a once-obscure music that enjoyed a fanatic embrace in the _______ slums of _______ has become a full-fledged global occasion –
This could be the mantra of global ghettotech. Could hardly have written it better myself. But I didn’t. Nor was it written, despite what might be its commonplace connotations, about reggae, or funk carioca, or kuduro, or any of the usual suspects. It was written about cumbia made in Peru in the 1970s, and I came across it not on an enthusiastic blog but via a careful press release announcing the second volume in the Roots of Chicha series. The appearance of this phrasing shows how even well-worn attempts to market “world music” can turn with the times and speak the language of resonant novelty. Global g-tech blogging begetting sexy new scenarios, new sites of authenticity. Old wine, new bottles.
The story of “world music 2.0” however — and the built-in critique of that tag — is not all about newness, or some sense of progressive departure from previous, problematic regimes of representation, or visions of egalitarian peer-to-peer exchange and cosmopolitan conviviality in our brave, new, digital and diasporic age. (Booty-shaking sugar plums dancing in our embeds?) It’s also about a great many continuities with “old” “world music” and its commercial & discursive repertories — including especially, 1) how deals get done (or not at all); and 2) how musical wares get described, (re)contextualized, hyped, dressed up, pimped, punked, and truffled. In other words: New wine, old bottles.
This post is meant to serve as a follow-up to my previous thoughts on today’s world musics. The focus again falls on small, independent record labels, but unlike those mentioned in the last post, the labels I discuss below didn’t begin as blogs (and are not to be confused with them). In the interest of going deeper into context and credit and other #realtalk — from business practices to the language employed by labels and PR firms to frame their enterprises — allow me to try to tell three brief stories about a few kinds of cumbia circulating in the world today — particularly in world(s) beyond their home contexts, worlds where cumbia becomes, for some, “world.”
The first thing I’m going to say about Barbès, run by Brooklyn-based Frenchman Olivier Conant, is that the two Roots of Chicha compilations have been a welcome presence in my life. They’re full of fantastic performances from rightly (locally) popular performers who were listening intently to the world around them — to cumbia, psychedelic rock, and huayno, among others — and whirling it up into their own special sound. The first disc lodged itself in my car for many many months back when it came out. And what I’ve heard of the second keeps the chicha torch aloft and blazing.
A hopefully unnecessary disclaimer: none of what follows is meant as an ad hominem attack. I’m interested in the larger structures that someone like Conan or his PR people have to navigate, as well as how they plot their way through. If I seem poke too much at the latter, or even to be calling names, it is intended more as a critique of the language that markets world music, or chicha, or cumbia — a discourse which implicates audiences & customers as well as producers & promoters. (That said, the unofficial subtitle of this post is: “How To Stop Receiving Promos” ;)
That said, let’s begin on the sound’s own terms, if you’ll permit the conceit. Check some of the tracks on the new comp:
The Roots Of Chicha 2 (Sampler) by pressjunkiepr
Ok, back to words. There are lots of things we could say about these songs. What the PR focuses on, however, is the heroic narrative of label-owner Olivier Conan, who saw (& heard) the value in cumbias amazónicas even when many in Peru could not. “Scorned by the middle-class and the official tastemakers,” we’re told, chicha has become a “full-fledged global occasion” and even recuperated back home, “thanks to the stunning success of a 2007 CD called The Roots of Chicha.” That’s actually the end of the sentence that I used as an epigraph (full text here); here’s the non-redacted version:
a once-obscure music that enjoyed a fanatic embrace in the Peruvian slums of the 1970s has become a full-fledged global occasion – thanks to the stunning success of a 2007 CD called The Roots of Chicha.
Chutzpah? Perhaps, but these sorts of claims are pretty par for the course in the world of music promo, never mind “world music” promo, where one classic trope is of the noble adventurer seeking out the golden nuggets of exotic lands. (Even if outstretched microphones have largely been replaced by crate diggers.) But the press release really hammers home on this narrative, suggesting it’s a psychological hook for all the curious, cosmo gringos who make up the album’s principal public:
News that a gringo was interested in chicha found its way in many of Peru’s mainstream magazines, newspapers and TV – including canal cuatro and the very official El Comercio.
The icky part is, the reason this sort of thing — ie, a curious gringo in the foreign press, or the “fancy-fish-out-of-water” — is remarkable at all is precisely because of the intense power asymmetries between, say, the US and Peru. Of course, also motivating this response is a degree of self/national pride that finds flattering any sort of outside appreciation — and there’s often an insidious, if perhaps also productive, dynamic at play in these exchanges whereby a proletarian music becomes a national symbol thanks to foreign affirmation — but those structural dimensions are not what receive emphasis here.
And such a campaign has effects. I mean jeez, even Mother Jones can’t resist going with a lede like this:
Imagine hiking in the Peruvian Andes and finding a group of chicha musicians: migrants playing a fusion of Cuban son, Andean melodies and psychedelic surfer rock, blended like the Inca corn whiskey the music is named after.
This narrative tack is striking given that Barbès is clearly attuned to questions of representation, or at least their uses. Take the assertion, circulating as promo, that vol. 2 is “an attempt to rectify some of the biases and inaccuracies of the first volume.” According to the website, the bar/performance space which bears the same name as the label “puts the stress on cultural variety, neighborhood conviviality” (& they really play my violin on that last note). All the while, Conan is well aware that, “Brooklyn may be the only place where middle-class gringos are playing the music with a more or less vintage ’70s approach.”
One reason I started with the sound files above is that I don’t want to dwell too much on the representational stuff when the music can also speak for itself (at least the music that passes through Conan’s filter). And I don’t mean to conflate marketing hyperbole with the valuable service that Conan’s efforts have done for chicha and cumbia, not to mention for many of the artists he’s featured.
Conan’s “attempt to share his enthusiasm” in the Roots of Chicha comps is, in many ways, laudable. Targeting a (relatively) wide audience by selecting popular tracks also ensures a certain degree of quality, the lingering resonance of previous moments of intense attachment, and Conan has indisputably helped to re-ignite the appreciation — economic, affective, and otherwise — of chicha. In this sense, Barbès deserves credit for inspiring others to go in search of great chicha and kindred forms of cumbia, including the guy who runs the next label I’d like to talk about.
