After yesterday’s cumbias rebajadas, the regular stuff seems fast. First off, a stunning 14-minute cumbia colombiana medley from Mexico’s Tropa Colombiana. Lots of classics in here, heavy on the accordion. Fluid and entrancing, “como si estuvieramos en Colombia!” (“like we were in Colombia!”):
Narcocorridos. Much has been said. But listening? It’s a narrative phenomenon. Meaning stories. Meaning if you can’t understand the lyrics you won’t be getting much critical information from the songs. Take this tune for example. I don’t particularly like this style of music. Yet the lyrics are totally crazy, meticulously descriptive when compared to, say, crack rap. Cumbia is vibe music, many times the lyrics are versions from decades past; Narcocorridos are narrative, dense, detailed short stories set to the tune of cheesy cowboy polkas. It’s intense. Lyric translations in the comment section would be very welcome!
Also: a few days ago Lamin saw a couple doing coke on the NYC subway before 9 in the morning. The man made fun of the woman, who had accidentally smudged some power on her nose: “you look like Scarface!”
I hit the cumbia rebajada motherlode in MX. slow & low, downpitched sublime. Cumbias rebajadas are slowed down cumbias that you can buy on the street in the right towns. Time gone viscous. Here’s a dark one, really stellar this. I twittered it yesterday:
Eyebeam Open Studios, this Friday 3-6pm in the Chelsea space. I will present a cumbia research project I’m working on as one of Eyebeam’s resident artists this season. La Congona New Cumbia will culminate in a mixtape CD + bilingual poster, and be documented on our blog of the same name.
So feel free to drop by and see/say what’s up. A very diverse group of people will be showing their work-in-progress. For example: while I’m doing weird cumbia distribution/circulation mapping & hotwiring bootleg networks, Ted Southern, pictured below, is building honest-to-God astronaut gloves. (the last pair he designed outperformed NASA gloves on NASA’s own tests). Astronaut gloves!
Open Studios continue on Saturday, although I won’t be able to attend.
This party is going to be multiple varieties of bananas. Argentine cumbia villera pioneers Damas Gratis, Colombian duo Bomba Estereo, Mexico’s top soundboy Toy Selectah, and yours truly with special guest vocalist Jahdan Blakkamoore, raising temperatures down in Monterrey Mexico on Saturday May 29th. ¡¡Puro fuego!! also on the bill: Instituto Mexicano del Sonido, Sonidero Nacional, etc….. BOOM.
For those who don’t know about Damas Gratis’ explosive populist power, read up: my 2008 Fader cumbia article involves careening around Buenos Aires w/ Damas Gratis leader Pablo Lescano. One of the songs he played in his S.U.V was The Kumbia Queers cover of Bronco’s “Que No Quede Huella”. Lots of groups version this one, it’s a nu-classic about love, pain, and forgetting.
AG: …How does your more recent obsession with cumbia fit into this?
JC: My old mixes are noisier. More abrasive. Less feminine. Three-and-a-half years ago I moved back to New York City. While I was in Spain I was mostly interested in North African music and some flamenco, collaborating with local musicians. But when I got back to New York I started hearing lyrics of some of the duranguense and Norteño—Mexican music which is hugely popular now, much more popular than cumbia, at least in New York. I was in a car service going to the airport and I heard Los Tigres del Norte’s “Somos Más Americanos” and immediately got into the lyric “Yo no crucé la frontera, la frontera me cruzó,” which is “I didn’t cross the border, the border crossed me.” Then at some point I discovered cumbia—again, in a car service, an Ecuadorian guy was playing Polibio Mayorga, and I was floored. I offered to buy the CD from him. I was going to Europe for two weeks, and I needed to hear this music. He was like, “No, take it and give it back to me when you return.”
That was my gateway drug into cumbia. I just started digging and digging and digging. It’s akin to discovering reggae for the first time. Reggae has been interesting since the late ’60s. It continues to be interesting without sounding anything like it did back then…
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AG: You mentioned reggae, but I feel as if dub—whether earlier in your work with reggae and dancehall or more recently with dubstep—is the one constant I see in your music over ten years or more. Is that because you’re a DJ and that deep bass sound gets people moving?
JC: It’s definitely the constant and probably the music that has impacted me most. Why is a good question. When I’m doing a live DJ set, dubbing is a way to be impressionistic with sound. You can take some Armenian flutes, pitch them so they match the main track, put them through a bit of delay, and suddenly have them rhythmically related to the beat. It’s almost like a means of painting in sound.
