Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Review: Juaneco Y Su Combo: The Birth of Jungle Cumbia (The Vital Record, 2013)

I feel fortunate to have been exposed to Peruvian culture at an early age through the stories and photos of my aunt’s travels there in the 1980s, and much later, though my work for the Vampisoul and MassTropicas music labels and my friendship with their respective leaders, Iñigo Pastor and Mike Pigott, as well as my acquaintance with Olivier Conan and his band, Chicha Libre. In fact it was through Vampisoul, and later Olivier’s Barbés label, that I rediscovered the music of the artist whose latest posthumous release we are discussing here, which is one of the best of 2013 by far, but may have slipped under some people’s radar. Ironically enough, my beloved aunt Barbara had brought me back a cassette of Juaneco (and some other Peruvian cumbia tapes) back in the 80s, which I enjoyed immensely but soon forgot as I subsequently became obsessed with the world music craze and early hip-hop. So it was with a kind of half-remembered nostalgia that I started to listen once again to my old friend Juaneco and his Amazonian combo with the release of Barbes’ Roots of Chicha and Juaneco compilations a few years ago.

And now, just when I thought the precious resources of Peruvian psychedelic tropical "poder verde" (green power) music – especially from the recently re-popularized Juaneco – had been completely exposed, mined and depleted forever, here comes a brand new reissue of the Amazonian cumbia master’s earliest, rawest, and least-known work from 1970-72, a forgotten chapter (that I never even knew existed). Timing aside, this is not some case of ‘bandwagonism’ or trying to exploit a boho trend because, as the collection proves, the merit in educating people about the origins of cumbia amazónica in an intelligent and informative way let alone digging up a “lost” set of recordings, is self-evident and doesn’t require riding on the coattails of any previous collections of the genre or striving for any sort of justification for its existence. Indeed, the good folks at The Vital Record have done some commendably deep digging for this release (with the help of some native experts, it should be noted), and unearthed the rare early IMSA singles (which appeared on an obscure debut EP) and the combo’s first album, presenting it in CD form with a wonderful, musicologist style booklet to boot.

Outside of Juaneco’s jungle home base, these freshman recordings were probably not exactly popular or well known in the rest of Peru as the new decade dawned, and so no doubt faded into unwarranted obscurity even as the band’s subsequently more polished releases propelled them to national stardom later in the 1970s. As TVR label founder David Aglow points out, they were probably too raw and provincial sounding to catch on or gain radio play in Lima. And that precisely is why putting out this Juaneco compilation holds so much appeal for Aglow. As he puts it, “In our opinion, that's what makes it sound so good to us now.” So folks, all I can say is, this is yesterday’s gloriously gritty analog sound made ripe for the Daptone/crate digger aesthetic of today, unapologetically unadorned yet sincere and of genuine historical importance. The pops and crackles are there, but over all the tracks sound surprisingly clean in spite of the source material’s inherent drawbacks (there are no master tapes and the original pressings were poorly made). Something about the unpretentious simplicity, honest rawness and upfront immediacy of the recordings just jumps out of the swampy mire of the past and bites you in the culo like some crazed electronic piraña.

For students of Peruvian music in general, and Juaneco in particular (like myself), this little jewel of a reissue is a godsend because it fills in critical gaps in one’s knowledge about origins of cumbia selvática (jungle cumbia). It’s great to hear these early prototypical sides and read about how they were made and the first years of the band before, Otis Redding-style, more than half the combo were tragically killed in an airplane crash in 1977, thus ending their early configuration and altering their sound forever. You may even recognize some of the tunes because they were later redone or incorporated into the more polished (but no less powerful) recordings the group did for Alberto Maraví’s INFOPESA and later, Juan Campos Muñoz’s Horoscopo label. The interesting multi-cultural origins of the band’s founding members (such as Juan “Juaneco” Wong Paredes, Jr.) and their distinctive first guitarist (Noé Fachín) are thoroughly researched and are a joy to read. The pleasure is augmented by the fact that the songs are described in details rich in both sociological and ecological analysis. It’s quite rare for a compilation to give fully informed contextual information about where a particular genre comes from and what forces shaped it, but Amazonian historian (and lawyer) James Matos Tuesta and discographer Victor Zela most definitely know their stuff, and set the music in a comprehensible context that lends extra meaning and insight to the proceedings. 