But can we talk about value without mention of the label’s relationships to the musicians who provide the grist for the mill? How can we appraise this new wave of chicha appreciation without a sense of how Barbès is sustaining any chicha scene other than “middle-class gringo” Brooklyn’s? Why can’t the terms of the deal enter into the heroic narrative? Isn’t tracking down the musicians involved in the original recordings at least as romantic, if not more, than tracking down the recordings themselves? Why is there a significant, building “Fair Trade” / transparency movement in food but not in music?
Why, for example, doesn’t the following rycooderesque press release — issued by the same entity promoting Roots of Chicha 2 (and working to promote lots of other music I like — sorry, Ryan, but realtalk beckons) — in which the exchange between all involved is so crucial, talk at all about how this project stands to contribute to the scene from which it poaches?
In April of 2010, Cory Wong and Eric Foss of Secret Stash Records traveled to Lima, Peru with a translator and assembled Peña, an Afro-Peruvian ensemble featuring a handful of the best musicians within the genre. The group was a revolving door of sorts that included over a dozen players ranging in age from 24 to 65. In seven days they recorded over 50 tracks. With no access to a conventional recording studio they improvised by tracking in classrooms, living rooms, balconies, offices, and even on the stoop of a hostel. The sessions were fast, free spirited, and generally consisted of one or two takes per track. The result is an authentic display of one of the world’s most unique, unexplored and underrated musical styles.
Below are the full details and download links to an MP3 to post, the album, and more. I look forward to your feedback and hopefully coverage in your media outlet. [W&W note: I look forward to a leaner inbox after this post.]
Is this exchange or extraction?
I can think of at least one very successful example where the fairness of the deal (& correcting for unfairness in first dealings) became a crucial and appealing part of the release’s narrative. I’m thinking here of Greg Scruggs’s labors to put together Pancadão do Morro, a project & product that Greg referred to as “Fair Trade Funk.” In his own words —
Every artist has a contract in Portuguese, was paid a sum upfront, and will receive royalties. I can vouch for this personally, as I’m the one who has been orchestrating it all for my friends over at Flamin Hotz Records. Moreover, the CD itself is a gorgeous six panel deal, c/o BustBright, with cover art by funk legend Tony Minister, spot gloss lettering, and two booklets — featuring lyrics in Portuguese and English, artist bios, and photos. There is no anonymity here.
So put some names and beats with faces, add some well-mastered tamborzão to your collection, and support the hardworking MCs and DJs down in Rio: proceeds are going their way. Trust me, I’ll be sending the remittances myself.
Read the rest of that post for further details of how Greg worked to right some things and to write those things into the story of the release itself.
But back to Barbès. In the spirit of this post, let’s be fair in our appraisal. Aside from perhaps making the deals with musicians part of Conan’s heroic narrative, what else would we have the label do? Barbès is still a relatively modest operation, asking for donations to kickstart interesting projects, and so forth. All things considered, they’ve brought some wonderful music to my ears and no doubt have generated a significant degree of interest in, appreciation of, and opportunity for chicha and Peruvian cumbia. For that we can say, bravo.
[Update: Please see this follow-up post for a detailed response from Olivier Conan, which helps to bring more balance to the appraisal above.]
2. Mass Tropicas
Michael Pigott is a guy who lives in Western Mass, which he had the gall to call “the better half of Massachusetts” in an introductory email to me. He runs a label called Mass Tropicas devoted to small batch releases, so far mostly of weird and wonderful Peruvian cumbia. He deals directly with the artists themselves to license the tracks he releases, and he doesn’t do digital. At all. Instead, Mike stubbornly insists on durable, physical media — vinyl and cassettes — believing that the objects themselves have a way of preserving and instilling value.
While Roots of Chicha served as some inspiration for reissuing and recording some cumbia himself, Mike had been getting into the genre, especially of the Peruvian variety, over the course of several years thanks to a couple key figures: 1) his wife, who is herself from Peru, and 2) Bruno “Tunchi” Guerra, a photographer and mainstay in Lima’s punk scene. On visits, Mike would listen to the local cumbia station in his wife’s neighborhood, note the songs he liked, and then try to find them on vinyl. (Apparently, he boasts quite the collection of 45s.)
In contrast to Barbès reach for a broad audience, which entails reissuing formerly popular tracks (at least in Peru), Mike seeks to bring lesser known recordings to chicha’s expanding listening public (at least those addressed by hi-fi vinyl reissues). He sees the Roots of Chicha as an important “stepping stone” for people to “dig deeper” into his more obscure finds and favorites.
Mike described his operation as “DIY” and it’s clear that its infused by a certain punk ethos. (How DIY? you might ask: “All the records you touch, I touch,” Mike told me.) Small-batch cumbia appealed to Mike because pressing one’s own records is “sorta like punk rock.” His fourth and latest release, Ranil’s Jungle Party, a 12″ LP collecting some fine cuts from a local cumbia legend now running for mayor (and subject of a would-be documentary by Barbès), could hardly better embody the approach: Ranil’s records were originally produced and released by himself on his own label, so Mike dealt directly with the man himself. (Of course, this elides unresolved questions about who, if anyone, should have exclusive rights to a collectively produced recording, but since “backup” musicians have gotten the short-end in just about every other music biz scenario, we can’t begin to hold a label like Mass Tropicas to a different standard.)
One complicating factor in re-releasing Ranil’s music, however, was the fact that Ranil himself didn’t own any of his own records; and he had taped over the masters years ago to store recordings of his radio program! Here we see how the durability of vinyl and the diligence of the digger can prove paramount. Ranil no longer possessed any of his own records, but Lima-based collector and chicha connoisseur Victor Zela, with whom Mike has been sharing his enthusiasm for years, has every single one. Victor compiled Ranil’s Jungle Party, and Mike gives him full credit as a creative partner. (The artwork, a clear homage to the style of the day, was done by Tunchi, another Lima-based collaborator.)
About that artwork, though (& plz permit another quick foray into the jungles of marketing lingo) —
Tropical tropes abound, of course, but we also need to note that the imagery was itself lifted from Ranil’s original record sleeves. (We could also note that certain details, ahem, have been highlighted and amplified.) Whether kitschy or faithful or both, these pictorial gestures doesn’t absolve the copy, however, and we can pick up plenty of resonance with Barbés/PressJunkiePR in being informed that, with efforts like this record, Peruvian cumbia “has been rescued” — or that the reissue provides a “fascinating journey through time.”
