Saturday, November 17, 2012

Tropical Music of Peru and Martin Lopez' "Cocinando"

I’ve been following Mike P’s career with his MassTropicas record label since the beginning, when he unleashed the peculiar and totally cool 45 “Recordando a Marion/Cumbia delincuencial” by Los Faubulosos Chapillacs from Arequipa, Peru. All of his subsequent releases have been refreshing and exciting, and he’s helped me gain a deeper understanding of the diversity of music that Peru has produced over the decades. He has doggedly stuck to his DIY punk roots, and remains loyal to the archaic formats of vinyl and cassette tapes, despite what others who consider themselves more business savvy may tell him to do. Above all I have admired his honesty, hard work, and dedication to bringing out stuff that no one else has; through it all, his fundamentally decent character – he always wants to do right by the musicians and license things properly, for instance – has been a shining path as it were, and it’s no wonder people like the folks at Light In The Attic and Will "Quantic" Holland have taken notice.

For me, my interest in the music of Peru started a bit earlier, though I’m ashamed to say that growing up the only Peruvian “tropical” (i.e. Afro-influenced) artists I knew were the ones who had made it to the New York salsa scene of the 70s – Melcochita and his sister Lita Branda. I had no idea about home-grown Peruvian cumbia, rock, or mambo. I always loved Melcochita and Lita’s sound but just assumed they were Cuban (they did those great old-school Sonora Matancera sounding records on SAR Records), until I found out later they were from, of all places, Lima, Peru – who knew?!? And who knew they had careers in their home country long before the Big Apple called them to sing salsa?

Anyway, then in the 80s, it was the Afro-Peruvian and Andean folk recordings that my aunt brought back from her trips to the country that caught my ear. A little later it was the 2 Afro-Peruvian divas: sexy Eva Ayllon and the super-talented Susana Baca, who had emerged from that folkloric “criollo” scene that suddenly came to my attention through albums they recorded and released in the USA during the 1990s. And of course there were the Rough Guide and Luaka Bop compilations to further educate me, as well as some “world music” concerts in the UK and NYC featuring the wonderful Afro-Peruvian troupes that reminded me so much of my beloved Cuban rumba and guaguancó ensembles, right down to their use of clave and cajón (percussion boxes).

But when Vampisoul Records released their brilliant “Back To Peru” Volume 1 compilation in 2002, it was like a flaming meteor had crashed in my front yard, fallen to Earth from Planet Peruviana, and it was then that a whole new world revealed itself, and the incredible psychedelic spectrum of vintage popular music form that splendid country opened up before me like the diverse landscapes of Machu Picchu to Cuzco, Iquitos to Arequipa, Titicaca to Nazca to La Victoria (Lima)… as seen through some sort of magic prism that spun out of the black hole in the center of my record player. And then a short time later, when they invited me to design their Gozalo! Tropical Bugalu series, I was hooked. I was very excited when they shared with me the first Cumbia Beat compilation before it was officially released – and now their volume 2 is out, and even better (if that’s possible). And then, in the midst of my salsa nightclub gigs, from the totally modern perspective (though roots inflected), came Nova Lima, mixing acoustic Afro-Peruvian folk and clubby electronica with salsa and dub, seemingly out of the blue (Mike is going to correct that impression too – you’ll see, he’s working on putting out their very earliest recordings when they were a hardcore punk band, showing their evolution/history goes back farther!).

Around the same time, I enjoyed opening for this funny little upstart New York band called Chicha Libre in concert, as they were a lot of fun to hear and dance to, and band leader Olivier Conan’s subsequent chicha compilations were also highly entertaining and informative. Now the band has matured, though they have not lost their sense of humor, and I love it even more.

Around this same time that I stumbled on Chicha Libre and the Club Barbés scene in Brooklyn, I became friends with Cecilia Noël, a Peruvian singer of great talent and strong personality who I cherish as a friend to this day. I introduced her to Mike’s discovery Los Chapillacs, and she helped tame them long enough (with her money, professionalism, expertise, artistic talent, experience, decency and drive) to actually get them to record and complete an entire album (brilliant!!), a super cool slab of spaced out cumbia craziness called “Odisea Cumbia 3000” that still needs to be released outside of the band’s home country (US indie labels, are you listening??). Then I did my most ambitious compilation project to date, the triple CD “Beginner's Guide To Cumbia” for Nascente, and of course, Mike was there to help me get together some awesome cumbia peruana tracks (thanks again, Mike!). Seemed like Peru was here to stay in my life!

