OLIVIER CONAN, Ukulele
VINCENT DOUGLAS, Guitar
JOSH CAMP, Keyboard
NICK CUDAHY, Bass
GREG BURROWS, Percussion
TIMOTHY QUIGLEY, Percussion
Chicha is the psychedelic-meets-Amazon music once popular in Peru. Brooklyn-based Chicha Libre mixes covers of forgotten Chicha classics with French-tinged originals, re-interpretations of 70’s pop classics new as well as cumbia versions of pieces by Satie and Ravel. The band, led by Barbès club owner Olivier Conan, is reviving the style that was popular among indigenous empowerment groups in the 1970s and frowned upon by the mainstream middle class. The group’s debut album Sonido Amazonico features cover songs from the era alongside originals.
Retro scavengers caught wind of The Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias from Peru, a compilation that Barbès Records put out last year that drew critical acclaim from NPR, The New Yorker, and The New York Times, among others. Growing up in France, Mr. Conan was highly influenced by Latin music and rock, and Chicha is the perfect combination of the two. He brought recordings back from Lima and played them for his Barbès business partner Vincent Douglas who immediately fell in love with the sound. Now the music is being shared by Chicha Libra throughout the U.S.
The band’s instrumentation is unique. Band leader Oliver Conan’s instrument of choice is the ukulele, similar to the Venezuelan cuatro. Vincent Douglas, of the bands Bébé Eiffel and The Humphries, plays guitar. Keyboard player Josh Camp, a founding member of lit rock band One Ring Zero, plays a rare Hohner Electravox that looks like an accordion but sounds like a Farfisa. Chicha Libre also includes a “baby bass,” the popular electric upright used by many Latino bands, which is played by Nick Cudahy of the band Combustible Edison and Greg Burrows and Timothy Quigley back the group on percussion.
While Chicha Libre’s repertoire has evolved somewhat from the Amazonian canon, the sound and approach are completely indebted to the Amazonian bands it originally emulated. Like them, they use surf guitar, organ sounds, and Latin percussion to play a mixture of borrowed and homegrown music. They combine classical music and pop debris from three continents, but the Latin rhythms that form the basis of the music are both as close and as foreign to them as they were to the Shipibo Indians who first took up the electric guitar.