So despite all the clearly thoughtful practices motivating Mass Tropicas, we still encounter almost inevitable notes of exotic fashioneering in the language on the record themselves, their promotion, and their inevitable reformulation in press coverage. Regarding the latter, one might read that Mike “researches the deepest streets of Peru’s forgotten music,” an interesting formulation in its familiar contour but shifting locus of the real, from the jungle to the streets, again reflecting perhaps a general recalibration (or widening of the rhetorical repertory) in “world music” discourse. (Then again, despite the prevalence of the rural/pastoral/traditional, urban sounds and imgs have enjoyed a persistent, if fraught, presence in world music bins. Indestructible Example A?)
If this sort of spiel about “fascinating journeys” can ring a little hokey to some of us, redolent as it is of Putumayo pap, I don’t think that’s because Mike is out of touch. Rather, he’s following a playbook that has produced its share of touchdowns.
But let’s talk about different notions of touch for a moment. Touch is clearly important to Mike, who touches every record he sends off. In particular, two kinds of touch: being in direct touch with actual people & directly touching actual physical objects. As with Greg’s ideas about “fair trade funk,” doing it right for Mike involves both the fairness of the deal and the quality of the product. A lot of cumbia artists on some fairly popular (bootleg) compilations have no idea. “These guys are still alive,” Mike told me. “It’d be nice if they knew they were appreciated.”
As for touching actual objects, not to mention being in touch, here’s a nice chunky plastic thing I got in the mail from Mike:
Mike doesn’t really sell cassettes, yet. He tells me he’s had trouble convincing distributors to carry them, despite a minor current/recent vogue for them (indeed, a couple local producers slipped me their latest mixtape, on tape, just last week). I was happy to get the cassette since I’m lucky enough to have a car that plays them; this was true for Mike too, back when he got the idea of pressing up some of his own.
The El Hombre Orquesta cassette is from a limited run of 100, printed up mainly as an effort to promote El Hombre, aka Carlos Antonio, a sui generis one-man-band (and paraplegic) who Mike encountered while walking around in Lima. (Here’s an unrelated local news profile of him.) Singing songs while playing bongos, timbales, cymbals, wood blocks, and a halved soda bottle that sounds like a mean slide trumpet, El Hombre Orquesta has a sound all his own.
Struck by the sound, Mike asked him on the spot whether he could record him. Antonio told him, “It’s gonna cost ya,” and asked for $30. “I’ll give you extra,” said Mike, who then paid for $3 for a local practice space, recorded for 80 minutes, and gave Antonio $50, telling him he’d seek out a label back in the US to release his music. A relatively successful indie label specializing in what we might call “found sounds” of the wide world expressed strong interest, but eventually dropped the project. Having told Antonio that “next time I come down I’ll have an EP for ya,” Mike returned recently, gave him a bunch of cassettes and $200. El Hombre cried; he was touched.
3. ZZK Records
ZZK Records (pronounced zee-zek, Argentine-style, not Žižek), a label that started as a party, boasts a deep roster of hyper-creative pibes (yep, they’re all dudes), who make all kinds of exciting electronic dance music (especially the digital or “nu” cumbia for which they’re primarily known), run successful Kickstarter campaigns, and, having put their stamp on the nu world scene, are slowly but successfully wiggling their way into the potentially lucrative ol world music circuit (that’s 1.0, if you’re counting).
Recently, ZZK acts appeared at the 2010 Chicago World Music Festival, and they’re aiming to make it to Womex later this month. As the premier world music showcase in the world, Womex can be a huge platform, opening the golden doors to some of that ol world music industry money, where, especially in the live performance/festival circuit, there’s still a substantial amount to be made (unlike in the relatively tiny “global bass” scene, unless you’re fortunate enough to join the truffled classes).
For all its promise, Womex also presents significant risks for a fledgling label like ZZK, which still supports itself through all kinds of side/day-gigs (including a design firm, making somewhat more saleable use of their in-house talents). Simply getting to Copenhagen is taxing enough for an operation of this size to merit a kickstarter campaign for assistance. Everyday they’re hustling. But also touring a lot and making some great music and having fun.
By my watch, the ZZK crew got where they are today, notably, not merely though the various grinds above, but, in a nod to industry 2.0, by giving a lot of music away — especially in the form of mixtapes and bootlegs/mashups pushed onto the net (and in many cases, directly to bloggers in the nascent nu-world world). In this way, they share the plight of a lot of other small, independent labels (or artists) trying to build an audience and create some demand for (some commodification of) what they do in a saturated, “post-scarcity” music industry. ZZK effectively inserted their productions, style, and brand into translocal media flows by being savvy with what they make and share: mixtapes that blend their own tracks and other local flaves with global currents, mashups that lend a familiar tinge (in the form of say, a rap acapella) to their own electro-cumbia productions, videos that might find an eager embed on electronic / world / cosmopolatino blogs.
Although ZZK would prefer not to find its acts consigned to the marketological ghettos of “world” and “Latin,” such tags also offer certain footholds, crossover niches. When El G (aka Grant Dull, ZZK cofounder) and Lisandro of the Frikstailers came to Cambridge to play Beat Research this month, I had the opportunity to witness how the label attempts to work within the unwieldy boxes that litter the music industrial landscape. While Grant was being interviewed by a local guy who does an “alt Latin” radio show, I couldn’t help but appreciate how he tried to thread the needle, talking about the sound of the label, or specific acts, in a manner commensurate with their actual style and outlook and yet also in ways that make sense, that translate, that communicate to certain audiences. Hence, the Frikstailers were described at once as audibly “from south America” but, in the same breath, “very modern, contemporary.”
So despite the label’s nu-ness, it’s no surprise that the ZZKers selected to go to Womex are Tremor, the only “band” in the ZZK crew, and hence an act that already affirms certain entrenched ideas about “real” (world) musicianship. It probably also helps with the WM1.0 folks that they guys in Trebor play folkloristic drums (bombo leguero) and perform, according to ZZK’s own website copy, no less than an “interpretation of local musicology.” Indeed, once you read that amidst the mix of synths and drum samples one also hears “timeless Andean flute,” I think it’s clear that we’re treading familiar (“foreign”) territory.
