Chicha is the name of a corn-based liquor the Incas distilled in the days before The Conquest, and the word's mysterious, boozy etymology makes it perfect for the musical style that bears its name. Chicha - the music - was spontaneously distilled during the culture clash of the '60s when the Indian population of the Peruvian Amazon blended Columbian cumbias with American rock & roll, particularly the twang heavy sound of surf music. With cheap electric instruments, Amazon Indians used the syncopated beat of cumbia as the foundation for melodies that sound to western ears like Andean folk music played on electric guitar supported by Tex-Mex style Farfisa. When the Indians moved to Lima, chicha became a thriving subgenre, but since the 70s the style has been dying out. Olivier Conan, owner of New York's Barbés nightclub and record label, discovered the music on a 2005 trip to Peru. In 2007, he put out a compilation called The Roots of Chicha. The music so captivated New York's downtown crowd that he put together Chicha Libre, a combo comprised of New York's musical scene makers, and started playing the old hits, and some new compositions, to packed houses. Part of the charm of the old chicha recordings had to do with their distorted, lo-fi approach, something that you can't match in a Manhattan recording studio. Nonetheless, Sonido Amazonico!, named after a hit by the chicha band Los Mirlos, is a sunny, upbeat collection guaranteed to bring a silly smile to your face. Vincent Douglas' plays a twangy guitar and Josh Camp plays a rare Hohner Electravox, an accordion-like instrument that sounds like a 70s Farfisa, anchor the band's timeless sound (the Electrovox is an electric hybrid; no air passes through it).
Like reggae, the chicha groove is so recognizable, and flexible, that almost any style of music can be played using it. The playing here has a lightness and humor that the originals lacked, but Chicha Libre's not making any claims about being authentic or keeping a lost tradition alive. They're playing it for kicks, and they supply plenty of 'em. ~ j. poet, All Music Guide