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Chicha Libre: Sonic Predators Rock Peruvian Grooves

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Chicha is a corn-derived liquor native to the South American Andes since ancient times. It's also a quirky style of pop music that developed in the Peruvian Amazon in the 1960s and '70s. All of that provides inspiration for the Brooklyn band Chicha Libre, which has just released its second album, Canibalismo.

Founder Olivier Conan developed a passion for chicha music while crate-digging through old vinyl in Peru. He says all pop-music innovators are really sonic predators.

"We don't play chicha," he says of his band. "We just absorb anything we like. We're cannibals."

Even Wagner is fair game for Chicha Libre, which set "The Ride of the Valkyries" to a slow cumbia lope on Canibalismo. Another standout, "La Danza," features West African guitar riffs over a Cuban montuno vamp. The songs are mostly instrumental, with vocals more as incidental flavoring than the main event.

For all the joyous eclecticism on Canibalismo, the music does cohere around a strong Peruvian center. In "Muchachita," you can almost see ragtag couples sashaying across a beer-soaked dance floor in an Amazon oil-boom town in 1969. What makes all this work is solid musicianship and playful expertise. These guys know a lot about a lot of different kinds of music, and they aren't afraid to show it — as long as that doesn't get in the way of having fun.

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