I myself would probably leave the showcase featuring folkloric drums in order to see, say, a couple of guys banging on synths and laptops and DDR-pads, but I think it’s a while yet before the old world music guard is ready for the likes of the Frikstailers. Their loss, especially since the Friks’ productions may actually better embody the world-is-flat mythos animating a lot of WM1.0 fantasies. (Easy-listening reggae from any corner of the globe!) Like many of their nu-whirled peers, the Frikstailers find themselves immersed, at least part time, in a global culture flattened by the likes of YouTube and Twitter and mp3, where the real “world” music is the stuff we all hear no matter where we go: Justin (Bieber or Timberlake), 50, Britney.
The Frikstailers’ music features all sorts of referents, from the general to the specific — dancehall drums, cumbia percussion, that hip-house guy who says “oww” — but it’s pretty damn omnivorous in terms of what gets glitched and glitzed into a clubby, poppy frenzy. They don’t seem to proceed creatively with any self/audience-imposed requirements for local or Latin sabor. Their new EP reminds me as much of vintage Aphex Twin or the Black Dog as anything else. This stands in some contrast to, say, the nearly note-for-note renditions of Conan’s Brooklyn-based band.
But, of course, the choice is yours.
48 thoughts on “Cumbia Worlds from Ol’ to Nu to You”
Zing! Pop! Great post – thanks for writing this. Long, thoughtful articles about kkkumbia in gringolandia are always welcome, I’ll respond over at Mudd… for the record, I like the practice of discussing bands/albums along with their publicists (if they have them), #realtalk #spinscience
oh yeah, & SUPER GRUPO COLOMBIA is playing Brooklyin on Oct 24!
Where’s the “Like” button on this thing?
chicha and cumbia were never obscure music…….poor consumists…..western people….like always just taking….and giving back only your leftovers of money……cumbia gave what it had to give ……and was fully recognized in it’s context…..
Very interesting post, Although roots o chicha 2 is finally a payback (in credits) to Olivier after going almost broke releasing the number 1.
Also if you translate the album’s name ROOTS OF CHICHA….. means that this is not CHICHA YET, but inspire to other people like CHACALON to create chicha music (1980’s ).
Peru is a country so rich in culture and music, that you dont know all the types, genres and sub-genres people are creating everyday, this means peruvians didn’t focus in 1967-1978 peruvian cumbia because now days there is other contemporary bands doing cumbia (Los Chapillacs from Masstropicas) or so many bands doing fusion music like heavy metal in Quechua.
Probably in another 30 years you guys will focus in whats going on right now with peruvian music.
Also i think ZZK sucks…. they do their parties in the most exclusive zone in BsAs (palermo) so the high class people dont get mix with the ghetto of BsAs, even they know cumbia villera started in Las Villas with Pablo Lescano.
Great post, Wayne! And really, just doing this series of posts is something that definitely needs to happen, and it couldn’t come from a better voice. Sometimes I feel like we (the bloggers and commenters in our little slice of the blogosphere) haven’t had a collective Moment in the Mirror since the epic Tower of Babel conversation on Dutty Artz a few years back, so it’s nice to see someone take the plunge.
Anyway, besides the kudos, I’d also like to express some of the dilemmas the content of this post raised for me:
1) This one’s sorta silly, but isn’t the wine metaphor a bit backwards? I see it more as kuduro as a new wine (style of music) in an old bottle (slippery PR packaging), whereas chicha is an old wine in a new bottle (Now with 33% less exploitation!).
2) As relates to the slippery PR and Greg’s Fair Trade approach: since these one-sheets are what music critics tend to use to write the reviews they’re supposed to be coming up with on their own, I think part of the problem lies in the fact that the Fair Trade approach actually runs the risk of working against the music to a great degree. The reason why is because it’s describing something that is too distanced from the sound of the music itself. It may sound a bit crass, but I really don’t want to think about labels, cash, intellectual property and paperwork when I’m listening to music. Nor do I want to read a review that tries to guilt me into buying a CD. And I *definitely* do not want to read some racist shit that relies on the fucked up archetypal flotsam of postcolonial memory. To me, the ideal approach would be, well, for music critics to write their own decent reviews. But if that can’t change and PR sheets need to frame the product that much for people, then I think they should strive to evoke imagery that is at once imaginary for the listener and fair to the artists involved. Highlighting the feelings songs evoke (and are meant to evoke) or, like, real landscapes or something may be a starting point.
3) I’m also a bit skeptical of the money involved. I’m sure El Hombre was touched when he got those $200, but how much will Mike end up making off of that? Or what was the sum Greg paid for his Fair Trade Funk? I understand that neither of these folks are getting rich off of this stuff, and I’m not asking this to point the finger at them as slave-drivers or anything like that. But for the sake of #realtalk, I’ve got to say that, having handled the paperwork and budgeting for some pretty big-money research projects, I know that while people in lower-income countries may get paid decently for the work relative to other people in their country, they are not getting paid proportionally to the amount of money they are directly responsible for generating. While 200 bucks can be a lot to pay a starving artist, it may well be a bargain when it comes to buying Fair Trade certification.
I’ve made nothing off of that cassette. That cassette was made for El Hombre and to spread the word about him. See it’s easy to post opinions no isn’t it though. The $200 i gave him was out of my pocket. I have givin most of those away to friends, 100 copies is not big money, it cost $250 produce alone. Maybe you can go down there and speak with him yourself to clear my name and then post something on your blog. I’m doing this because I love it, there was no “paperwork” involved.
Best, -Michael/Mass Tropicas
“poor consumists…..western people” HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA funny I hope he is being ironic.
Cool, Mike. That actually is pretty decent. Like I said, I’m not trying to point at you as some sort of exploiter, but I do want to make a broader point. And yes, it is easy to post opinions, which is why I’m going to continue with the following hypothetical situation:
Let’s say somebody who is not Mike makes a similar cassette for a very talented street musician and suddenly gets a ton of exposure. Again, I am not saying Mike is this person, because Mass Tropicas isn’t exactly a major money-making machine. But let’s say this hypothetical exposure for this hypothetical digger does get big, big enough to where (although the initial investment generated losses) the label actually does become very profitable. Putumayo profitable, for argument’s sake. Would that be OK? I think that’s a pretty tricky question, because it’s difficult to put a price on those more intangible aspects of value.
