Accordion player and composer, Carmelo Torres is considered one of the leading Colombian cumbia performers. He is the living legacy of Cumbia Sabanera, a rural accordion style of cumbia from San Jacinto, in the Caribbean region of Colombia, influenced by traditional flutes.
He learned to play vallenato first, by himself, before he met the ‘King of Cumbia’, Andrés Landero who became his teacher at an early age. Carmelo started to play cumbias.
Since Landero passed away in 2000, Carmelo’s main focus has been to carry on his teacher’s legacy, keeping the cumbia genre alive and teaching the youngest.
Carmelo is now known as The Accordion Bible. In 2019, Carmelo Torres’ music still has the fragrance of the countryside. The sabana is present when he sings about labor works, nature, life and love. His music can be danced in nightclubs, making it part of new generations, looking backwards and towards the future in the same song.
With his group, he has performed widely at home in Colombia at Caribbean festivals winning all the contests and at the prestigious Festival Colombia al Parque in Bogotá in 2013. Torres has also travelled extensively with his conjunto as far as Europe, Australia, South Korea, Morroco and throughout Latin America, in México, Panamá, Perú, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil.
In 1960s Peru, a new style of music was born: Peruvian cumbia, also known as “chicha”. Tropical genres such as Dominican merengue, Cuban guaracha and rumba, and Colombian cumbia mixed with 1960s psychedelic rock, while electric guitars reinterpreted folk melodies and traditions from the Andes and the Amazonian jungle, in a musical representation of the exodus from rural areas to Lima and other big cities in Peru.
The roots of chicha go back to mid-1950s Peru. Mambo was gradually replaced by preferences for other rhythms like merengue, guaguancó, cha cha cha, joropo, guaracha, rumba and cumbia, which timidly started to sound during these years. In Lima, it was the golden age of great orchestras and music ensembles which were capable of playing swing and jazz, but especially the diverse tropical variants flooding the market. The most successful of all, La Sonora de Lucho Macedo, released in 1965 an LP consisting exclusively of cumbia.
Around this time, the successful folklore group Los Pacharacos released the album “Los ídolos del pueblo”, which included a cumbia song in the middle of the medley of huaynos, waltzes and polkas. The marriage between folklore and cumbia had taken place.
Peruvian groups preserved the fusion of foxtrot and mambo rhythms along with huayno and cumbia in their music. That feeling would be the basis for the success of such unorthodox and unclassifiable songs as ‘La chichera’ or ‘Petipan’. The recording in 1965 of these two songs by Los Demonios del Mantaro on a seminal 45 rpm for the Sono Radio label was the jumping off point for the birth of cumbia andina, also called “chicha” precisely for this song, which is dedicated to a vendor of the well-known Andean beverage.
The electric shock of rock guitars entered the world of cumbia in 1968. The cause of such hybridization was Enrique Delgado Montes, regarded as the genre’s godfather. He did it, as part of his band Los Destellos, on a 45 r.p.m. (‘El avispón’ / ‘La malvada’) and an eponymous LP. His songs constituted the most surprising musical fusions and amalgams of the time: whether they merged Cuban music and psychedelia, explored the sounds of the Andes or Amazonian music, combined the amplified Creole guitar with huayno melodies or abused fuzz tones and distortion pedals with enormous strength.
The metamorphosis of cumbia turned it into a genre that seemed to voraciously cannibalize acoustic traditions and modern technologies. There wasn’t an innovation that tropical guitarists didn’t add to their sound: delay, fuzz tone, overdrive, wah-wah, reverb, modulating effects typical of rock bands were assimilated into a stunning sonic cocktail.
In this context, cumbia reached the top of the charts in popularity. Cumbia replaced rock as the urban sound. The groups would slowly develop an ethnic sensibility inspired by native Shipibo (indigenous Amazonian tribe) motifs and an astonishing and bewitching sound that seemed to drink from all the mysteries, secrets and myths of the jungle.
Groups such as Los Hijos del Sol, Los Shapis, Los Mirlos and Los Destellos popularized chicha during the 1970s and 1980s. Although Colombian cumbia had a revival during the 1990s, chicha faded away until recently, when record collectors found Peruvian LPs that featured the familiar chicha formula, a mix of surf, psychedelia, Andean music and Afro-Caribbean beats.
Sonido Amazónico – Amazonian Chicha
In 2007, American record label Barbès Records released a 17-song compilation of psychedelic cumbia from Peru. That album, The Roots of Chicha, re-introduced chicha music to international audiences.