For further info on Tuesta, check out an interesting article here on my friend Mike P’s blog:

And to learn more about what makes Victor Zela tick, visit his blog here (a site I love to check on periodically):

On a side note, as a Cuban-American, it’s gratifying to hear snippets of Caribbean-influenced music already in effect in the early formation of Juaneco y su combo’s milagro verde (green mirale) sound, especially Cuban genres like guaracha, guajira, and bolero. That’s right, there are not only the obvious influences of Colombian cumbia and Indigenous Peruvian forms, but a healthy dose of Afro-Antillean music as well, right from the start. Add to that the band’s Chinese, Amerindian, and Spanish criollo roots, and you have an amazing potion ready to cause hallucinations of a pan-American experience like no other.

Speaking of visions, let me emphasize the package is not only musically and textually rich, it’s also a phantasmagorical visual feast stuffed with great photos of the band and — a major revelation for me personally — some juicy reproductions of contemporary fantastic jungle-themed paintings by Graciela Arias and Christian Bendayán.

I was literally stopped in my tracks when I saw Graciela’s painting Eva del Paraiso on the eighth page of the booklet. ¡Carambaaaaa! 

Eva del Paraiso

Her amazing magical realist jungle alter-piece portrait of a sexy Amazonian Eve who is half horse (a “runamula” in local terminology) is nothing short of a mind-blower: electric blue constellations surround a nubile, centaurian Pachamama plucking a glowing red jungle fruit from a forest branch presided over by a golden serpiente. On the side is a female river spirit, rising from the leaves with long trestles of hair like some vision out of an alternate Vogue magazine peopled by beings from the time of Prometheus. It’s an apparition that stops the heart like an arrow tipped in curare, as if Guaguin tripped on acid with Mati Klarwein and woke up in Ayacucho. Yes the painting features protean Biblical imagery — but seen through Indigenous Amazonian eyes — so it takes on a more defiant air then merely devotional Christian imagery that you see so much in Latin America. I guess you’d have to journey to Pecullalpa visit Graciela’s studio and see her art in person to really confront physically, but from my vantage point, you don’t need any special cultural knowledge of her art to “get” this painting. It just impacts you from the moment you set eyes on it. Along these lines, David Aglow told me, “I've known Graciela for years. And she's gone from painting cute tourist mementos to full-blown Amazon visionary artist, working very much in the realm of magical realism, as you say. She likes combining the elements of folklore and mythology with the Christian…Anyway, her [art] is mesmerizing. She's an up and coming woman artist from the region, and her stuff is really special. I'm heading there [soon] and I can't wait to see her new [paintings].” Below are some examples of Graciela's art Dave sent me...

Christian Bandayán is also an “arte amazónica” painter, but unlike Graciela, he’s from Iquitos. I tell you, the guy is quite a revelation! This is an artist to watch. When I told David how much I was impressed by Christians work, he said, “Glad you liked Bendayán’s stuff, which is some of my favorite.” How cool that Aglow thought to combine his taste in Amazonian art with his discerning choices in the tropical music of the region? That’s not something you’d have with some typical domestic CD packaging from Peru, you can bet! Below I have put some samples of his art for you to check out.