Yes I understand. Since Mass Tropicas is a collective which includes Peruvians and El Hombre and let’s say it did get big, Carlos Antonio would get the money because he is the artist.
I’m only looking to make more productions not buy a limousine, people like him need exposure amongst a younger generation. I hope people want the cassette because they know that the money went to support him and any future efforts will as well.
Putumayo, who the hell is that?
I’m very glad you don’t know who Putumayo is! That’s all I’ll say about that.
And I think it’d be great if artists involved in the generation of a label’s reputation/cred/whatever received a portion of the profits the label would go on to generate that is at least equal to the portion made by the people putting stuff out. I also think that a major component of why I would think something like Mass Tropicas is fine is precisely because the people (or person) involved makes decisions based on putting out music that they love and think should be loved by other people with the same interest. I imagine this collector-friendly focus gets harder and harder to maintain as a label gets bigger, and eventually it gets skewed into a ‘what’s hot now?’ type of thing.
Since I do appear to be a bit of a megalomaniac colonial fool, I thought I would point people to the liner notes of the Roots of Chicha 2, in which I tried to give a panorama of cumbia peruana and Chicha in general. Not saying I succeeded, but I tried. No mention of myself, I promise. And yes, that press release is over the top. One sheets are evil. I don’t know what to do about it.
And speaking of fair trade, in most instances, I went straight to the musicians and paid them directly whenever possible – unless they didn’t own their masters, which is unfortunately too often the case. I’m happy to have been in touch directly with a good number of the musicians on both comps (Walter Leon, Victor Casahuaman, Ranil, The Sanchez brothers, Jose Carvallo, Jaime Moreira) I’ve also tried, whenever possible, to help out get gigs. I went and met Los Wemblers in Iquitos (you’d be surprised how few people have) and am trying to get them a gig in Lima – those guys are ready to tour by the way. Same lineup and same sound as in 1975. Someone should really bring them over here – I’m also happy to have gotten Ranil a gig in Berlin this past summer, and I’m really hoping that most of the surviving musicians will get to play around more. Most of them are getting pretty old though.
And for the record, I have not made a penny on the label and it stopped even breaking even this year. Labels such as barbès cannot, by definition, make money. Farewell to this neo-colonial venture…..
And long live Masstropicas. Mike is doing a great job and I can’t wait for the next releases.
Really enjoyed this post, speaking on Fair Trade music is fascinating, though it is dicey in the context of that particularly strange breed of industry that trades in audio art.
ZZK seems to be doing it right, I caught a Tremor show this summer and the drums were presented with visuals and programming that balanced the old and “nu,” making folclore interesting for the club set.
Also had the chance to be at Zizek parties in Buenos Aires and they’re like the show, true to form whether in Brooklyn, Palermo or Montmarte. Does cumbia have to stay hood by design? I can’t afford a ticket to see Ghostface, so is he inauthentic? Bringing music to the stage, much less across the world, isn’t free for anyone involved.
Loving this conversation!
Also super interested in recurring theme of liner notes? One thing I miss about the mp3 form, as much as I love the access and the cheap/freeness. But liner notes are such an incredible resource – and usually have been thought of as an extra, unpaid labor of love, I think. Only recently have I started buying albums for the liner notes. But they can be amazing! Metadata for the physical form of music. and mysterious, often unsigned, uncited, floating information. And it sounds like people think they can be part of how you give back, both to the buyer, but also to the people & communities where the music came from or was recorded.
wayne, thank you so much for this post. such a consistently safe and inviting space to open up such contentious topics (unlike the snarky sharebro buzz underworld).
to retell a story that has obviously affected me deeply, a dj friend of mine whose world music 2.0 mixes i ride for once told me with a straight face that he was the most cultured white dude that i would ever meet.
is that shocking? not at all! it keeps me up at night that an unconscious motivation of so so many people involved in “world music” is to prove how cultured of a white dude they can be. as you’ve mentioned in different ways, wayne, the area of most promo potential to cultivate fan communities are the sites of exchange–the neighborhoods, the dances, the collectives, youtubes, the sharing internets. spinning a narrative of “discovering” something is just as silly as claiming that you invented the remix. info wants to be out in the world. it’s better to be a satisfied channel than a self-deluded conquistador. fair and transparent compensation should be the minimum, but in a world where ppl are barely making enough to provide a handout, humility in the form of “knowing your role” as a&r, pr, blogger, media vs actual artist would be ideal.*
and re: a buncha dudes. this is slightly off topic, but it is so confusing and frustrating that the participation of women i see out in the music world and in other parts of the internet don’t get reflected in posts like this (and especially in comment sections). there are so many women in the media, as artists/djs, working at labels and esp in PR that i don’t understand how the point of visibility gets relegates to booty. i don’t have a problem with booty. i am pro-booty. but like, if we are gonna lift the veil on the invisible pr world, i would hope to see different lady parts. that’s crude, but i you know i mean brains and typing fingers.
*i’m not against slashers. just saying even djs/labelheads/pr ppls should check themselves when promoting other artists. it’s a good look. dj support quotes are a different story…
Wow. Thanks to all for the comments. This is one of the best convos I’ve had on this thing for a while. I appreciate Mike and Olivier getting into it and the general civility on display (not so sure about tomas’s sweeping denunciations, but I get it in spirit). I kinda don’t want to get in the way yet, but I do want to respond to a couple of points.
@Carlos, sorry that the wine/bottles metaphor was unclear. What seems right to you is exactly what I was trying to say: the opening paragraph is talking about 70s chicha (old wine) marketed in the language of global ghettotech (new bokkle); the second paragraph is talking about global ghettotech (new wine) still partaking, for all its departures, in the tried-and-true tropes of (old bottle) world music.
@alexis, thanks for all those thoughts. The gender discrep is really worrisome, and all too invisible, even at w&w. I need to make better efforts to represent like that. Further forays into PR would help, for sure. I feel really fortunate to have created a space here that actually involves/invites women into the conversation, whether or not we’re too often discussing dudes and booties (at least I try to register — “yep, they’re all dudes” — that this inequality exists).
“Cultured” is a really funny, suspect term. We’re all equally “cultured” IMO. I’ll leave it at that for now.
Culture vultures or just dudes inspired by great music and are going for it? I’m just going for it, for those along for the ride, vamos. For those who arent, I respect your hustle too.