Peruvian band Los Wembler’s de Iquitos, who formed in 1968 in the Amazonian city of Iquitos, was responsible for some of the first hits of the psychedelic cumbia genre – including “Sonido Amazonico” and “Danza del Petrolero.” Los Wembler’s became extensively popular in the Peruvian Amazon and for a dozen years they toured the region, with ventures into neighboring Brazil and Colombia. In the mid-1980’s, however, touring mostly came to a stop and the band remained in Iquitos, playing mostly parties and local events.
Los Wembler’s De Iquitos discography includes Al Ritmo De Los Wembler’s (Odeon Del Peru, 1971); La Danza del Petrolero (Decibel, 1975), La Amenaza Verde (Decibel, 1975), El Encanto de la Selva (Decibel, 1976), Carapira (Decibel, 1976), Fiesta en la Selva (Sono Radio, 1977), Bailando Hasta el Amanecer (Sono Radio, 1978), Fiebre en la Selva (Sono Radio, 1978), El Sabor Tropical (Sono Radio, 1979), Estos Son…Los Famosos Wembler’s de Iquitos (Sono Radio, 1980), and Ikaro del Amor (Barbes Records, 2017).
With the rediscovery of chicha, there was renewed interest in Los Wembler’s, both in and outside of Peru. Los Wembler’s collaborated with Peruvian electro cumbia group Dengue Dengue Dengue, have been covered by Chicha Libre, La Chamba, Xixa and Firewater, been part of a number of documentaries and TV shows and inspired new bands across the Americas and Europe.
In 2010, The Roots of Chicha 2 was released, highlighting 11 bands and 16 tracks recorded from 1968 to 1981. It focuses on some lesser-known bands, and broadened its view to include some of the early Cuban-influenced groups that would play such a crucial role in the elaboration of the chicha sound. It introduced some of the later bands, such as Los Shapis, who played in the more Andean style that would eventually define chicha.
The Roots of Chicha 2 included essential chicha acts such as Grupo Celeste, which had a tremendous influence on the emergence of Mexican cumbia; Chacalon, the legendary “bad boy” of chicha; Ranil, the independent folk hero from Iquito; Manzanita; and Los Destellos, whose had a seminal role in the evolution of chicha.
Secret Stash Records reissued Los Destellos’ album Constelación in 2011.
In the United States, a band called Chicha Libre, gained notoriety with its mix of chicha, Latin rhythms and surf.
Peruvian band La Inédita, formed in 2010, created a new genre called chichamuffin, a mix of chicha with Jamaican beats, rock and electronica.
American band Xixa, from Tucson (Arizona), combined chicha with psychedelic rock and border music. Xixa’s debut EP, Shift and Shadow , came out in 2015 on Barbès Records.
Members of Austin’s Grupo Fantasma and Brownout formed Money Chicha. Their debut album, Echo En Mexico , came out in the United States in 2016 on the Vampisoul label.
Veteran Peruvian band Los Wembler’s de Iquitos is still active 50 years after its creation. Los Wembler’s is an iconic chicha band that makes slow-paced Peruvian Amazonian (sonido amazónico) psychedelic cumbia full of creative electric guitar melodies, effects and surf influences.
The album’s title connects with the psychedelic nature of Los Wembler’s: Ayahuasca is an indigenous Amazonian hallucinogenic brew used in traditional medicine that is becoming popular in the United States and other countries because of its alleged healing benefits and psychoactive properties.
Los Wembler’s de Iquitos will be touring North America in 2019:
09/10 Freight & Salvage, Berkeley, CA
09/11 Zebulon, Los Angeles, CA
09/14 Chicago World Music Festival, Millenium Park, Chicago, IL
09/15 Pandemic Dance Party, Pittsburgh, PA
09/16 Songbyrd, Washington, DC
09/17 Johnny Brenda’s, Philadelphia, PA
09/18 World Music Collider, Northampton, MA
09/19 Nuits d’Afrique Festival. Théâtre Fairmount, Montreal, QC
09/20 BSP, Kingstson, NY
09/21 The State House, New Haven, CT
09/23 Le Poisson Rouge, NYC
Frontera Bugalú is a musical project developed by accordionist, guitarist, vocalist and composer Kiko Rodriguez and pianist Joel Osvaldo in El Paso, Texas in 2011. The group has become well-known for its lively música fronteriza, a combination of borderland folk, mambo and cumbia music.
