While Novalima’s last full-length offering, Planetario, took us on a late night tour of the back streets of Lima, new album Ch’usay – the title, as the band translates it, means “internal voyage” in Quechua – takes us skyward. The Afro-Peruvian grooves are still there, rhythm the ruler of every track, but light shines through even the densest textures in the forms of soaring vocals and bright electronics. Sounds more characteristic of Andean folk, classical, and early popular music mingle with more familiar contemporary elements, making this a trip not only within a specific space but between times. Distant and recent pasts and an immediate present help mark Novalima’s trajectory into a bold future. This is a heritage work in its most dynamic sense – not an attempt to preserve tradition as an untouchable relic, but a reinvention and reinvigoration of it for a current audience. More than that, though, it’s solid music.
Vintage woodwind samples open the album on its title track, loops that are quickly followed by the operatic vibrato of an echoing voice. Into this retro setting comes the more modern: electronic, midtempo beats and a stream of rapping that steadily picks up momentum. More longtime tradition comes into play in the form of pan flutes, and by the time our singer hits those final, ephemeral high notes, the titular voyage has many points to hit. The course charted is a promising one.
“Herejia” sounds more like Novalima’s previous work at the start, drums of the African diaspora compacted into thin, synthetic form. Once again, though, the voice that leads the song comes from the core of an Andean diva, the vibrato again strong and the power and passion running deep. “Agua” follows, and while it tends to be more straightforward as a dancefloor track, there are subtleties to the instrumental texture and finesse to the vocals that make it a stunning piece. Later, “El Regalo” surpasses it as the hottest jam on the album, a filled-out version of the best of what Novalima has done for contemporary dance music in the past, with tight cumbia beats backing singer Chaska, a longtime fan of the band.
As overtly ecstatic as these tracks are, the truly psychedelic moments are on slower tracks like “La Despedida” and “Paso a Huella”. On the latter, synth flourishes add an uncanny feel to vocals that could fill concert halls as easily as they could front a big band. “La Envidia” has the same quality of grandeur in spite of – or perhaps enhanced by – its structural simplicity. Closing track “Rumbo Libre” takes us to the peak of the aural mountain, beginning with barebones percussion and a voice full of weathered melancholy that starts slow and low, but eventually hits a heartrending zenith over electronic lines and more flutes, screaming heavenward until everything gradually dies down. This is an ending vast in scope and full of clear space, the perfect finish to such a varied musical voyage.
Ch’usay may be the culmination of everything Novalima has created thus far, and while it ends up more lyrical than strictly kinetic, it is rich in color and texture, a marvelous layering of many eras of Peruvian sounds.