It's three bands back to back at the Celebrate Clark Street Festival on Saturday. One stuck to tradition, while another applied psych-rock riffs and traced cumbia's migrations to other parts of Latin America. A third incorporated ska and delivered power to the people anthems worthy of the Clash. All three made for an exhilarating (and exhausting) two and a half hours of dancing in the streets.
Dos Santos Antibeat Orquesta - Cumbia may have originated in Colombia, but like reggae it has spread throughout Latin America. As things do when they arrive in new regions, the original chemistry is altered in accordance with local customs. When cumbia arrived in Peru in the 1960s, it was adapted by local musicians and renamed chicha, after the mind-altering corn liquor favored by indigenous locals. At once traditional and modern, it became a psychedelic sound when surf guitars, wah-wah pedals, farfisa organ and other western rock elements were added (not to mention that corn liquor). Dos Santos specializes in this with both original songs and vintage covers. They also explore what happened to cumbia in Panama and other destinations, and I love that their full name is a sly tip of the sombrero to Fela Kuti's African rebel music. I'm told that the band has only been together a couple of months, but they were remarkably tight, and I'm very eager to hear what they do as they write more songs.
Los Vicios de Papá - These guys are local favorites of mine. Their brand of cumbia is heavily flavored by Jamaican ska filtered through 1970's England and the greatest punk band of all time, the Clash. At least that's the way I hear it. Ska was introduced to England by Caribbean immigrants, and it's sound was adopted by what were known as 'two-tone' bands because they very deliberately included both blacks and whites in their membership when racism and nationalism were flourishing under Margaret Thatcher. No band better represented this anti-racist, anti-colonialist stance than the Clash, who soon turned their insightful gaze on the rest of the world, including the U.S. interventions in Southeast Asia and Latin America, adding a world of rhythms to the original rock and ska. Los Vicios is the sound of Latin America reflected back, and between the irresistible dance rhythms and shouted choruses of "lucha y libertad!" and "pueblo resiste!", it's party music of the highest order.
Beto Jamaica Rey Vallenato - And finally, the traditionalist, albeit one with an extremely funky electric bass. Beto is an absolute master of button accordion. I think he's right up there with Tex-Mex wizards like Flaco Jimenez and Esteban Jordan. The stuff he was doing, cranking out two or three melodies at once like an accomplished jazz pianist, was mind boggling. Vallenato, for lack of a better term, is country music from Colombia's interior ranching area, and Beto calling himself "Rey", or King of this sound, isn't much of a stretch. In addition to that funky bass player, his band is mostly made up of traditional percussion that churns along at almost superhuman speed. Hearing them after bands with their modern take on tradition was revelatory, and the number of dancers per square foot (and the waving of Colombian flags) certainly attested to the deep appreciation the crowd felt for this taste of home.
And, hey, that's only day one of the festival.