June 18th, 2012 | Album reviews

Chicha Libre

Last week Chicha Libre came to the Bootleg Theater, where my Peruvian friend encountered her compatriots from Long Beach to the Inland Empire.  Jose Luis Carballo, guitarist of classic chicha band Chacalon appeared onstage, the coup de grâce for homesick expats like my friend.  In fact, a mutual love of chicha was our immediate connection when we met waiting tables a year ago.  Chicha, named for the fermented corn drink, began as Peru’s ‘60s psychedelic take on Colombian cumbia.  A resurgence in the past few years fueled by compilations (Roots of Chicha) and reissues (Juaneco y Su Combo) has brought the craze to a new generation in Peru and beyond, complete with a Brooklyn revival band: Chicha Libre.  Leader Olivier Conan is responsible for the aforementioned releases on Barbès Records, housed at his Brooklyn club of the same name.  For those familiar with the band or even the genre, this album contains few surprises.  It’s a consistently festive soundtrack for cruising the PCH, frying patacones or shaking one’s nalgas.  Opener “La Plata” is most traditional, with Andean-style pentatonic melodies played on Farfisa over quijada de burro.  “L’Age d’Or” takes place in Conan’s native tongue, intimately spoken.  And where Los Destellos once played “Para Elisa,” los Libres take on Wagner.  The Barbès label is also home to L.A. vallenato band Very Be Careful.  Very Be Careful’s Colombian founders run Blipsy Barcade, where I now DJ and my Peruvian friend bartends.  And so we remain united by guacharaca – and that’s how it should be.

-Bonnie Johnson