The band includes members from both sides of the border, including vocalist Anabel Gutierrez and bassist Alex Ravana from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
Almas Rebeldes (Rebel Souls) is the new album by Che Sudaka, a band formed by South American expats from Argentina and Colombia living in Spain. Che Sudaka is known for its lively shows and party-like atmosphere, where the band mixes accordion-fueled Colombian cumbia, ska, pop, rock, Andean folk music, Brazilian beats and other musical forms.
Che Sudaka’s band members share the social activism of artists like Manu Chao, and Chao himself appears as guest on one track. Other high profile guests include German reggae and dancehall artist Dr Ring Ding, French reggae singer Gari Greu, Spanish reggae and world music vocalist Amparo Sanchez, Congolese act Jupiter & The Okwess and Brazilian singer B-Negao.
Almas Rebeldes showcases the irresistible grooves and cross-pollination of Che Sudaka.
Very Be Careful – Daisy’s Beauty Salon (Downtown Pijao/Steady Beat Records, 2018)
Los Angeles band Very Be Careful recorded this album in an abandoned recording studio that still had a 64-track analog board. The band’s catchy style is inspired by Afro-Colombian music, fueled by accordion and slow, steady cumbia beats along with vallenato rhythms.
Andina: The Sound of The Peruvian Andes 1968-1978 is a compilation of Peruvian bands from the late 1960s and 1970s that played tropical dance music. While Americans and Europeans at the time were exposed to Andean flute music ensembles, a very different sound was coming out of Peru.
The bands featured in this compilation are characterized by vibrant, seductive percussion. The band formats range from groups with surf-like electric guitars and vintage organs to more traditional lineups with brass and accordion. The cumbia rhythm is present in many of the songs. Although this dance came from Colombia, it was transformed in other parts of South America.
The artists featured include Los Demonios Del Mantaro, Los Compadres Del Ande, Los Walker’s de Huánuco, La Peruanita, Los Bárbaros Del Centro, Los Compadres Del Ande, Los Bilbao, Manolo Avalos, Lucho Neves y su Orquesta, Los Jelwees, Los Sabios Del Ritmo, Alicia Maguiña con Mario Cavagnaro y su Sonora Sensación, Conjunto Los Luceritos De Casacancha, Huiro y su Conjunto, Los Turistas Del Mantaro, Los Bárbaros Del Centro, and Conjunto Kori Cinta de Huancavelica.
Andina: The Sound of The Peruvian Andes 1968-1978 is an album for fans of chicha and vintage Peruvian music.
American band Orkesta Mendoza will be touring the UK in the next weeks. The band is led by multi-faceted artist Sergio Mendoza, who is also a member and co-producer of acclaimed Southwestern music band Calexico, and an arranger and founding member of Mexrrissey.
Orkesta Mendoza plays borderless music that includes the entire Americas (North, Central, South), embracing mambo and cumbia with same interest as psychedelic pop, twang rock and analog electronics.
The band will present its new album ‘¡Vamos A Guarachar!’ (Glitterbeat Records), released at the end of 2016.
UK Tour (La Linea):
Friday, 21 April – Rich Mix, London
Saturday, 22 April – Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds
Sunday, 23 April – Band On The Wall, Manchester
Monday, 24 April – Sage Two, Gateshead
Tuesday, 25 April – Komedia, Brighton
Wednesday, 26 April – Cambridge Corn Exchange, Cambridge
UK Festival Performances:
Friday, 28 July – WOMAD Charlton Park, Wiltshire
Saturday, 29 July – Camp Bestival, Lulworth Castle, Dorset
Jungle Fire – Jambú (Jungle Fire Music/Nacional Records, 2016)
Los Angeles-based Afro-Latin funk band Jungle Fire is an outstanding collective of musicians from various backgrounds who have played with many well-known artists and musical styles. On their album Jambú, Jungle Fire delivers a sizzling genre-defying combination of Afrobeat, funk, cumbia, Latin jazz, West Coast Latin rock, makossa, and more, featuring an irresistible rhythm section and potent brass section.
The line-up includes Joseph “Joey” Reina on bass; Jud McDaniel on guitar and bass; Patrick Bailey on guitars; bass and Korg MS-20; Sam Halterman on drums; Sam Robles on baritone saxophone; Otto Granillo on trombone; Sean Billings on trumpet; Alberto López on congas, timbales, batá drums, cajón, güiro, flor tom, guacho, guagua, llamador, Moroccan bongo, guijada, qraqeb (karkabas); claps and vocals; Michael Duffy on timbales, bongos, bongó cowbell and claps; Steve Haney on congas, bongó, batá, shekere, güiro, trash lid and tambourine. Special guests: Sandino González-Flores on vocals and Natalia González on vocals.