An Earful of New Latin Sounds at OLA

Written By Fernando Gonzalez
August 30, 2017 at 7:56 PM

Contemporary Latin music is as diverse as the people who create it. Try to make a trend of some overlapping influences and soon you’ll find yourself having to allow for a quirky take here, an unexpected sound over there, political references, humor — best simply to embrace the vital, untidy reality of Latin America and listen. That’s the offer of OLA, or Onda Latino Americana, an ambitious and adventurous festival-like program inaugurating MDC Live Arts season. “This is a great opportunity for Miami to check the new trends in Latin America,” says Miami based Venezuelan DJ and producer Mr. Pauer, who will not only perform but helped curate the event. “You have old school salsa [with Meridian Brothers], you have an excellent Miami band, Elastic Bond doing their version of Electropico, and you have cumbia.” Cumbia, originally an Afro-Colombian genre, has become over the past years a sort of lingua franca in contemporary Latin pop, adapted, updated, and reinterpreted according to regional and local influences, not only in Mexico and Central America but also a phenomenon such as cumbia amazónica, in Perú or the cumbia villera (shanty town cumbia) in Argentina. “Cumbia amazónica has been a great influence for us. We love the sound of that era, [the ‘70s]” says Rafael Pereira, who with Felipe Salmon comprise Dengue Dengue Dengue! a tropical-electronic duo from Lima, Peru (sample a video: “It’s a very peculiar period [in Peru] because of the oil explosion in the Amazon jungle. With that a lot of foreigners came, and with them came rock, synthesizers, electric guitars, and that didn’t even happen in Lima but there, in the jungle towns. And that shaped a very distinct sound that in the 1980s became chicha [which came to incorporate elements of Andean music but also surf guitars and synthesizers], but we stayed with the earlier grooves, more psychedelic.” While Pereira had been working on electronic music for 15 years, always as a soloist,  Salmon played in rock bands before moving on to electronica. Pereira was helping with the visual component of a Salmon project when they were invited to an event in Buenos Aires. Elastic Bond, photo: Alissa Christine “We had heard tropical-electronic, but there we saw what was happening with cumbia villera and electronic music, we saw it in play, in a party setting and that gave us the idea. That was the origin of Dengue.” Live, the duo is augmented by VJ Sixta, who plays a key role in the overall performance, which includes strong visual elements including videos but also masks. “Felipe and I had been collaborating for about five years before we started the group,” says Pereira in an interview from his home in Lima. “And all our projects were audiovisual, so when Dengue Dengue Dengue! started we thought of it as an audiovisual project. The music rules, but the masks, the videos are all part of a whole.” “That’s why while usually the vee-jay is elsewhere in these type of shows; VJ Sixta is right with us. She is an important part of the show. All those elements, the music, the masks, the videos, are a way to truly feel what we want to do. If we could give you something to taste or smell we would do that too.” The visual elements are also a key component of the Puerto Rican group Los Chinchillos del Caribe, one of the most intriguing entries in Friday’s show (sample a video: For starters, Los Chichillos is a cumbia-based band in the land of salsa, reggaeton, and strong traditional styles like bomba y plena. And this is also a true band, featuring brass, winds, guitar, bass, drum, percussion, a lead singer, el Rey Chinchillo, a rapper, and a costumed dancer. (“That’s El Señor Calavera, a hype man that animates the audience while we play,” explains El Rey. “It’s musical theater with a fusion of rhythms.”) The group emerged, improbably, as a response to the police repression after some incidents at the University of Puerto Rico in 2009. It started, El Rey Chichillo said, “as a protest thing.” “We decided to make our contribution and we put masks to keep our anonymity,” explains El Rey, the group founder, main composer, and singer. “We knew seven cumbias a friend of us had brought back from his travels and there we went with a guiro, an amplified guitar, and a drum and at one point we realized we had like 200 people marching behind us, singing the chorus of songs we had just made up in the sidewalk of our place. That was the start of Los Chinchillos.” It was later, he says, that Los Chinchillos “started to put a bit of mischief in the lyrics, looking for the people to have a good time and forget their problems for awhile — with conscience.” As for choosing cumbia, El Rey says that “while cumbia is Colombian, every place in Latin America has a version of it, and we thought ‘Why not us?’ We wanted to have our own cumbia, created a sancocho musical (musical stew) and came up with Cumbia Boricua. But we also do other things.” The masks, originally Mexican lucha libre masks now custom made by a Puertorican artisan, became a trademark of the group. “It was a way to free people up to identify themselves with whatever character they liked and maintain our anonymity,” he explains. This in time has led to some funny situations. “I’ve had close friends come to me and tell me: ‘Man you have to see this group Los Chichillos bah, blah, blah’ and they have no idea that I’m one of the guys .” “But just as the cumbia connects us with all the other groups in Latin America playing cumbia, the masks are part of another traditions we feel connected to.” Clearly Los Chinchillos have hit on something. The group still has not released its first recording but is playing both at home and abroad and has an enthusiastic following. “This,” says El Rey Chinchillo “has all been a beautiful accident.” OLA is part of MDC Live Arts’ 23rd season, with Meridian Brothers (Colombia), Dengue Dengue Dengue! (Peru), Los Chinchillos del Caribe  (Puerto Rico), and Miami’s own Elastic Bond and Mr. Pauer. On Fri., Oct. 11 at 9:00 p.m. at grand Central, 697 N. Miami Ave., Downtown Miami. Tickets cost $25 for the general public and $10 for MDC students with valid identification; 305-237-3010,    Top photo: Los Chincillos del Caribe

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