“Digital cumbia.” It’s a new thing for me, but it’s been going on in Argentina for the past decade or so. This musical style combines Colombia’s highly popular folkloric music, cumbia, one of the most popular in Latin America, with electronic beats and other modern touches. At digital cumbia’s center is the Buenos Aires native Pedro Canale, who performs as Chancha Via Circuito, who has been pushing the boundaries since his debut album Rodante in 2008.
It’s been four years since his last release, and now with Bienaventuranza (which I’m told can be translated as “bliss”) Chancha has collaborated with some interesting artists. So in addition to the Andean folk music staples of charango and flutes and the electronic beats and flourishes, there are contributions from other leading lights in the digital cumbia scene.
Mateo Kingman brings his hypnotic vocals and hip hop from the Ecuadorian Amazon to “Ilaló,” which also has some dub stylings. Lido Pimienta, a Canadian singer (and Polaris prize winner) with Afro-Colombian roots, teams up with Colombian dancehall artist and rapper Manu Banks on the highly danceable “La Victoria.” And “Kawa Kawa” is a sweet jam featuring the Buenos Aires-born, classically trained singer and DJ Kaleema (Heidi Lewandowski). This one’s got deep Afro-Andean roots, with its rhythmic foundation built on marimba and lots of flutes and ambient bird sounds, but with plenty of electronic flourishes too.
Speaking of bird sounds, one of my favorites is the next track, “Alegría,” a trance-like meditation with clacking rhythms, electronic whistles and a catchy melody on flutes.
The opening track “Los Pastores” is a brilliant introduction to this music, with its lilting charango melody over a plodding march beat, deep bass and lots of subtle electronica added in layers with each chorus. By the time you reach the third, “Barú,” its predominant dancehall beat and dub flourishes seem totally natural. And the next one, “Nadie Lo Riga,” with the multi-tracked vocals of Miriam Garcia in close harmony with herself over what sounds like trap, ay! gives me shivers.
I’m hardly a fan of dub, dancehall or hip hop, but I’m entranced (as it were) by the organic integration of these forms with this beloved Andean folk music. ¡Viva Chancha!
(Wonderwheel Recordings, 2018)