[7 August 2012]
Although at first glance and first listen, this group appears almost totally cut from the cloth of contemporary Latin music, there is far more going on underneath the surface if one only cares to examine the music in greater detail. Much like the members of the group, who are Colombian, French, Flemish, Walloon and Vietnamese, the music of La Chiva Gantiva is similarly diverse and takes cues from a wide number of genres such as funk, jazz, reggae, and rock.
There are several fine examples of genre-mashing that show off the ability to mix disparate genres while retaining elements of their native styles, such as “Por Eso Canto”, which focuses heavily on a mellow jam with spoken word verses (echoes of hip-hop) that erupts into a sing-along chorus. The groove is all-important here, and the band perfects a synthesis of rhythm that serves the song well. The dynamic horns, in particular, make the song come alive. This song, the opener, is complemented by the closer, “Pa Q Ca” (as well as that song’s opening jam, “Cumbiaje”, which directly transitions into it), another slower jam with much the same approach. Taken together, these two songs work as bookends to an album largely dominated by faster songs.
As for those faster songs, some come off as more interesting than others. The most successful tracks are the ones that take their inspiration from their indigenous forms and add heavy touches of other sources, such as the powerful, stomping “Llora”, which employs the instrumentation and melodic approach of traditional Eastern European music; this is a rave-up that might fit very well at a raucous party in Turkey. “Apreato”, meanwhile, with its disco-beat, dissonant guitar chops, and frantic shouted vocals, sounds almost like no wave, like a band of folk musicians trying to cover James Chance and the Contortions. It’s a fascinating piece of music, a bizarre yet wholly effective amalgamation of old-meets-new. The title track is an impossibly funky gem that manages to sound remarkably like something James Brown would have released on any of his classic mid-‘70s albums. It largely manages to surpass much old-school funk by not only laying down an irresistible groove but also indulging in some forward-thinking jazz-fusion-esque riffing during the chorus and implementing woodwinds far more than brass. “Chofer” is much the same with highly syncopated guitar riffing and singalong choruses a la classic P-Funk jams.
One of the very best tracks is another that emphasizes funk, albeit in a much darker shade. “Pink Flamingo” is an instrumental jam, focusing on a spacey, ethereal guitar dripping with delay and reverb having a friendly sparring match with a woodwind. Unfortunately, this song is far too brief. It’s the kind of thing that could have gone on for several minutes and have been riveting, allowing the listener to just strap on a pair of headphones and zone out; however, the song cuts off after a minute and a half.
Other tracks are quite a bit lighter; “Pa Ke Gozen?” begins with a lengthy instrumental passage, almost a suite, that traverses a number of complementary, tricky rhythms before settling into an uptempo waltz. Likewise, “La Chiva” is based around two contrasting sections, one highly rhythmic, quick and percussion-heavy, the other a little slower and almost reggae-ish. “Cosmeticos” settles purely on the former approach.
There is a lot of good stuff here. Everything is a good blend of various disparate yet compatible genres, and everything is very danceable. There are a few moments when the grooves seem to run together too much and become indistinguishable from each other, but otherwise it’s a worthwhile purchase.