Category Archives: music

Chicha, or Peruvian cumbia

In the late 1960’s, the influence of popular western music mingled with the indigenous musics of the West Amazon to produce Chicha (which is also a corn-based libation), or Peruvian cumbia:

There’s an excellent compilation of this stuff (apparently the first such comp made available outside of Peru) from Barbès Records, streaming on youtube:

Here’s an excerpt from the comp’s Barbès Records description (which seems to offer a pretty comprehensive historical explanation):

The music was so fresh, so exciting, and its appeal so effortlessly universal that it still seems strange that it never managed to find an international audience. The oddly post-modern combination of western psychedelia, Cuban and Colombian rhythms, Andean melodies and idiosyncratic experimentation was close in spirit to the pop syncretism of Brazilian Tropicalia bands such as Os Mutantes.

But unlike Brazilian Tropicalia, Chicha was not an intellectual movement. Its main proponents were working musicians who mostly came from poor backgrounds. Their job was to make people dance. They didn’t travel to London. No discourse was elaborated around the music. It never became popular with the Peruvian middle class. Art students didn’t embrace it. Critics and intellectuals didn’t write about it. As a result, the music was scorned nationally – and largely ignored outside of Peru.

Buy it at

And here’s one more:

¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido! (and Rzewski’s and others’ variations thereupon)

Quilapayon were a leftist Chilean folk band component to the Nueva Canción movement. They wrote the lyrics to this wonderfully catchy protest song from 1973:

This brand of politically charged folk music spread across Portugal, Spain and Latin America, and seems to have picked up the popular inertia which American political folk music was losing (now that we have the common archival power of the internet, that great aqueduct of data, we can glean that there has for most of the last century been consistently great, however obscure, political music in America, a la Death, etc.)

A friend of mine remarked today that the best music throughout history was non-secular – that he thought (or as I recall) maybe in order to focus your creative intent most effectively (i.e. more accurately commit to reality the mental image of the protean art) it was necessary to channel the belief in some higher power.¹ We agreed that the higher power didn’t really have to be godly, and with that in mind this hopeful, endearing political anthem seems to have a similar reverence to the ecclesiastical stuff we like.

American composer and pianist Frederic Rzewski wrote The People Shall Never Be Defeated! in 1976, a brazen tribute to the recent failed leftist movements of South America from which the titular piece was derived, a piece in which “The pianist, in addition to needing a virtuoso technique, is required to whistle, slam the piano lid, and catch the after-vibrations of a loud attack as harmonics,” so sayeth wikipedia. See for yourself, in another raw balls performance by Steven Drury (part one of three):

El Pueblo Unido has been adapted into many languages and its lyrics conformed to variegated political purposes worldwide, including an Iranian version whose title apparently translates roughly to Arise, Demolish the Foundations of the Enemy’s Palace! (pending actual translation).

Where is American folk music going, and when is American political music coming back?

1 – This model of course assumes that it’s better to accurately cast into reality your vision of your art-stuffs. In reality I concede a great deal of artistic trust to chance, as I’m sure many creators do.


Charles Ives

charles ives

“This song is for wankers with too much time on their hands”

Haha, unfortunately for this commentator, this forty-eight minute sonata takes just as long to listen to as any other forty-eight minute piece of music.

I’ve heard that there are people whose names, pronounced Shuh-theed, are spelled Shithead. Urban legend?

review: If Thousands – For

What I like about Duluth, Minnesota duo If Thousands is they’re unpretentious (having chosen to play instruments they weren’t trained in when they started in 2000) and their music is unobtrusive without being spineless.

Silber Records’ artist profile of If Thousands describes them as ‘angst laden slumbercore ambient’ [sic] – and I can’t stand how accurate that is – but For rides a slow, angular tension which belies a motivation more complex and driven than angst. This is big, open music; its function is undeniable, but its purpose is elusive – and that’s a good thing.

A mellow first few tracks of nearly static chord interaction usher complacency as they stay the minimalist course; this ends with an abrupt, discordant forewarning from the keys, dropping back into place before the fourth track, a moody bass and violin piece that belongs in the fifteenth episode of Firefly. That’s probably the last unexpected event on this album.

Competent in the craft though they are, you might find yourself wishing they’d push harder, challenge your participation and/or your ear-holes, which they’d probably do well. If Thousand drones with a drawl, and it’s surprisingly claustrophobic, outdoorsy. It’s music for in-between places, but not necessarily transit.

It’s notably difficult to make noise without being overindulgent, but If Thousands are anything but, and in this record present a tastefully stated argument for less harshness in your drone meals. Alternately sweet and disjointed, For attracts more than it repels, which admittedly isn’t what many prefer from a guitar/synth duo, but there’s much to be said for music that gives you space to do the thinking.

Bottom line: If Thousand’s For exemplifies the saudade of the Midwest.  Though more variety of composition is needed, it’s a solid, hankering statement about gentleness in musical experimentation.


Listen/buy here ($5)