Semillas EP, Chancha Vía Circuito
ZZK Records, Argentina
by Carlos Reyes
Pitchfork’s Brent DiCrescenzo recently apologized to Sonic Youth for placing them on the critical guillotine when he evaluated NYC Ghosts & Flowers with a controversial (and deeply unwarranted) 0.0 rating. At the time, the critic panned the turned-classic record because of the intellectual-pinned posture that surrounded (and arguably still surrounds) most of New York’s art. Though we hardly review as many albums as they do, I can’t think of a time we’ve had such a critical change of heart. But as editor of Club Fonograma, I do have a couple of regrets (like not giving Systema Solar a 90+ rating), more recently for dousing a bit of our staff’s excitement towards Chancha Vía Circuito’s Río Arriba.
So why the change of heart? Let me state my case. Latin American literature has for too many decades been exclusively defined by the world as the paradise of magic realism. World-famed authors (Borges, García Márquez, Allende, Esquivel, etc.) turned their works into classics, but indirectly overshadowed other novelists (the almighty Bolaño above all) who weren’t as explicit in rejecting baroque storytelling. The global depiction of Latin America is still blurred with folk, which has inevitably spread its image to other platforms (film, music). So it’s not surprising that a new wave of Latin American critics reject folk and, consequently, anything that’s easy to export. Río Arriba, the first work by Argentine producer Pedro Canale had all the symptoms of a quintessential folk archetype (a dense production, the minimal use or absence/removal of lyrics, and a sublime illustrated cover that, although beautiful, just seemed to click with the Putumayo retail crowd). Truth is, lately I spin the vinyl at least once a week. Even more surprising is the fact that I love it for the very same reasons that put me off two years ago. The idea of conceptualizing (not sugar-coating) cumbia for a universal response is no longer a threat but something truly beautiful.
Whether you’ve been a fan all along or remain a skeptic, Canale is ready to give Chancha Vía Circuito continuity. He follows his globally acclaimed debut with the five-track EP, Semillas. “It turns out that my neighbor’s tree grew so much recently that one morning I woke up to a large tree branch in the kitchen of my house,” sighs the producer in the EP’s fantastical premise–it was a magical tree full of empathy and disposition to spread its knowledge. Beautifully nuanced and carefully structured, Semillas could’ve easily been a transition EP or an exercise for distillation purposes. It is neither. Opening track “Burkina” underpins Chancha’s expertise at romanticizing beats through space and time. Continuity is the source and desire of this short release, and so, this is an album that transitions from resourceful to profuse (at varying degrees of success).
Album standouts “Vaina” and “Hipopotamo” manifest Chancha’s most sacred approach to cumbia–Canale’s ability to conceptualize cumbia before digitizing it (an artistic approach shared by fellow Latin American producers Ricardo Villalobos and Poliedro). These rumbling and all-circular numbers contemplate the natural world and offer it synthesized journeys. “Tornasol” (featuring music professor/activist Leandro Frias) is equally accomplished and the EP’s most ambitious number–Chancha has never shown so much interest for lyrical militancy. From my experience with Chancha, the worst you can do while listening to Semillas is to sit there and wait to be rewarded for your patience. This is a work that’s eloquently structured and needs no unfolding to cast its spell. If these are the seeds for Chancha’s forthcoming music, it seems we’ll have plenty of chances to redeem ourselves.