I was also well pleased to see several ayahuasca/yagé paintings by one of my favorite “curandero” (healer) priest/painters from the Peruvian Amazon, Don Pablo Amaringo. As Aglow related to me, “I actually met him on several occasions and have one of his paintings. He was quite a character!” Indeed. Amaringo is the deceased elder statesman of Peruvian psychedelic folkloric and shamanic imagery (think 60s black velvet hippie paintings and UFO/Surrealist iconography colliding with the intricate, indigenous peyote-fuelled bead paintings of Mexican Huichol Indian artisans). Bendayán is a young (b. 1973), very savvy multi-media artist taking Amaringo’s lead but going to the next level, dragging it kicking and screaming from the “folkloric” realm (functioning within the traditional people’s local village culture) to the more rarified market of international commercial “fine art” (if there is such a distinction!). Where Amaringo’s art is stocked with diaphanous celestial bodies, levitating spirits, vast starlit swamps, and unseen skyward patterns being revealed, Bendayán’s world is full of tropical sex and real people rooted in an urban reality in conflict with the jungle (but it is just as colorful and trippy as Amaringo’s). Graciela Arias shows us a more feminine viewpoint, with an emphasis on the spiritual and lyrical side of the indigenous mindset, but she too cannot escape the groundbreaking work by Don Pablo that precedes her and informs her art. I think I may have posted before about Don Pablo's work, but here are some of his paintings just in case you have not been exposed to this genius...

For all this wild Amazonian stimulation packed into a small jewel case, we have to come back to reality and thank the already mentioned David Aglow, the  principal impetus behind this fortuitous commingling of visual, aural and literary worlds. It was his vision and perseverance that made the project happen, and in such high style! I am now hoping Dave will listen to my suggestions to eventually put out a limited edition 45 of the two most DJ-friendly tracks (he told me a whole LP vinyl version would prove too costly at this point), the most likely candidates being the wacky and syncopated instrumental cumbia “Perdido en el espacio” for the A side, and the instant classic “Me voy pa’ Trompeteros”. Or perhaps “Caballo nocturno” (with it’s super dope intro) for the B side. You could also fashion another great single from the wistful “Sirenita enamorada” (a great vocal with raw fuzz guitar) and “La incognita” as a percussively up-beat and axe-rockin’ B-side. But then there are Dave’s favorites, the catchy yet plaintive “El llanto del ayaymama” with its raw buzz-saw guitar riff, and the haunting bolero “El forstero” – two equally viable choices for the vinyl single treatment! Record Store Day, I here you calling like the ayaymama (a large jungle bird with a distinctively forlorn mating call)! Maybe there could even a “rework” by the Whiskey Barons or Quantic could be entertained to give us a radical remake with his Combo Bárbaro…one can dream a feverish tropical dream! At any rate, for the time being we have this unique and singular CD, and if enough sales are made, that might just finance some sort of vinyl release, something near and dear to my DJ/collector heart.

So that’s really about it – you have to hear the music and read the text for yourself to receive its full medicinal benefits. Go out and buy this CD and be transported to a far away place and time that we, as “developed” consumers in the digital age are fortunate enough to have at our disposal for our gratification and edification. Heed Bongohead’s advice: Don’t waste this opportunity for illumination brought to you by The Vital Record, mi gente.

Like I said, this collection rings a special note with me on a personal level. From stories I heard of the magical back-water jungle city Iquitos, where today a kid could be named Hitler Michael Jackson Ramirez and in a bygone era of rubber barons, European arias could be heard at the Baroque opera house built directly on the mangrove swamp, to the shape-shifting dolphins that become fishermen’s lovers just down river from Fitzcarraldo’s Quixotically foundering steamship, to the legend of the “Lost City of Z” and its would be discoverers perishing in plain sight of it because the city was the jungle all around them, the stygian tropical forests and mighty rivers of South America have always fascinated me, constantly revealing themselves to be more inexplicable, fleetingly evasive and amazing than any magical realist author like Vargas Llosa or García Márquez could put to words. With this compilation, I have both the satisfaction and the sadness of knowing yet another obscure sector has been (re)discovered, mapped out, and exposed to me, making the Amazon a little less mysterious and exotic on the one hand, and on the other revealing all of its contradictions and complexities that thankfully continue to make it as hard to grasp as a brightly colored macaw or neatly categorize as the thousands of undiscovered plants that carpet the forest floor to this day.