@Carlos — oh peanuts, any of the halfway popular artists make at least as much for a single show as we were able to pay them. but that’s also the nature of nu-mundo DJ/MC culture — big crowds = big bucks. this ain’t dusty 70s business that only the old-timers like.
ultimately, the CD bankrupted the label. proof perhaps of fair trade’s unappeal? we’ve got a few hundred in Dan’s basement if you want to buy one (!)
@Gregzinho– Point taken. But what exactly is that dusty 70s business?
It seems to me that there are so many issues underlying what we’re all talking about that it’s easy for stuff to get conflated, or even flat out ignored. One of the pretty decent points Marx made (subsequently emphasized by none other than Mr. Dr. Slavoj Zizek himself, PhD) is that if you’re going to critique an ideology, try to start with what is not being said. And this is something that these #realtalk posts are fantastic for, so I’m just trying to stir the pot because it seems worth doing. I’m very happy to be wrong about all this stuff if it leads to positions being clarified and made explicit.
Part of the reason I ask about the dusty 70s thing is because I think there are aspects of 70s dust that people do like. Chicha is pretty dusty, and Olivier’s compilations blew some of it off. Mike seems to like it, too. But a lot of the folks who made this music aren’t going to be able to capitalize on the potential live gigs made possible by this increased interest in the music due to their age. So who benefits from this revival? I am at least very, very happy to know that, spiritually, those older artists do. But economically?
And I guess I should just flat out voice my deepest concern, which I’m afraid may be a bit unpopular here. I’m worried that it’s getting harder and harder for bands like the ones who made this awesome music to exist today because they can be too big to be “cost effective” in a music world that is increasingly dominated by smaller groups of performers or solo performers or DJs. And I think it’s worth pointing out the problematique that exists in the degree to which economic advantages can force people who love and want to open up a space for appreciation of a style of music be involved simultaneously in a process that may be putting that music to sleep or, as per #2 in my original comment, may be lodging it in an unfriendly part of a new audience’s psyches.
I don’t know, y’all. I’d love to be full of shit on this.
@carlos, thx for stirring the pot, always appreciated. My own intuition is that “cost effectiveness” rarely serves as the actual motivator for people who get together and make music. Is there any evidence that bands are shrinking in number and/or size in our post-scarcity/no-money-in-it age?
It’s been interesting to watch emerge in the comments here that basically none of these modest enterprises is turning a profit. Maybe the only ones who really benefit are the listeners who stand to gain from all the various kinds of work involved: production, exhumation, representation. (Or maybe the only ones really raking it in are PR firms riding the soon-to-be-dashed hopes, and savings, of small label entrepreneurs — though I’m somewhat skeptical there; care to come clean, Ryan? — and the ISPs getting fat on all the bandwidth consumed by us sending all this media back and forth. And Facebook, surely Facebook.)
Yeah, I’m not really thinking of cost effectiveness in terms of people getting together to play, but of how it works for music venues. And I say this as a guy who lives in a city (Barcelona) that is gathering a reputation amongst musicians for being *very* disrespectful to its local musicians, so it may not be all that representative. In any case, there is quite a large number of African musicians here and even a few pretty great afrobeat and highlife/makossa bands. Bands in this genre tend to be pretty big, and afrobeat nights are decently popular, particularly in the spring/summer. But when it comes to gigging, venues often go with DJs who spin afrobeat (often in a way I think a lot of your readers and commenters would object to) because they’ll accept a sum of money that is inferior to what they’d pay a 5, 6 or 9 person band. That sum can often be an OK decent amount for one person, or something like 10 euros a person when split amongst a bigger band. More often than not, though, it’s an insulting amount even for one person. To be fair to my locus, we have been pretty heavily hit by the economic crisis, but those amounts were that low before everything went to shit.
But I really want to emphasize that the shrinking bands thing is not a shot at DJs…I feel like there’s a ton of artists in the indiesphere these days with one-person shows. And actually, I really dig a lot of them.
Well for the record, I’m not a huge PR firm; I’m one guy working out of my kitchen, who just started out as a freelance publicist last year trying to make living. It helps that my wife has a steady 9-5, especially since we’re expecting twins next month (that’s #realtalk for me). Recently, I did PR for Very Be Careful’s Bay Area shows and worked in exchange for their back catalog (and no money), as I’m a big fan. I charged $50 for the show Frikstailers did with you Wayne at Beat Research last month and for national press coverage its ranges from $1,000 + per month. During my gig at a label the average independent publicist/PR firm charged $2,500 per month. As a new business, I am learning the ropes of running it and sometimes I myself don’t get paid for awhile because many artists/labels take longer then expected.
Also, I only work with independent artists, so it’s understandable that they don’t have a ton of money for PR. Just like any good publicist, I try and tailor campaigns based on their budgets. I also report weekly to my clients on press feedback and confirmed coverage to run, so they know I’m accountable for my job. Regarding telling an album’s story and the press release – most of the time the label hires someone to write it and yes I do have some input, but pitch the story that they want best represented to the media.
Thanks, Ryan, for sharing all this. I feel a little bad, as I did with Olivier, that you end up in the crosshairs here, but that’s the price of being in public (never mind public relations).
I hope that any bad vibes will be fleeting, and I’m glad to see you take it on the chin so far. More than anything else, I really appreciate everyone so willing to pull back the curtains for this discussion and help illuminate the relatively humble operations that, nonetheless, are able to shape some musically-centered conversations in some pretty powerful ways.
(Nice working with you on the Frikstailers show, btw!)
I’m glad this turned out into a bona fide conversation. Should anyone be interested, hit me up for a digital version of the liner notes to Roots of Chicha 2 and I’ll email them to you. I realize most people end up with downloaded music with little more info than just the song titles. I would love to see the interest in the topic turn into an interest into the music and its history. (sorry, I’m a proselytizer) in the case of chicha, as is mostly the case with popular music, you can’t separate the music from its social context and while the liner notes are not an ethnomusicological treatise, they can provide a starting point. firstname.lastname@example.org
For more info about the music, you can also listen to Alfredo Villar’s excellent show, Sonido Inca, available as a podcast at http://radiovalentinletelier.cl/podcastsonidoinca/
Sounds good, Olivier. Any possibility of posting the liner notes online? Why not make them as easy to read as possible? (Unless, understandably, you want to maintain an incentive for people to buy the physical product.) As it happens, I ordered vol 2 this week on CD precisely so that I could have access to the liners & photos &c! (Of course, I’ve got kind of an old-fashioned materialist streak myself.)
