Quick Links: Cumbia, Polka, and the Righteous

  • Cumbia, My Lord, Cumbia
    You may be familiar with cumbia, the traditional Colombian (but now spread throughout Latin America) folk/dance music that prominently features the accordion. The Guardian looks at the latest cumbia innovation — Argentina’s “nueva cumbia,” where DJs are mixing cumbia with house, dancehall, and other genres. To hear it, check out El Hijo de la Cumbia or Oro11.
  • Polka for the Next Generation
    A fun, charming story by Leigh Ann Henion about her quest to learn to polka and her young niece’s blossoming into a polka princess. Art’s Concertina Bar — now Kochanski’s Concertina Beer Hall — makes a cameo appearance.
  • Featured Music: High Times
    The Fort-Worth Weekly introduces Mount Righteous, a Texas ten-piece with “feverish handclaps, helium-happy choir vocals, and dizzying bursts of trombone, snare drum, and accordion.” Imagine Mucca Pazza meeting The Polyphonic Spree, if you’re the type who enjoys defining new bands in terms of bands you already know. (And I am.)

Julieta Venegas Goes Unplugged

Julieta Venegas: MTV UnpluggedI thought MTV gave up on music years ago, opting instead to corner the market on inane reality shows for 16 year olds. Despite their best efforts, however, some music manages to occasionally escape onto their airwaves. Thankfully, one example is Mexican singer/songwriter/accordionist Julieta Venegas’ recent performance on MTV Unplugged, which was released this month as both an album and DVD.

Trained as a classical musician on piano and cello before rising to fame with the accordion, Venegas decided to take a fresh approach for her Unplugged performance, including instruments like the ukelele, banjo, xylophone, and tuba. And in addition to hits from her four albums, she unveiled a handful of new tunes, including “Ilusión,” a Spanish/Portuguese duet with Marisa Monte, and the bouncy “El Presente,” which you can watch over at YouTube:

Bajofondo’s 21st Century Tango

The brainchild of two-time Oscar-winner Gustavo Santaolalla (Best Score for Brokeback Mountain and Babel), Bajofondo (formerly Bajofondo Tango Club) fuses machine-generated beats with the traditional sounds of tango born of the Río de la Plata — the river separating Argentina and Uruguay. Experimenting with hip hop, rock and electronica, the band blazes new trails with relentlessly pulsing rhythms and layered sound textures.

But it isn’t all about the laptops; violinist Javier Casalla and bandoneonist Martin Ferres bring all the passion, intoxication, and surprise that you expect from great tango. It’s drama you can dance to. Their latest record, Mar Dulce, will be released in the U.S. next month and includes guest appearances by Elvis Costello, Nelly Furtado, and Japanese bandoneonist Ryota Komatsu.

You can listen to a live in-studio performance from KCRW’s excellent show Morning Becomes Eclectic, or download the track “Pa’ Bailar” below. And if you’re interested in more electronic/tango fusion, I definitely recommend checking out Gotan Project, one of the genre’s pioneers.

Vallenato at the Smithsonian

I spent my Memorial Day weekend in Mendocino, lounging around my in-laws’ house, reading their subscription to Smithsonian magazine when I stumbled across an article about vallenato, the popular accordion-driven folk music from Colombia. It mentioned that on June 6, a new Smithsonian film about vallenato called The Accordion Kings will premiere at the National History Museum.

The documentary focuses on the annual accordion competition held at the Festival de la Leyenda Vallenata in Valledupar. (We’ve shown clips of this festival on our site before.) Traditionally played with the accordion, caja (drum), and guacharaca (percussion stick), vallenato is a melting pot of African, European, and Colombian rhythms and sounds. Here’s a clip of five-time competition winner Hugo C Granados, who last year won the special Rey de Reyes (“King of Kings”) contest which is held only once every ten years.

La India Canela on NPR

La India Canela - Merengue Tipico From the Dominican RepublicThere was a great interview on NPR today with Dominican accordionist La India Canela. She has twice won the Cassandra award for her hit songs and is now releasing an album in the United States, Merengue Tipico from the Dominican Republic.

She had a tough start; her father didn’t want her to play the accordion, so she had to hide to practice. Then, after she was discovered, she had to convince him to let her play in the city. Overcoming the social stigma of the accordion being a man’s instrument was a challenge, but her love for the music was deep and she was determined to stick with it.

“Accordion is very profound, and you feel it probably from the moment you are in your mother’s womb.”

Now she’s one of The Dominican Republic’s most famous musicians. You can listen to the NPR interview as well as some clips of her playing here.

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The Brooklyn Rebirth of Chicha

Chicha Libre: Sonido AmazonicoOlivier Conan didn’t go to Peru to find chicha; it found him. Conan was introduced to chicha — a style of Peruvian pop music derived from Colombian cumbias — by street vendors in Lima and was immediately hooked. Ignored by critics, art students, and the middle class, chicha was music for the poor and, as such, was largely ignored outside of Peru.

That is, until Conan returned to Brooklyn and formed Chicha Libre, whose debut album ¡Sonido Amazonico! was released today. The group plays a mixture of latin rhythms, surf music and psychedelic pop inspired by the chicha bands of the 1960s that borrowed sounds from rock and roll (electric guitars, organs) and combined them both with cumbia and traditional Amazonian music. In an interview, Conan describes how Chicha Libre pays homage to those progenitors:

“We imitated the sounds but took liberties. It has since evolved into a band with its own identity and borrowings from everywhere — in a way, it is faithful to the spirit of Chicha, which itself borrowed from all corners of the world. We’re just as syncretic and trying to be just as much fun.”

The band mixes covers of forgotten Chicha classics with French-tinged originals, re-interpretations of 70s pop classics as well as cumbia versions of pieces by Satie and Ravel. You can catch the six-piece group — which includes Joshua Camp (of One Ring Zero) on the Hohner Electravox — every Monday night in April at Olivier’s Brooklyn club, Barbès.

Vallenato Legend Festival Video

Vallenato is a popular accordion-based folk music from the Caribbean region of Colombia, influenced by African, European, and Colombian rhythms and sounds. Right now in Valledupar, the annual Festival de la Leyenda Vallenata is taking place, and it includes a contest where vallenato musicians compete in categories for best professional accordionist, amateur accordionist, and more.

Juan, a reader from Colombia, forwarded me this excellent video from a previous festival, featuring the fast fingers of Sammy Ariza Ramos. Don’t skip the caja (drum) and guacharaca (percussion stick) solos — they’re incredible, too.

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