The Roots of Chicha was the first compilation to bring the Peruvian style of chicha to a Western audience. Its success even validated the style for many Peruvians. Its focus, a music born in the late ‘60s when musicians started mixing Latin rhythms and percussion with electric guitars, bass, farfisa organs, and synths, proved a huge success, and paved the way for a second volume. That first release highlighted the early chicha music from bands such as Juaneco y su Combo and Los Mirlos, for the most part from the Amazonian region of Peru. For the second volume, the net is spread wider, so that we get to hear chicha with an urban twinge, Cuban influence, and from the Andes.
In many ways, the formula remains the same. Chicha has the irresistible beat of cumbia, mixed with the aesthetics of rock’n'roll and further Latin inflections from the vocals, percussion, and organs. The album starts with Los Destellos, the only group to remain from that first compilation. Throughout, they bring many of the highlights, as their leader and guitarist Enrique Delgado recalls greats such as Bole Sete or Link Wray with his teasing, incisive, often unruly, but always measured guitar lines. This comes to the fore on gems such as “La Pastorcita” and “Cumbia del Desierto” with its intriguing Puerto Rican finale.
There are songs on here that defy classification. Compay Quinto’s “El Diablo”, with its deep bass line, rumbling percussion, and funky guitar line, could easily fit into the brackets of salsa, psych, or funk itself, while the same could be said of “Colegiala” by Los Illusionistas, a song that brought cumbia to a wider audience when it was used in a Nescafe commercial in the ‘80s. Both of these highlight a side of chicha that wasn’t present on the first compilation: There’s the same invention and enjoyment in the songs, but the rough quality of some of those earlier sides is replaced here by a more polished, precise sound, with harmonies that are more measured and, importantly, the musicianship turned up a notch.
Manzanita y su Conjunto’s Latino freak-out “El Hueleguiso” is like Santana on acid, drum hits flying all over the place, the organ sent into overload, and the guitar talking in hyperactive double-dutch; it marks him out as one of the most original artists here. And although he doesn’t reach the same heights on his other two compositions on the compilation, they both show different sides to this exciting combo.
The greatest discovery on this record has to be Los Shapis’ “Aguajal”, which shows a completely different side to chicha. They were in fact the first band to start using the term chicha when they began making records in the ‘80s, and their sole effort here is a stunning piece of pop that stands out from everything else, largely because of the Huayno-influenced vocals. Taking cues from the Andean music that they love, “Aguajal” has a more romanticised feel but lacks none of the musical ingenuity of the others. It rightfully deserves its status as a chicha classic, if not even a classic of cumbia.
One of the major selling points of the first volume of The Roots of Chicha was the shock value of hearing this newly discovered music with fresh ears. A little of that novelty value has diminished, as well as some of the raucousness in the songs, yet The Roots of Chicha 2 offers enough high quality marks that, if anything, it could make you appreciate chicha as a genre even more. These are simply great pop tunes, with a personality that is very Peruvian.
// Notes from the Road
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