Sunday, July 28, 2013

What goes around...

I recently wrote a brief preview article for Arte y Vida Chicago of an upcoming concert by Novalima, a band that I'm familiar with and like quite a bit. As I put it together, I had a whole bunch of thoughts that there wasn't room for, prompted by my musings on travel and the two-way nature of global exchange.  I've got room here, though....

In the age of sampling, with hip hop's aesthetic of combining disparate elements to fresh and new effect, global dance music has flourished. The Washington D.C. based DJ duo of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton have been doing it for almost two decades as Thievery Corporation, a name I always took as a sly reference to the liberal borrowing of sampled exotica that they layered into their early recorded projects. I'm not sure if they were the first to do so, but like most that were good at it, the studio sampling was soon supplemented by live musicians who could take their multi-kulti kaleidoscopic sound to the stage.

Soon, there were other examples of this new sound emerging out of the dance clubs, like the Paris-based Gotan Project's take on tango. DJs around the world were introducing ethnic sounds into club sets or, just as often, injecting electronic beats into local traditions, packing dance floors in São Paulo, Beirut, Mumbai... pretty much everywhere.

In the midst of this freewheeling global exchange stepped four kids from Lima, Peru who dug rock, pop, salsa, reggae, dance and electronic music.  One stayed in Lima, but the others headed off to make music in London, Barcelona and Hong Kong. They stayed in touch, though, e-mailing song ideas back and forth in a long distance collaboration that became Novalima. And what they settled on for a creative anchor was music from home, Afro-Peruvian traditions dating back centuries. Returning to Lima, the core members sought out the best traditional musicians to give organic life to their vision, forming a powerful live band that now takes Afro-Peruvian music to the world stage in a form that is irresistible to club kids and musicologists alike.

Musical blending is probably as old as music itself, and there are dozens of current examples of artists creating out of their own traditions and pumping up the volume with electronics, hip-hop, funk and rock. Novalima has been doing it since 2001, and I find something charming and perhaps even reassuring in their back story, that you can travel the globe making discoveries and yet find your muse is something that was back home all along. It's about holding on to your cultural identity even as you participate as a citizen of the world. Still, you return changed by those journeys, and out of that comes something new.

Novalima is, in a sense, kind of a mirror image to Thievery Corporation, who cast about for global sounds to spice up their dance floor mix. Novalima brought dance beats (and a lot more) back home and integrated them into their own traditions, creating a sound that is culturally authentic and at the same time thoroughly up-to-the minute. You might want to check it out for yourself.

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