Chicha Libre Sonido Amazonica! Review

Released 2008.  

BBC Review

Try The Roots Of Chicha before proceeding with caution to this.

Jon Lusk 2008

In several Andean countries, 'chicha' is an alcoholic drink made from fermented corn. In Peru, it’s also a style of music popularised in the late 1960s, when local musicians synthesized a new hybrid out of Andean folk melodies, rhythms pinched from Colombian cumbia, twangy guitars echoing American surf music and whatever else they fancied.

Long out of fashion at home, a purported chicha revival has now been kick-started in Brooklyn, New York, by Olivier Conan through his independent label Barbès. In June this year he released the engaging compilation The Roots Of Chicha, showcasing vintage material by groups such as Los Mirlos and Los Hijos Del Sol. Now he's gone one step further with his own group of gringos, who so share his sense of intoxication with chicha that they decided to brew their own.

¡Sonido Amazonico! isn’t the ‘real thing’, but lots of good pop music isn't, so how do this lot score? To Chicha Libre's credit, there's not a big gulf between the covers, the pieces they've adapted to chicha and their own compositions. Also, the group stay true to the adventurous spirit of chicha by throwing in several wild cards of their own, although not all of these play so well. While their music has a certain kitsch, loungey appeal, it's too self-conscious and contrived to match the fevered originals, and though far more sincere than the likes of Señor Coconut, still something of a novelty record.

Gershon Kingsley's zany synthpop instrumental Popcorn (most recently revived by Axel F's Crazy Frog) is an inspired choice for the chicha treatment, but more surprising is the way Ravel's Pavane and Eric Satie's Gnosienne No. 1 also suit it. The opening take on Los Mirlos' Sonido Amazonico adds growling Tinariwen-style lead guitar, and Joshua Camp's dinky vintage keyboards are a treat throughout, especially on his original instrumental highlight Tres Pasajeros. However, Conan is a weak singer. His Spanish accent isn't very convincing and when he sings in his native French, it's a bridge too far. So try The Roots Of Chicha before proceeding with caution to this.

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