I just emailed you the file. Feel free to post it. And do listen to Alfredo’s podcast if you have time. They’re great.
Ha! I tried to save the liner notes to my computer, only to realize that I’ve already got a copy. Duh. The PressJunkiePR site includes a link to the full liner notes, and I grabbed em way back. Anyway, I’m still going to be happy to have a hard copy, and who knows how long this link will remain active:
PDFs remain the new MP3s. thanks!
I have the last copies of the El Hombre Orquesta cassette available how about you do your part and buy one? That would be very insightful of you. E-mail me baby.
I can vouch that the El Hombre cassette is truly awesome. Also, Michael’s email address is hsxwm at the yahoo thingamabob, FYI.
Definitely glad this conversation is happening in the open and not through emails/chat window/myspace posts (ooops those are lone gone)
Putumayo started this whole model
If Grant and Olivier were not “American” and knowledgeable in the industry their music would not have spread as they have
Ryan/Press Junkie PR (and the same could be said regarding Nacional) does an amazing job in digesting and presenting a perfect narrative to their target consumers: the NPR set that is actually going to spend $$ for a download on itunes and festival bookers
I’m glad we’re dissecting that narrative but I’m more interested in Chichadelico’s comment regarding the audience these folk musics-turned-nu cater to. do they only become succesful outside their home countries? Is chicha now playing in miraflores as well as “name of lower class lima neighborhood”? did zzk records get played anywhere else beyond niceto bar? do the villas care? or can only be succesful in roskilde festival?
Peruvian cumbia never was underground, since 1967 has been all over Lima and Peru. Now it’s considered music for old people in Peru. But since 2007 after the release of Roots of Chicha 1 and Chicha for the Jet-Set compilation albums, young people in Peru started to listen this type of music. Lots of chicha blogs, including The famous ChichaWeb.com created by peruvians thanks to these 2 cd’s made by two people that has nothing to do with Peru.
Now the way chicha is promoted in Lima always with those psychedelic posters, etc… is always in boroughs where all this started like Rimac, San Martin, Comas etc.
Sonido Martines created Chicha for the Jet-Set in Miraflores. I will say that we dont discriminate any type of music.
Now comparing to las Villas in Argentina is totally different story, I have many friends that are djs in Argentina, but they dj in real cumbia bars like the legendary Tropitango, I talk to them about what they think ZZk they were like: WHo?, who are they?, where they do their parties?. Also asked different many friend about how they are discriminated in BsAs, if you are from las villas they automatically put you down as a Ignorant. People from Las Villas started it all. Los Chetos dont wanna go outside Palermo-soho to listen to cumbia, Also i’ve listening to recent ZZk artists Mixtape and They dont sound like cumbia anymore…. they called it DIgital Cumbia…. but i dont think so either … all i heard was electronic noise mushups with digital art.
Check this link on youtube, where Tongo does Miraflores and the exclusive beaches in Asia-Lima.
Lots of words to get through here. and a lot of good ones so that makes it even better.
wayne you said something really spot on when you say well maybe its us listeners who stand to benefit the most. these musics raining on us if you stand in the right place. and you can or you cannot excavate the labels and PR and busroutes in peru taken to put these though my tinny speakers. but as the speakers give off, it can be a pretty hollow experience to play these slinky rhythms and not be able to say much about them. its people like wayne, rupture, beto etc etc etc who really are important in this lineage. its an important role and you should (and do) treat it as what it is.
but the floating pieces of music matter as well. there is some sort of relationship to work out between pieces (lets call them RADIO because they really are frequencies) and packages w liner notes, dj notes, etiologies (yes), etc. i can think of mudd up dj lengua’s long mix as latter and dj beto’s as former. JUST DIFFERENT
i went to ecuador bout 6 months ago to visit my little sister who is living and working there. long time since wed been together. she dancing in the clubs of quito (to SALSA. not everything else *we* listen to. to salsa in 2010 in the clubs of quito with all ages of people. pop salsa. and guess what. its fucking awesome. hips and toes become the only places on the body worth mentioning) her friends. quito kids, highland kids, kids from the coast (NOT from the jungle) listening to some what they call cumbia. and there are a few bars that play it surely.
the most amazing piece of music i heard the whole time down there came on a sunrise bus from chugchilan towards latacunga. high plain. and it was and it was blues music. of course it could have a thousand other names. but i mean BLUES. like there is blues everywhere. a man and his guitar singing sad songs. the entire bus was quiet. (now lets get exotic) there were pigs tied to the roof of the bus. it was quite cold. the painted bus could be on the front of any compilation that had anothing to do w this ‘pop’ genre. but this music at daybreak….. i can still hear it.
it wasnt till days later back in quito my sister and i talking about this and that i said that those were the most beautiful songs id ever heard and she said she was so glad to hear me say that because she had been thinking the same thing at the same time. ballads you could call them. and i know the other words for them but i cant say them because i am being deceitful using the other ones. but one i can use is secret. the secret is something to not always give away.
anyways- i leave w a julio jaramillo tune. not the tune w no metadata/artists/genred from the bus (btw reread das racist post on flavorwire re SFJ from last year – the study of genre is essentially the study of marketing) which was darker than these, but i did listen to JJ as well. in quito my little sister and friends were cooking a dinner (w a ‘black’ family from esmereldas…whole nuther story) (she lives in la floresta for anyone who knows their quito. should make the ‘black’ family’s predicament clear) and she put on a jaramillo tune in the kitchen and the quitanas. 2 mamas groaned and said what are you doing you like these tunes? laughing the whole time. made it very clear that these are tunes for sad times and drinking sorrows.
uh SORRY eek just read the post. obviously switch the lengua/beto latter/former divy.
This gonna be the next boom…
Afro-Ecuadorian Bomba !!!
