I’ve been curious about the Vampisoul releases for years, attracted by their covers, which suggest cut-up magazines or trashy posters, but hadn’t listened to one until now. At the sight of them I imagined compilers applying themselves to one old record after another until they found a song that pleased them with its eccentricity. Secret treasures. And although Back to Peru, Vol. II wasn’t as unusual as the albums I’d anticipated, it has one of the most appealing traits of an eccentric: that is, it has an independent confidence in its own worth even when the things it loves are not the same as everyone else’s.
Western retro compilations of non-English-language music have been coming out in abundance, but Peruvian examples are still rare. I think the last label that engaged with Peruvian urban vernacular music from the 1960s and ’70s — the Vampisoul release covers the years from 1965 to 1975 — was New York’s Barbès Records. Barbès stuck a toe in the water with its 2007 album, Roots of Chicha, progressing from this general compilation to more specific releases with Masters of Chicha: Juaneco Y Su Combo, and founding a modern chicha band of its own, Chicha Libre. Back to Peru, Vol. II has no particular interest in chicha, that musical intersection between international rock and Amerindian tradition, but it casts an eye over the wider Peruvian pop-rock scene of which chichi was a part.
A few of the acts from Vol. I, which appeared in 2005 and took in the decade between 1964 and 1974, have returned with new songs. Zulú is back with “Haces Mal Pobre Chico”, Traffic Sound with “The Revolution”. But most of the groups are being introduced for the first time, and the number of tracks spread over the two discs has been raised from 22 to 34. Disc one opens with a rock instrumental from Los Juniors, “Tercera Piedra En El Sol”, which concludes when the chewing ranginess of the Juniors’ guitar vanishes into the blasts of Los Drag’s’ “Dámelo Mi Nena”. The album asserts its variety. “Listen,” it implores us –“hear how much was happening in Peru during those years?” A girl group, Monik, harmonises on a cover of Lesley Gore’s “Maybe I Know”, a powwow thump emerges from Beautiful Days, a shrill psychedelic guitar from Telegraph Avenue; and We All Together lifts “Rock Of All Ages” from the Welsh rock band Badfinger.
The impact that British and American popular music made on young urban mid-century Peruvians is the album’s constant theme. Men sing like the Beatles, guitars buzz like Hendrix, a set of horns crests and jerks into funk. The Latin touches, the flute in Texao’s outstanding “Pelea Del Gobernador”, the brief appearance of cumbia, are outnumbered. The barking dogs used as punctuation in Los Shain’s “Guau Guau A Go-Go” seem to owe their existence to the Etonesque silliness of Swinging London, the prankishness that giggles at its own playful superiority and anticipates no consequences. Convention will not hold it down. It will reject the grey and the dreary. It will punctuate itself with dogs.