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Legends of Cumbia Amazónica, Los Wembler's de Iquitos Return with 'Visión del Ayahuasca'

Five decades into their career, Los Wembler's de Iquitos are still in full force on new psychedelic cumbia album, Visión del Ayahuasca.

Visión del Ayahuasca
Los Wembler's de Iquitos


6 September 2019

When I first started listening to Visión del Ayahuasca, the new album from legendary cumbia amazónica group Los Wembler's de Iquitos, I was sure it was a very well mastered reissue. The sounds were too purely psychedelic, the exuberance too strong for this to be an album made by a group in their 50th year. I was, though, entirely incorrect. Visión del Ayahuasca is brand new, and Los Wembler's de Iquitos are, even in their fifth decade since pioneering an entire genre, as fresh and vibrant as ever.

Some quick vocabulary: Cumbia amazónica is a Peruvian genre attributed to Colombian immigrants to Iquitos in the 1960s who incorporated Afro-Colombian rhythm with psychedelic rock. Ayahuasca, meanwhile, is a word and a substance that evokes altered perceptions of reality. That seems entirely appropriate for Los Wembler's de Iquitos' new album, which is nothing if not made for heightened states. Lyrics and more abstract vocalizations rise over repetitive guitar-and-percussion patterns, and the result is ecstatic.

Iquitos, the group's namesake hometown, is known as the capital city of the Peruvian Amazon and is the largest city in the world inaccessible by road. Within it, urban development and lush rainforest grow together, building a city both green and bustling, full of every kind of life and colors both human-made and natural. Los Wembler's channel a life lived in brilliant, steamy landscapes on each track. "Lamento Selvático" – "Jungle Lament" – serves as something of an introduction to the band, made up of five brothers, Isaías, Jair, Alberto, Jairo, and Misael, whose late father Salomón Sánchez Saavedra founded the group in 1968, and new member Bonar Sánchez.

It's not a slow track. But it lies in the swaying middle range of tempos found in the Los Wembler's repertoire, with laid-back surf vibes that build beautifully to the subsequent title track, a growling, howling take on synesthetic hallucinations. Lead singer Jair cries, moans, and leads the brothers in a simple chorus. The instrumentalists, meanwhile, play a melody that twirls through intense shadows and bright, straightforward cheer. Here, bassist Bonar is in particularly fine form, adding rumbling force to balance out the dizzily rising guitars and vocals.

Energy remains high and infectious throughout Visión del Ayahuasca. "Mi Caprichito" has a manic melancholy to it, while "No me vuelvo a enamorar" and "Cosa muy Rica" both lilt. "Los Wembler's para el mundo" drives forward, heavy on bass and percussion as exuberant vocals benefit from the echoes of electronic amplification. The vocals on "Un Amor que se va" add a warm streak of romance to the airy mix, while the triple meter of "Triste y Sola" gives it a passionate tension. "El Puente de Aguaytia" brings the group back around to bright kicks of cumbia before spiraling cascades of guitar harmonies on "Todo es Mentira" end the album.

Though decades have passed since Los Wembler's de Iquitos first came to the forefront of the cumbia amazónica scene, seeing offshoot waves of musicians establish psychedelic scenes in Peru and beyond, the men of Los Wembler's sound brand new on Visión del Ayahuasca. Their sound and sensibilities uncompromised; they continue to celebrate with music, as well as with the crisp, just-retro-enough production values they need to illuminate their creative brilliance properly. It's rare to find a group that genuinely sounds at least as good 50 years into their career as they did two. Los Wembler's – who followed up this album release with a North American tour – defies the odds with high-octane delivery and magnificent personal fortitude.


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