So obscure and danceable and sounds like chicha….ja!
this is my favorite.:
and last one is my friend’s band La chota madrre, here in New york live Bomba para todos…
one of the turns in there made me wonder about the complicated relationships between clubs and the record labels attached to them. barbès being a great example (and a close-to-home one for me here in brooklyn) of a place where my musician friends generally enjoy playing and come to see each other play, which also puts out high-quality music. i’d love to hear oliver’s thoughts about the relationship between the space and the label (aside from his sharp ear and love of the music that turns up in both places). and i’d love to hear what musicians who played at the old knitting factory and/or recorded for its labels thought of it – “experimental”/”avant-” music makers often being in a similar prey/predator relationship to folks marketing their work…
also: i think that in thinking about the ethics of fabulous reissue compilations and such like these, most of the commenters have done an interesting, un-remarked-on thing that i want to remark on. they’ve talked about “getting permissions” mainly in relation to musicians rather than whoever owns the copyright to their music. i think that’s fantastic, and all about a very strong understanding shared by pretty much everyone except the legal system and the music industry that the only folks with a valid ethical claim to a cultural production are the folks who made it.
Wayne, thanks for your blog and pushing this conversation forward.
@Nuria and others: Are you criticizing the fact that some of these PR efforts effectively target people like the educated listeners of NPR? I’m very interested in dissecting the colonial narrative but, don’t you think these sophisticated listeners can see under the water? And if they don’t, what is the danger here? Call me both idealistic and cynical here, but I think the music will always end up speaking for itself on the one hand while, on the other, some people will inevitably swallow the easiest narrative no matter what, and it will be their loss. And there is a big difference between embellishing a press release with a few superlatives and, say, being lazy or inaccurate with historical facts or trying to sell yourself as the discoverer of music that the ignorant third world masses couldn’t appreciate.
Dude, why did you have to make this post so long? You could have emphasized your point in 1/3 of the space.
In any case, as someone pointed out already, this music was immensely popular back then. it’s only now, that the “western” music market is so miserable and pretty much lost, that “exotic” things such as this become mainstream objects of affection.
Meanwhile, I’m very grateful gringos like these have exposed this music to the world. I had no idea this existed before and I’m a huge fan now.
Thanks for sharing, Alex. I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying this music too. Sorry bout the length, but if I cut 2/3 you’d have only heard about one out of the three labels! I wanted to tell some relatively in-depth stories about all three. No one’s making you read. Feel free to edit up an abridged version.
If you see Tremor live, the “world music” thing definitely takes a backseat- they are more metal/postpunk/thrash live, transforming traditional instruments into virtual electric guitars…
That’s a good point, Ries, thanks for bringing it into the convo. I’ve been enjoying Tremor’s music for a couple years, along with most of the stuff that ZZK puts out. The main point of my criticism above has to do with the rhetorical hoops small labels like ZZK have to jump through in order to get some of that ol’ world music loot.
Luckily, as a listener, I can ignore the rhetorical marketing hoops. As Chuck D says- Dont believe the Hype.
Flying down to BsAs on Sunday, if I see grant I will kick him in the shins for you, while handing him money for the the latest ZZK Cd’s I gotta have.
One of the things I like best about the Argentinan scene today is how completely post global it is- Gaby Kerpel writes the music for Fuerza Bruta, which is about as far, conceptually, from andean buskers on NYC street corners as you can get, then he DJ’s as King Coya, or plays pan flutes with electronic loops. Axel Krygier plays horns with classic rock band Soda Stereo, DJ’s at ZZK parties, and puts out albums that are more John Cale and John Cage than Putamaya, and there is an electronic tango scene, the equivalent of an argentine “new country” movement, lots of goth, metal, and punk, and it all mixes up daily with electronica and cumbia.
The dominant “ethnicity” is Italian PostPunk, and in Buenos Aires, the concept of “world” music is completely irrelevant and not applicable to pretty much anything you see there.
I saw the ZZK tour in Seattle, and I loved it. But it was “world” like Diplo is “world”.
PS- I wouldnt kick him very hard- still wanna get into ZZK events. Maybe one of them “virtual” kicks.
I appreciate the further hashing out, Ries. (But the kicks, whether physical or virtual, are totally your call. No kicking on my behalf, please!)
Nice to get a better sense of the BA musical landscape this way, and how you hear ZZK fitting in. Although I haven’t blogged about it much, I’ve been looking into the BA scene (via the Internet, natch) for a couple years now, especially curious about how so-called “tribus urbanas” (a term that, like world music, seems to obscure much more than it reveals) relate to and disambiguate from each other via music like electro, cumbia, hip-hop, rock, etc. Your comment here helps to flesh out the mix even more.
And as I tried to say from the start, it’s often best to let the music speak for itself. Though it might get muddled in the rest of the crosstalk here, the real point of this post — and any critique of “world music” — is that the marketing of a lot of this stuff could do a better job of speaking to the sound, and its significance to the people & contexts that produced it, rather than rehashing so many cliches.
I think there’s good work to be done in writing about music (OBVIOUSLY ;) but the structures of the (old) music industry — e.g., to speak to some comments above, how to pitch to the NPR crowd — seem to demand a certain lack of imagination. We can do better. Hence, the critique.
Finally, thanks for the point about “world” “like Diplo is ‘world’.” As you suggest, that’s a different kind of “world,” and there’s a lot to like in that world, despite that certain exotic tropes still rear their heads on the regular. It’s something I’ve been trying to sort out for a while, without simply “hating on” important middlemen like Diplo or ZZK or any number of bloggers, DJs, small labels, etc., who are excited about these sounds and make great efforts to share their enthusiasm, their digs, their collabos, and other fruits of their inspiration by a whole new world of people making music.
Here’s my latest try:
and thinking about how all these things play out in places further from the centers of industry power, my friends in argentina would want me to throw in a mention of how deeply different the scene(s) are in buenos aires from the rest of the country. in bariloche and other cities in the wajmapu (the historically mapuche territory, the argentine-ruled side of which is northern pategonia), for instance, there’s a fascinating process of indigenizing (for lack of a better word) punk, metal, hiphop and other ‘global’ subcultural musics. so there are “mapunky” and “mapuheavy” bands, sometimes singing in mapudungun, very deliberately intervening in both the punk/metal scene and in what counts as mapuche culture and music. “world” music? “subcultural” music? “local” music? “indigenous” music?
but really not ‘global ghettotech’. at all.
here’s a link to one of the projects central to that whole process, the MapUrbe’zine: http://hemi.nyu.edu/cuaderno/wefkvletuyin/fanzine_eng.htm
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