For more info and to hear some of the music, go to the label’s web site:
While you’re there, do yourself a favor and check out the label’s other excellent and quirky releases. If you are interested in music from the Peruvian Amazon, there are two other fascinating CDs you should pick up: a contemporary cumbia amazónica album from the eccentric El Cacique De Menkoremón, and some heart-rending violin work by Don Francisco Pezo Alva, who plays his homemade instrument at the wakes of the recently deceased and fills his sound with all the pain and anguish his patrons need in order to aid the grieving process. May the marvelous revelations of this incredible musical resource that is Peru never be depleted!

Check this out! Track to watch for: "El Huarmi Icaro"

Francisco Pezo Alva plays violin - on location!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Vintage Voudou World of Alex Figueira and a review of the new CONJUNTO PAPA UPA 45 (MWS-006, 2013) “Vintage Voudou / Camuri Chico”


At a gig a while ago, a disk-jockey partner of mine, DJ Andujar, put on this crazy tune that made everybody dance. It fit right in with our “Rumba Psicodélica” mix – between the cumbia amazónica, Discos Fuentes Colombian madness, the afrobeat and afrofunk, Haitian compa, and Nuyorican boogaloo, it just flowed, like a seamless blend.

And yet, it was somehow tantalizingly different. It was not a cumbia, though it had some of those rolling drums that make you think of Colombian costeño music, and it also had that Andean flavor you hear in Perú; but there was something essentially ‘diferente’ about this.

I turned around and said, “What the hell was that?” He was like – “Yeah – remember this guy I told you about, Alex Figueira, who does that Vintage Voudou thing in Amsterdam and puts out 45s on the label Music With Soul?”

I then flashed on the cool retro logo of red on yellow and remembered the dope 45 Joel Stones from Tropicalia In Furs had given me a while back of his band Fumaça Preta’s “A Bruxa”, this raw, distorted Portuguese-language punk-psych jam that turned out, on further listening, to be a brilliantly jagged cover of the Sonics’ “The Witch”. The band’s title means Black Smoke, and the 45 sure was some inky black LSD-soaked Brazilian garage sludge! After that, there was a second 45, “Vou-me Libertar”, which I did not have but subsequently heard on Andujar’s WMUA radio show called “Clandestino”. This time the sound was a lot more funky and groove oriented and featured a wicked drum break and some crazy organ. Note to self: get a copy of that one too from Joel! As it turns out though, I never did get around to chasing him down for one…

Joel Stone(s) of Tropicália In Furs, in 3D

Jump-cut back to the gig with Andujar: I came over to the turntable, turning my head around and around trying to read the label. Something that looked like Conjunto Papa Upa…¿Pero que es esto-o-o-o? “Papa Upa” like in the Arsenio Rodríguez song?

“This is from the same label?”

“Yeah, man!”

All I could think was ¡coño!, someone on the other side of the pond has the same kind of taste as us, but also a lot of musical talent and chutzpah, and they actually went and put out a 45 of this kind of music, something Andujar and I have wanted to do for a while, but still have not quite managed to pull off yet! I said, “This is a new recording, right?” Andujar nodded yes, and said that the other side, “Vintage Voodoo” (an anthem of sorts), was just as good and raw. “¡Caramba! Let’s play the other side tonight too”, I yelled.

So now it’s a few months later, it’s a new year, and in the cold, clear early morning minutes before heading off to work I am going to try and encapsulate for you this indescribable little chunk of tropical goodness on wax that is the only recorded output of the mythical Conjunto Papa Upa to date.

A slice of juicy mango nestled on a fresh banana leaf, sprinkled with chili pepper. Drops of cooling rain mixing with salty seawater on an island girl’s parched tongue. A haunting, melancholy melody floats over an enticing rhythm, like some dusty platter from a forgotten jukebox playing in a deserted station at the end of the Old Patagonia Express. Evocations of the jungles of Equatorial Africa, the snowcapped mountains of South America, the empty grass-carpeted pampas where you see the tiny figure of a lonely gaucho once in a blue moon across the horizon, and the sun, surf and psych of 60s California, all made surreal by their juxtaposition. A special analog space in the raw, carved out of the digital age, where the Caribbean meets the Andes, a pan-Latin cocktail that makes you drunk with the possibility of hindsight. If only they had made something this cool 45 years ago! This is the Papa Upa sound.

