For me, and perhaps an increasing number of Latin music aficionados the world over, discovering the tropical music of Perú, especially of the 60s and 70s, has been quite the revelation of the last few years. So I can definitely agree with Duncan Ballantyne and Martin Morales of Tiger’s Milk Records when they (along with their project partner in Perú, Andres Tapia) decided to call their selections of that music Perú Maravilloso. And that is the reason I agreed to review their brand new compilation, because I knew it couldn’t be bad!
What I was interested in was what new material could they blow me away with? I already had their 7-inch of the brilliant and obscure cover of Traffic Sound's psychedelic anthem “Meshkalina” by Paco Zambrano (with a B-side featuring a lesser-known jam by the brilliant but over-compiled Juaneco), which DJ Turmix turned me on to, so my expectations were high. I can honestly say my hopes were fulfilled, 10 times over in fact: not only is this a top shelf compilation in every way, but it’s also chock-full of fresh new sounds and even a few new artists that I had not bumped into in my own Peruvian crate-digging over the last few years. This makes sense since the compilers state in the introduction to their liner notes that they decided to comb through their favorite Peruvian records with an eye to taking the listener by surprise by unearthing some rare gems and "avoiding the more mainstream sounds of cumbia and chicha" (well, 'mainstream' is a relative term - to those lucky few already in the know, that is). I was pleased to see that Tiger’s Milk was not just some drop-in-the-bucket one-off limited release 7-inch operation, and that they could pull of a package as dope as this gives me hope that they will continue in the future. I’d say Perú Maravilloso is one of my Top Ten Picks of 2013.
What I like most about this compilation is that despite its fairly narrow focus, the track listing accurately reflects the diversity and musical cross-pollination so evident in the best of vintage Peruvian tropical music, so there’s never a dull moment. That diversity and mestisaje (racial/cultural mixing) is evident from the very first selection which deftly ‘creolizes’ the Afro-Cuban mambo with the indigenous huayño. Again, at the risk of repeating myself, what marks this as something worthy of comparing to a Soundway or Analog Africa release is the compilers at Tiger’s Milk skillfully manage to pack in a whole rainbow of sounds that range from the city to the jungle, the beach to the mountains, Latin soul to son montuno.
Personally, the track that was the biggest mind-blower was the fabulous jazzy instrumental version of the old chestnut “Toro Mata” by Pocho Purizaga. The mysterious soundtrack-like intro on it is just priceless and sounds as fresh today as it must have decades ago. Many of us in the USA or Europe may have heard the more folkloric Afro-Peruvian recordings by the likes of Perú Negro or the mod art-song stylings of Susana Baca and pop songstresses like Eva Ayllón, but Pocho Purizaga took the genre into totally new territory, at a time when a lot of experimentation was going on. I was also pleasantly surprised to see my favorite vocalist, the Afro-Peruvian sonero Félix Martínez, included here on the hard-core salsa-crillollo track “La Gallina” which asks which came first, the chicken of the egg. Not too many people have cottoned onto Martínez yet but he really deserves the widest exposure and recognition. I’ll never forget when DJ Duste played for me my first Félix Martínez 45 – “Zamba Malando” – wow, it just killed me. Hopefully this compilation, along with a few others previously released that contain his work, will help restore Félix to his rightful place in the pantheon of authentic, original-sounding Afro-Latino vocalists of yesteryear. Other highlights include Los Orientales (delicious mix of wah-wah guitars and horns), as well as the bluesy down-tempo fuzz of Aniceto Y Sus Fabulosos, which closes out the collection in a Nuggets sounding way. I also like that the liner notes stress the importance of the classical “criollo” guitar tradition in Perú as far as why these tropical cuts contain so much amazing electric guitar virtuosity. While in Cuba you may have the prominence of the piano, conga, or flute, the guitar really does dominate in the tropical music of Perú, and this is amazingly evident in moody cuts like “El Chacanero” by Gato Blanco or the lickety-split pyrotechnics of Manzanita Y Su Conjunto’s “El Zambito Rumbero”. It’s like these Peruvian guitar maestros are missing link between Dick Dale and Gabor Szabo. The only guy who is missing here is Enrique Delgado of Los Destellos, but I can forgive that because they are now a much better known quantity than a few years ago, and don’t really need any more exposure.
In addition to all this great music, the packaging from Tiger’s Milk CD is superlative, from the awesome cover art with the great typography (some of it reminds me of Pablo A. Medina's 'Vitrina' font) and simple two color lino-print look (makes me think of an OG concert hand-bill/flyer) to the inclusion of a groovy poster (with arresting design/art by AtixVector) on the backside of the fold-out liner notes. Speaking of that, you do get some tasty liner notes (a bit too brief for my liking, though) that come with fantastic images of the artists (some of which I had never seen before, like the shot of Zulu when he was young) or their album covers, which makes the collector in me drool. For you vinyl maniacs, there is of course the requisite double gatefold LP version! Guys, can you please send me one (shameless plug)?
I always knew this archival material would cross over big, from the early ¡Gózalo! projects I worked on for Vampisoul and the first Roots of Chicha compilation on Barbés, through the amazing LPs released by MassTropicas, and I think this collection is a worthy addition to the great work trail-blazed by the previously mentioned labels. Hopefully we’ll reach critical mass soon, and this type of material will start to go over big. To make a gross generalization, the two most salient reasons why old-school tropical Peruvian will probably go over well with today’s young international audiences who are just getting into Afro-Caribbean derived Latin sounds is because there are a lot of electric guitars (many of them surf or psychedelic), and not too many vocals. So if they got into 60s boogaloo and 70s salsa before, the selections on this collection should sound like second cousins visiting from far-flung regions – related but somehow just different enough to provide that extra spice they were looking for. Indeed, Perú Maravilloso should serve to offer them just the right fresh alternative to the Latin sounds they are used to. And if the recent proliferation of contemporary bands influenced by chicha, cumbia amazónica and Peruvian tropical recordings is any indication of a trend, compilations like this one might be like the first Velvet Underground record that sold modestly enough, but each kid that bought a copy, launched a band.
For more info, go to the label’s various online sites:
From the press release:
Stemming from an unbridled passion and determination to discover and celebrate the diversity and quality of music produced in Peru past and present, Tiger’s Milk Records’ step out with their first ever album release titled ‘Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical & Cumbia ‘
The label was set up by Anglo Peruvian Martin Morales (ex iTunes, Outcaste, Union Square’s Ocho), who co-runs the label with Duncan Ballantyne ( ex Soundway, Naïve, Kartel & Far Out).
Tiger’s Milk Records is part of Ceviche, a restaurant serving Peruvian cuisine in London. A recipe book entitled ‘Ceviche: Peruvian Kitchen’ written by Martin Morales was released in July 2013 and entered the Amazon UK top 10 non-fiction chart. The Ceviche team have just returned from their first ever UK pop-up restaurant tour, visiting ten UK cities and towns.