October 14, 2010
In anticipation of The Roots of Chicha 2 coming out on Barbés Records this month, I've decided to post a personal concoction of my own. Like many people who had their first taste of chicha from Barbés' first Roots of Chicha compilation, I have since invested some time into tracking down any chicha I could find. Cumbias, on the other hand, are one of the most popular styles of music in Latin America, and therefore it's been much harder to find the real gems. One day, while searching out mas cumbias, I came upon a Sonido Martines playlist on WFMU for something known as "cumbias rebajadas. These slowed down, dubbed up cumbias reportedly emerged from Mexican urban centers like Monterrey as early as the 70s-- decades before DJ Screw and the Sizzurp scene of the nineties. Limitation was the inspiration, as shoddy equipment and cheap phonographs in Mexico's discotecas couldn't keep up with the all-night dance parties. Club patrons began to ask for more of these slow-churning dance numbers.
Chicha is both a style of music specific to Peru and a lightly intoxicating beverage. Musicians in and around Lima began incorporating electric guitars and organs into their traditional ensembles, either influenced by the psychedelic music coming out of the First World at the time or simply because it was cheaper to buy these new, faddish instruments than the "specialty" items traditional Andean music demanded. Suffice to say, if you are here by way of internet search, you are most likely aware already of chicha's lilting, otherworldy quality.
Chicha is also a drank made by village women who chew maize and spit it into a large vat to ferment. Saliva is an essential component to breaking down the corn mash. Chicha is usually yellow, but purple corn is also used with spices and fruit to make a mostly non-alcholic beverage known as chicha morada. Of course, the coincidental color of chicha morada has nothing to do with the prescription-strength cough syrup known as sizzurp or lean throughout the southern United States. Nor have Peruvians gotten much into cumbias rebajadas. In fact, chicha had always been looked down upon as slum music by most of Peruvian society until The Roots of Chicha compilation popularized it here in the States. Ruminate on the cultural complexities of combining indigenous music unearthed by privileged Americans with fucked up Mexican party music and hip hop drug culture from the Dirty South as you get your lean on to Purple Chicha, slowed and throwed by yours truly.