The tune Andujar put to the needle first was “Camuri Chico” – named for an urban beach in Caracas where the “ethnic proletarian chaos” of people drinking guarapita, drumming their tambores, and swimming and sunning themselves in all their cacophonous brown multitudes makes for “everything besides a calm day” (according to the label’s press release). The track sports a tasty mix of folkloric drums, echo-drenched electric guitar, chugging acoustic rhythm guitar (the spunky Venezuelan cuatro), and a boisterous vintage Farfisa organ. It’s as if a Quentin Tarrantino movie score blended with Afro-Venezuelan pop/folk music of the 70s (i.e. the gaita-salsa of Guaco or Un Solo Pueblo and the afrobeat/funk of Grupo Bota), colliding with Dick Dale and Ennio Morricone in some alternate vintage voodoo universe.

The other side, “Vintage Voudou”, reads like some sort of ceremonial dance pop from the jungles of the Amazon by way of a hidden polyglot Caribbean pirate island just off the coast of Central America. At the same time the jam puts me in mind of the hybrid carimbó music from the northern Brazilian state of Pará and its port city of Belém, Cidade das Mangueiras (city of mango trees), metropolitan river gateway to the jungle.

Picture a picotero DJ putting the red and yellow labeled 45 on the mildew-encrusted turntable attached to the painted soundsystem situated in the little open air riverside bar. First, emanating from the booming bass bins you hear the sound of hands beating on a skin drumhead, a summons that has called worshipers from time immemorial. Then in comes the pleasingly clacky-clacky, jangle-jangle, sheke-sheke sound of small percussion, which makes the crowd start to shuffle their feet in the red dust, and sway sensuous hips from side to side, sweating out the cerveza fría, aguardiente, and cachaça they’ve been constantly drinking all night. ¡Upa, papá! ¡Guepaje, ándale, pues!

Then a percussion breakdown announces the echoey, beckoning guitar melody, which cascades out from under the thatched palm roof like a jungle waterfall, its warm spirals enveloping the crowd and leading them on. Now the ritual musical magic starts to work in earnest, the people are hooked, bumping, rubbing, grinding. The dark breeze brings the scent of the river water mixed with decaying vegetation, mingling the perfume of flowers with the perspiration of the dancers, sweet and sour, sewage and cinnamon.

As the music pulses out of the huge, distorted, crackling speakers, taking over the body, you realize you’ll never make it back to your hotel tonight. It’s a raw, gritty, insistent sound of the empire talking back to the colonizer. The people are victorious. It’s not the carimbó, sirimbó, lari lari or lambada from Belém, but it’s familiar enough that you let it slip under your perspiring skin, flow into your thirsty ears until it takes you over, one organ at a time.

You hear hints of Congolese rumba, bouncy calypso, pop-and-lock cumbia, cadence, beguine, and afrobeat as played by ‘70s South American outfits like Los Kings, Abelardo Carbonó, Afrosound or Wganda Kenya. But it’s not so much a funk sound – there’s no wah-wah or clavinet effects here – more the dry, echo-laden feel of an earlier era. All the while the chorus chants the song title in a trance-inducing, heavily accented cadence.

When the 45 suddenly ends, you’re left high and dry; it’s like a chance sexual encounter with a stranger from the bar on the beach after the place closes down – a quick, pleasurable experience that leaves you wanting more. ¡Más Vintage Voudou, por favor! I decide to contact this band and find out what makes it tick.

