Unlike a number of artists on the Eighteenth Street Lounge roster, Novalima is not a band made up of musicians from various backgrounds melting their global sound backgrounds into one crucible and pulling out a transnational record (not that there is anything wrong with that). The four members of this band are all natives of Lima, Peru who, after ending up in various cities around the world, decided to come together and create music from their home. Like their ESL siblings, Novalima combines traditional instrumentation, rhythms, and vocals with modern electronics and rich synths and some guest contributors. This is reinforced on the album’s cover where carvings of deities, with candles alighted as blessings, sit on top of a radio receiver.
Over the course of three prior albums, Novalima, Afro and Coba Coba (in 2003, 2005 and 2008 respectively) the band has helped to revitalize the Afro-Peruvian genre, which lay dormant since at least the ‘70s. And they have mixed it up with dashes of reggae, salsa and dub. Now, with their fourth album, Karimba, Novalima entice listeners with delicious tropical flavors that will have you kick off your shoes, whether it is to lay back and absorb some sun or to feel the floor move under your feet. Its clear that, despite an overall summery vibe, Karimba won’t allow you to relax the whole time. Unlike Coba Coba that PopMatters described as “a jam session”, this album gets weighed down by electronics. Karimba sends a mixed message as a result—coming off a bit uneven in those places where it wants to do too much.
Karimba opens with “Festejo” whose percussive drive and call and response vocal will stir up a fire. But the track ends with some overzealous electronic pulses layered on top of it diluting the natural rhythm that had evolved. The same sort of thing occurs in the “Revolucion” a percussive and brassy song. Eventually the tune skitters into an area with more electronics that unnecessarily enter the mix. The track “Malivio Son” has got a dub feel that gives a pause for the audience in the middle of the album, before things liven up again, but it too seems to not carry the weight it should.
On the other hand, there are several tracks that are less embellished and thus more enjoyable. The fervent “Mamaye” is much more in line with a rich cultural history. It has got a wealth of sound, punctuated by a bevy of horns that appear throughout the album. “Diablo” is amongst the best of the tracks with its seductive rhythm and easy riding groove. The horns here taunt at something demonic while the vocalist throws in some laughter at him. The band knows they can play with fire without getting burned. “Macaco (Novalima Remix)” is the upbeat party song most likely to make its way onto summer mixes or alongside Thievery Corporation songs. It will get your head nodding along to its affirmative rhythm.
All in all, the exotic pleasures of Karimba will make fans in those interested in world music. But Novalima have made offerings to many foreign deities, when they could have stuck to their roots and made a more cohesive work.