Perú Selvático: Sonic Expedition Into the Peruvian Amazon 1972-1986 review – cumbia’s psych explosion

Anchored in hip-swaying, syncopated clave rhythm and topped with bright flute melodies, cumbia music has a centuries-old history. Originating from Colombia, its mid-tempo sound is now a staple in Latin America, and a new compilation from Analog Africa highlights an overlooked subgenre that flourished throughout 1970s and 80s Peru: cumbia Amazonica.

Amid the heat and humidity of the Peruvian jungle a group of bands developed their own psychedelic take on the folk tradition, gleaned from patchy radio broadcasts of popular cumbia music and black market vinyl imports, which featured fast-paced percussion, electric guitars and heady reverb. Across the 18 tracks of Perú Selvático, this frenetic dance music unfurls, bringing new life to a largely forgotten sound.

Descarga Royal, by the group Los Royals de Pucallpa, provides an early 70s example of a bridge between cumbia and Amazonica. Featuring typical cumbia rhythms only marginally sped up, the seeds of the Amazonian style are present in the hum of distortion accompanying the electric guitar, providing a hint of a new, technicolour sound. The wild reverb and double-time pace of Sonido Verde de Moyobamba’s La Cervecita swiftly kicks into full-blown Amazonica, with the whoops of the band and guitarist Leonardo Vela Rodriguez’s looping, brittle melodies providing dancefloor fuel.

That pace and infectious, funky swing are woven through standouts like Los Rangers de Tingo Maria’s wobbling La Trochita, the finger-picking intricacies and thrumming shakers of La Bola Buche, by Los Invasores de Progreso, and the keening guitar lines of Ranil y Su Conjunto Tropical.

Since cumbia Amazonica was developed in the confines of small towns, its sound is remarkably consistent, which can make listening to the entirety of Perú Selvático somewhat repetitive. But in the echoes of its rhythms and its distinct sense of groove, unearthed once more, the album never fails to inspire movement.

Also out this month

Brazilian experimentalists M Takara & Carla Boregas release their second album, Grande Massa D’Agua (Hive Mind Records), combining jazz percussion with wavering synths to evoke the elemental sounds of the rainforest. Egyptian singer Abdel Halim Hafez’s 1971 album Mawood (WeWantSounds) gets a welcome reissue. Luscious strings bolster his striking baritone to produce a romantic, enveloping suite of five tracks. The pulse of cumbia can also be felt in Argentinian producer Chancha Via Circuito’s La Estrella (Wonderwheel), blending clave with electronic percussion and a standout feature from singer Lido Pimienta on Amor en Silencio.