My search, which was aided by DJ Andujar, led me to Alex Figueira, an amiable wild-haired Renaissance man who runs the store (and DJ night) Vintage Voudou, Barracão recording studio, and the vinyl record label Music With Soul that released the Papa Upa single. When I opened the discussion up, I started by mentioning that I knew he was of Venezuelan descent (with Portuguese/Brazilian roots too), and telling him that I shared a love of the popular music of his ancestral homeland, in all of its rainbow diversity (it goes without sying that we also both love Brazilian, Cape Verdean, São Toméan, and Angolan music too, but that didn’t enter into the discussion at this early date). He mentioned that in Amsterdam, where he located from Lisbon in 2006, it’s been tough going trying to sell vintage Venezuelan records because they are “not exactly popular in the digging community”. Most of the records he had by Bota, Guaco, Los Dementes, Los Kenya, Sexteto Juventud, Nelson y sus Estrellas, Los 4 Monedas, Los Kings, Los Guaraguao, Ali Primero, and Federico y su Combo Latino were “rotting away on the shelves” and he had to sell them for ridiculous prices because people in Amsterdam just didn’t know Venezuelan music from the 60s and 70s. It’s a shame, we both agreed, because it’s some of the best and most interesting Latin music of the era. It’s just different enough to be a breath of fresh air for your newbie tropical music fan or neophyte salsa vinyl collector, if only they’d give it a chance.

The Vintage Voudou Shop, Amsterdam

On his web site, Alex speaks of his love for all sorts funky music from Africa and the Americas, and how he was simultaneously inspired by his native Venezuela’s progressive tropical music of the past and yet frustrated by the lack of truly visionary material from that era. As he sees it, the record labels of the time failed to nurture and promote the progressive fusion of indigenous Venezuelan music with foreign influences in any effective way. I would agree, with the exception of some labels like Korta or Velvet and groups like Guaco, Nelson y sus Estrellas, and Grupo Bota; the kind of music he was looking for just didn’t exist back then, unfortunately. So Alex decided to take out his 58 Tascam tape machine, call some friends over to his Barracão Studio, and create his own recordings in answer to that historical deficit. The Daptone aesthetic also entered heavily into the equation. For more info on why he started his label and what his general vision of music is, check out this interview here:

As we got deeper into it, Alex told me, technically speaking, Papa Upa “started a bit like an accident” when he bought some Afro-Venezuelan drums the last time he was in Venezuela and, with all the mega-annoying “customs shipping drama” he had to go through to get them back to Amsterdam, he was of course eager to play them as soon as they were safely ensconced in his home studio there. He started messing about with them “a lot, especially the cumacos, which are these huge drums that give a mean bass sound” (later employed to stunning effect on “Vintage Voudou”). He recorded some of his homemade cumaco drumming sessions and sent it to his friend Stuart Carter (guitarist in Fumaça Preta), “just to show him how crazy the sound of these drums were.” After that, he played the recording for his mate Baldomero “Baldo” Verdú, a professional Venezuelan percussionist “who’s been playing those drums probably since before he even learned how to walk.” Baldo immediately informed Alex that he was playing them incorrectly! 

Baldo playing cumaco

"castigando" (punishing) the cumaco

"culo e puya"

cumacos Alex purchased in Venezuela

cumacos Alex purchased in Venezuela

The very important percussion section in MWS Studio

As is often the case with inventors who think outside the box, this run-in with the traditionalist mindset was not a moment of censorship or failure for him, but rather a catalyst that set Alex’s fevered mind to running on overdrive. ¡Caramba!, there is potential here, he must have thought to himself. As he put it to me in his own words:

That led me to think that I had something good!! Why? Because that’s exactly why I started a label, ‘cause I wanted to challenge all preconceived ideas of how music “should” sound like. Being a Venezuelan myself, I just couldn’t resist challenging the music I grew up with and runs in my DNA. So I developed all the other parts on the go, using other music styles I love to enrich the mixture.

That said, he made sure to invite Baldo to join him on the Papa Upa recording sessions because, as a master in Afro-Venezuelan drumming rooted in the traditions of his ancestors, Baldo brings us “back 400+ years to when the first African slaves were transported to Venezuela” — that is, until Alex’s melodic, delay-drenched electric guitar “pushes our senses back to the same West African coast those slaves departed from, this time in the 20th Century.” That’s Alex interacting with Baldo in a succinct description, African Diaspora coming full circle in a nutshell!