AG: It’s sculptural.
JC: Exactly. I’m always trying to avoid dub clichés. Dub isn’t a heavy-handed bass line or some person pounding drums like a rock musician or anything that sounds like “reggae,” but more of a way of thinking, of cracking songs open and having the edges bleed together.
AG: I want to touch on the noise question again for a second. In the essay “Confessions of a DJ,” you write, “The DJ’s job is to make disparate records sound like a whole. DJs have to work to avoid silence and make things appear seamless.” One of the things I’ve always liked about your work is how you also have an opposing tendency to make a mix sound abrasive, how you avoid the easy groove for any extended amount of time. How does the DJ’s requisite seamlessness interact with dissonance and noise in your work? You’ve written about how important it is for you to sense what the crowd is responding to, but, at the same time, I feel as if you’re consciously looking for dissonance within the overall experience as a kind of conceptual decision.
JC: Definitely. I chose the name DJ /rupture because Boston DJ sets at the time were very horizontal and dynamically flat. They’d be playing the same music and not even interrupting it! (laughter) To me, playing varied music and not allowing for an easy smoothness has always been important. I’m very interested in moments of blowout, moments of rupture—jumping from music to pure sound and texture or moving from melody and rhythm into sheer volume and dynamics. In live situations, there are often moments where I’m trying to get the sound system to feed back or totally saturate the mixer. My friend Kevin Martin, aka The Bug, played at one of Barcelona’s biggest clubs a few weeks after I did. They told him that I’d blown out the speakers; they never said anything to me, but I never got invited back. (laughter) The logic of DJ music is that the beat must go on. But no, the beat doesn’t have to go on. We can shoot the beat and let it die.
In terms of the audience, I’m encouraging people to react differently. Those noise moments don’t have to be extended, they don’t have to be frequent; it’s not about being abusive. It’s about other possibilities, stepping into them and going elsewhere.
Today on Mudd Up!, 7-8pm, WFMU, we will be airing an exclusive all-vinyl mix from Los Angeles’ DJ LENGUA! It’s cracking, full of latin crate-digger gifts, visionary cumbia, overdriven Colombian psychedelia, and more.
On the radio tonight, I’ll be hosting Austin’s DJ Orion, performing live in studio! He’s extending the great Texan tradition of keeping cumbia crunk with his latest release, Carajo Colombia. After his DJ set we’ll find time for a quick interview and ticket giveaways to his Que Bajo show @ Santos on Thursday.
Here’s a taste of ‘Carajo Colombia’, you can buy it – setting your own price! – here:
A last-minute note to announce: I’m returning to WNYC’s Soundcheck program at 2pm today, for a live performance and interview with host John Schaefer.
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This Monday, Boston people can catch me doing an “experimental set” at Beat Research, alongside residents Wayne&Wax and DJ Flack. FREE. @ The Enormous Room in Central Square.
Simultaneously, I’ll be hosting my Mudd Up! radio show on WFMU, with special guest DISCO SHAWN!
Cumbia fans will know his as the innovator, along with Oro 11, of the Bersa Discos label and the Tormenta Tropical west coast club nights. A Bay Area native and former Buenos Aires resident, the Cuban-American DJ is coming to share tunes & discuss cumbia’s latest explorations into Remixlandia, what’s poppin over in the Bay, and more…
Bad Santa cumbia villera from the one and only Damas Gratis. Pablo Lescano is the most famous person I know who semi-regularly sends me insane emails. Some, like this recent one, contain amazing music. Hilarious lyrics thick with double entrendres.
the jam in question is Sonido himself remixing legendary Peruvian chicha cumbia band, Los Destellos de Enrique Delgado, with vocal assistance by Fefe, a Brazilian firecracker. In one example of how Sonido Martines works, he tracked down Los Destellos, explained to them what was going on in the slippery world of ‘new cumbia’, and with their blessings got permission to flip this remix. Now-thing realness with respect for the foundational musicians!
the comp esta muy wapo… Sonido Martines presents: Nueva Cumbia Argentina! fresh heat from nu-skoolers like El Hijo de la Cumbia, Fauna, and Chancha Via Circuito, and visionary early material from DJ Taz and Damas Gratis, and more! 12″ and digital out now: iTunes / Amazon / Boomkat, etc. K VIVA LA KUMBIA!!