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Various – Cumbia Beat Vol. 1 review

Cumbia has had something of a revival over the last few years, with its familiar rhythms being used by a host of Brazilian beat makers especially. But it’s specifically Peruvian interpretations of cumbia that dominates this collection from the Vampi Soul label.

The collision of cumbia rhythms and the early 60s beat guitar influences shines though on opener “El Avispon” by Silvestre Montez y sus Guanatameros, featuring loud twangy guitars played in a distinctly South American style. An instrumental with some virtuoso percussion breaks, it’s a delight, as is “Los Orientales” de Paramonga by Lobos Al Escape – a freakbeat tune with vicious wah-wah chords and lead melodies similar in sound to Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western soundtracks. While the focus of the collection is undoubtedly on that distinctive cumbia rhythm, it’s worth also appreciating the incredible guitar playing that runs through the songs on this superb collection. “Viento” by Grupo Celeste for example features some of the most accomplished playing you’re likely to hear in a long while – clearly influenced by native folk melodies yet transcribed to the electric guitar perfectly and played beautifully.

Toward the end of the 60’s, the wider forces of rock clearly made their influence on Peru’s musicians – Los Destellos’s “Guajira Sicodelica” in particular sounds like Cream or The Byrds at times, yet without the big heavy drums and still faithful to the sweet and shuffling cumbia rhythm. This exhaustive collection highlights a fascinating and criminally underrated clash of styles and cultures from the ’60’s and more importantly is full of some fantastic tunes of a strange and rare pedigree.

Review: Oliver Keens