What’s interesting is that Alex told me he insisted on coming at this project from what he calls an “Afro-Venezuelan point of view” — the reason being that this way he can challenge and mutate a genre from the “insider’s” perspective. In his opinion, the advantage to doing this for his project was that Afro-Venezuelan music is a type of folkloric expression that in its commercial form is both unknown outside of Venezuela and in need of some changing and updating, at least as far as the version of it that was mixed with pop music in the 60s, 70s and 80s in his home country. He went on to say:

I am crazy about African guitar music, especially… from [the] Congo, Angola and São Tomé, and I’m also crazy about Psych and Surf, [so] that’s what I was trying to incorporate with the 6 strings [of my guitar]. It only seemed natural to me to mix all this stuff I loved  [with Afro-Venezuelan music]. I could have made a Psychedelic Cumbia out of it but that would have been too easy, obvious and definitely not challenging. 

In our chat, he went on to explain that the band is only himself and Baldo. They played all the instruments themselves and Alex did the studio engineering and production work. Though the rough and ready quality of the two tracks may not seem like it, Alex admits he spent months redoing a lot of the parts and he waited four months for Verdú to get back to Amsterdam from a trip to Venezuela so he could record the cuatro parts (as mentioned before, this is not the Puerto Rican cuatro that is a sort of mandolin/lute akin to the Cuban tres guitar; rather it is closer to the Hawaiian ukulele, producing the sort of Andean rhythmic strumming you hear on “Camuri Chico”). In his charmingly self-depreciatory way, Alex told me in a bemused tone: “the organ solo was a first take!!! I still can’t understand how I managed to nail that down ‘cause I am for sure the shittiest organ player on Earth.” 

Alex on trap drums in the MWS Barracão Studio

When I asked him if he planned in the future to try his hand at doing some psychedelic salsa à la Bio Ritmo or La Mecánica Popular, Alex allowed that “salsa is in my genes” and that he planned to finish a whole psychedelic and salsa-influenced record some day, adding ruefully, “I’m afraid it’s gonna take a long time because I’m doing it all on my own” just like the Papa Upa sessions. Say it ain’t so amigo, no me digas, Alex!

But I have faith. If his Conjunto Papa Upa and other past MWS projects are any evidence, I think he’s going to keep up the good work, and he’s sure gonna lay some heavy sounds on the world when that album gets done! For now, please do yourself a favor and go to his site and buy the Papa Upa 45 as soon as you can. Quantities are limited. It will help encourage him, and fund his future projects! You can hear it here:

And purchase it here:

While you’re there, check out his other releases too. Welcome Alex Figueira and his Papa Upa to another chapter in the ever-evolving alternative universe of contemporary progressive pan-Latin DIY music!

Also, my friend Eilon Paz did a great entry on Alex and "The Record Fair, Amsterdam Style" for his Dust & Grooves blog. Check it out here (great pics of Alex transporting records by bicycle  - soon he will need his own barge if things keep building for him!):

Below is a gallery of images from Alex’s Vintage Voudou/Music With Soul world (all courtesy Alex Figueira, © 2014).

Alex, "El Maraquero"

A happy find during digging sessions in Surinam

Keeping hydrated while diggin' is essential!

E-e-e-ewww! Black MOLD!!

45 digging "show and tell"

Vinyl tailgate party, Surinam

Vinyl market, Surinam

Changing baby diapers, changing records.

DIY Graphics!

Dutch Vinyl Transport

Joel Stones in the MWS Barracão Studio!

Production line for Fumaça Preta Special Edition


Looking for vinyl, not sex, in Amsterdam's Red Light District

Alex making puppets for Vintage Voudou Party

Alex, "El Engeniero Maravilloso"

Barracão Studio (where Music With Soul releases are recorded)

The logo that first caught my eye...

Vintage Voudou Party Shrine to "Mr. Hard Hands"

Alex in the Command Center at VV HQ

45 digging at VV Shop

VV T-shirt & Memorabilia

A Vintage Voudou Party

Open for records, NO SEX


© 2014 Pablo E. Yglesias