Amazonian guitar legend shows how rock 'n' roll was done in Peru...
The recent successes of the Roots of Chicha and Roots of Chicha 2 compilations, released on Barbes Records, have brought a renewed interest in Peruvian music. This has helped with the recent promotion of Pena (Secret Stash Records), an album of Afro-Peruvian music, and has also made it possible for albums like Ranil y su Conjunto’s Ranil’s Jungle Party to attract a decent level of publicity.
Ranil y su Conjunto play Peruvian cumbia. Since this style of music first became known to an international audience, there have been myriad ways of describing it; psychedelic cumbia might imply that it was made under the influence of drugs or has a wayward regard for song structure and lyrical sense, which doesn’t really fit the bill; the term “chicha” has been adopted by the Roots of Chicha compilations, but seeing as the Peruvian musicians find the term derogatory, it is perhaps best not to use it; “Andean cumbia” and “Amazonian cumbia” could both be used but obviously only apply to music from certain areas; ultimately, “Peruvian cumbia” is by far the best way to describe this music.
Jungle Party is a re-release of various songs recorded in the early to mid-1970s by Ranil y su Conjunto, led by Raul Llenera, the guitarist, singer, and driving force behind the band. Both the attitude and drive of the record are pure ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll, and the guitar echoes legends such as Link Wray, The Ventures, and Duane Eddy.
The mixture of rock ‘n’ roll/surf guitar with heavy Latin percussion and the rhythm of the Pacific, the cumbia is certainly an infectious one, and it’s the guitar that is king here. There is something both languid and precise about opening track “Andalucia”, as Llerena teases out a delightfully judged guitar line that manages to take a few unexpected turns during the song’s 2:48 length. The volume knob is turned up a notch on the next track, “Marlenita,” undoubtedly one of the album’s highlights. It’s a melodic tour de force with a sprinkling of Carlos Santana’s Latin fusion. Some strange influences seem to creep into the music: “Lamento en la Amazonía” has a smooth Caribbean, almost reggae feel; there’s Eastern influence in “Chinito Rule”; and “Tus Cabellos” has a huge guitar sound due to its use of a 12-string.
This is an album mainly of instrumentals, exceptions being “Denuncia a tu Patron” and the last three tracks, which all feature the vocals of Llerena. He has a smooth, collected delivery and often finds interesting melodies to complement the music, as on “El Rondador,” the album’s closing track. It’s a song which, as with the rest of the album, shares a feel with the highlife music of Nigeria and Ghana, no doubt due to the fact that it marks a point where indigenous styles meet the possibilities of amplified equipment and electric guitars.
What anchors all these songs is Llerena’s guile on guitar. At times, Llerena is close to jazz with his measured and clinical, yet always incisive, guitar work. This album is a real treasure, and its success will hopefully lead to rei-ssues of plenty more from Ranil y su Conjunto. Considering these records have only been heard by a lucky few people in Peru, this will be well-received decision to say the least.