First Listen: Chicha Libre, 'Canibalismo'

Apr 29, 2012
Originally published on May 13, 2012 7:45 pm

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"Chicha" is a catch-all word that refers to a variety of fermented drinks popular in many Latin American countries. The drink of choice among the working class, they tend to be cheap and potent.

Chicha can also refer to a style of music created by Peruvian hipsters in the 1960s and '70s, best described as a psychedelic mash-up of surf guitar, cheesy analog keyboard sounds and a funky Amazonian take on cumbia. A group from Brooklyn, Chicha Libre celebrates the lo-fi virtues of old-school chicha on its latest album, Canibalismo.

The band's ethnic makeup sounds like the opening line for a joke — a Venezuelan, a Mexican, two Americans and two French guys walk into a bar — but the music isn't kidding around. On Canibalismo, the group takes its inspiration from Brazilian writer Oswald de Andrade, author of a 1928 essay about how cultures "cannibalize" one another. "Only Cannibalism unites us," Andrade wrote. "Socially. Economically. Philosophically. The unique law of the world."

There's a lot of musical and cultural give-and-take on Canibalismo, out May 8. No one sound dominates, but all the influences point in one way or another toward cumbia, the Colombian two-step with roots in Africa. Cumbia spread throughout Latin America and when it landed in Peru, something magical happened, and it became chicha. Ultimately, it turns out that the fermentation process is applicable with both chicha the drink and chicha the music: Various ingredients, left to commingle and absorb each other, create something vaguely familiar and yet new.

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