t derivative, it does evoke that era.”
For those unfamiliar with the band’s genre, Chicha (which is named after a strong, corn-based liquor produced since the time of the Incas), is a musical genre that has its origins in the late sixties. At this time Peruvian musicians blended the sound of the traditional Colombian cumbias with the pentatonic scales of Andean music, and further added psychedelic musical elements like wah-wah pedals and surf-rock-inspired guitars.
The band was founded four years ago after Conan returned from a trip to Peru. “I had brought back all these amazing records from Peru and very much wanted to start playing some of those songs,” he explains. “Their sounds were very close to some of the stuff I had tried to do in the past. I got together with a few friends, most of whom I had been playing with already. Next thing you know, we turned into a band, made a record and started touring.”
Chicha Libre’s sound evokes the psychedelic cumbias that Conan discovered on that first Latin American trip. Their first album mostly contained covers of obscure groups that had never before been heard in America (Olivier released some of the original tracks on the 2007 compilation “The Roots of Chicha”), but the group has since moved on and are now writing all the material on their own.
The songs take you to a different era, and it clearly has a dance element to it. The album opens with Joshua Camp’s up-tempo “La Plata (En Mi Carrito de Lata),” and keeps a steady beat until the cleverly inserted “Intermission,” in which Conan simply tells listeners that the band is taking a short break. Most of the songs are in Spanish, except for the Conan-penned “L’Age d’Or,” a ballad that contrasts with the more electric material on the disc.
“Our first album was meant as an homage to Peruvian Musicians, to all aspects of chicha—from the Amazonian style to the Lima experimentations,” he explains. “There were a lot of covers, and some originals. The new album is pretty much all ours. We wrote most of the tunes, and while we still use a template close to the Peruvian one, we have taken a lot of liberties. We didn’t let the style inhibit or limit us in any ways. We just wrote material that was ours—drawing from all aspects of our backgrounds. We’re not paying tribute any more—just making music, we hope. “
The band has gone through different personnel since it started, is now rounded out by Camp (electronics, mellotron, vocals, and effects), Karina Colis (timbales, vocals, and clave), Nicholas Cudahy (bass, Tupper box), Vincent Douglas (guitars) and Neil Ochoa (percussion).
“We have a slightly different lineup, more international I guess,” says Conan. “We come from Mexico, France, Venezuela and the US—and our rhythm section is more traditionally Latin, but the spirit is the same.”
Saturday, May 12, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4545 North Lincoln, (773)728-6000, 8pm. $20.
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