The cover for my Beginner's Guide to Cumbia (my lettering and art direction).

But back to MassTropicas. All the while during the time I was doing these other Peru-based projects, Mike was ceaselessly searching for the next intriguing sound, wandering far into the jungle with his recording equipment, searching deep into moldy dusty back rooms and basements for unreleased tapes, following the trail of some long lost musician to interview him and license obscure tracks, or even traipsing through Lima’s hot streets to record a legless one-man-band! But always in search of both contemporary and vintage sounds to excite and confound. Along the way I helped a little here and there, mostly with scanning images for him, or mastering rare tracks from vinyl sources when original tapes were not available, and of course writing record jacket blurbs; it’s been an honor to check out and give feedback on Mike’s test pressings and Bruno Guerra’s wonderful graphics before the product hits the market.

I thank Mike, Vampisoul, and Olivier (and Quantic too) for helping me discover artists who I now know well, love, and play frequently, but had no clue about when I was first getting into Latin music. Artists like Juaneco y su Combo, Coco Lagos, Alfredito Linares, Félix Martínez, Enrique Lynch, Los Destellos, Grupo 2000, Conjunto El Opio, Los Ilusionistas, Ranil, Chacalon, Grupo Naranja, Carlos Hayre, Carlos Pickling, Nilo Espinoza, Mario Allison, Ñico Estrada, Los Yorks, Los Mirlos, Manzanita, El Combo de Pepe, Pedro Miguel y sus Maracaibos, Carlos Centeno, and the granddaddy of them all, Lucho Macedo, etc. – too many to list here! To realize that Peru’s music history is as rich and incredible as that of any other Latin country, and that its “tropical” feeling is as deep and Afro-inspired as the countries one generally thinks of as more African influenced (Cuba, Puerto Rico, the DR, Colombia), is nothing short of an epiphany for me of a magnitude that I am still coming to grips with today, a decade after the first world-shattering “Back To Peru” compilation (and I can tell you now, the second volume tops the first!). In fact, that compilation is what inspired me to do "The Afrosound of Colombia, Vol. 1" for Vampisoul!

So, what is the next chapter in this Peruvian saga? For me, it’s an upcoming CD/LP for the World Music Network folks entitled "The Rough Guide to Latin Psychedelia" (due out next Spring) that has a very healthy dose of Peruvian psychedelic salsa, funk, and cumbia, including some never before remastered rarities, and an entire bonus disc dedicated to the most crazy recordings of my beloved Destellos, some never before on CD.  Again, I owe it to Mike for helping me with these selections.

Mock-up for the forth-coming RG to Latin Psych (my design)

And for MassTropicas, what is Mike up to now??

Well, it’s a brilliant new release called “Cocinando” (anything with that title is already dear to my heart!) by a guy who called himself Martín López, and the sound is as close as Mike has gotten to actual “salsa” (i.e. Cuban dance music filtered through New York with Puerto Rican and Dominican flavors) thus far. From the awesome cover art by the ever-talented Bruno to the super informative liner notes – some from Martín López himself – this release is sure to get those old-school salsa fanatics salivating, and it sheds light on an obscure chapter in the history of the mighty MAG records and the stop-start career of vocalist/musician/policeman Pedro López Valladres, also known professionally as Martín López. The time period is classic old-school, 1969 – 1971, and there are some cool covers of Fania-related classics here (“Sonero” and “Mi Ritmo Te Llama”), as well as some tracks with no brass and lots of bouncy electric guitar courtesy of the genius from surf group Los Belkings, Raúl Herrera, in the classic Peruvian tropical mode. Make no mistake – this is not your Nuyorican salsa; it’s actually quite a diverse mix of genres, but I do think salsa and boogaloo collectors will like this record a lot more than they might think. Great sound quality too, as these were remastered from the original tapes, and fully licensed from MAG. Check out the artwork here on my blog for a taste of the excellent packaging, and BUY this album soon as it comes out – you won’t be disappointed.