How Chancha Via Circuito Sees Religion In South American Jungle Sounds
The Buenos Aires producer talks about the ever-expanding “electrofolkloric” scene, the color of different cumbias, and the importance of making music responsibly.
“I, um, brought this very important book,” Pedro Canale says, pulling out a thick hardcover with gold lettering. I squint; it’s the New Testament. He chuckles and slips it back into the hotel nightstand.
It’s late October, and the producer better known as Chancha Via Circuito has just arrived in Budapest ahead of a show at the annual World Music Expo (WOMEX), a combination trade show, event series, and award presentation. Since releasing his third studio album Amansara last year and a follow-up, Amansara Remixed, earlier this fall, the Buenos Aires producer has been busy touring the globe, spreading his futuristic primordial-feeling dancefloor gospel. While Canale himself isn’t religious, his music feels keenly spiritual in the way it bridges the mystical with the earthly and the earthly with the man-made. On Amansara, for instance, the pulse of a wooden guiro skips like stones over trickling Paraguayan harp runs and a lumbering bass. Birds coo and frogs croak from mossy, unlit corners of sonic underbrush.
A staple in South America’s sprawling digital underground, Chancha Via Circuito is one of the more prominent producers and DJs to have come out of the digital cumbia explosion of the late-aughts. Formerly a part of Argentina’s ZZK crew/label, Chancha has consistently explored the relationship between various folkloric strains of Latin American music and his own digital interpretations. As a result, he, alongside peers like Frikstailers and crews like New York’s Dutty Artz, have also helped spur the growth of “electrofolkloric” music scenes outside of Argentina. More recently, cities like Lima and countries like Ecuador have seen their own scenes flourish as well.
Yet as the movement grows, Chancha still maintains a sense of proximity to the landscapes he draws from. “I just really like to listen to everything, to listen to what is surrounding, you know?” he says. As if on cue, a pipe in the ceiling whooshes. We caught up with the prolific producer to talk about the ever-expanding “electrofolkloric” scene and the importance of making music responsibly.
For Amansara, what were some of your favorite landscapes or sounds you pulled into that project?
I really love the jungle. This is the landscape that most represents the images of the album. Some songs have other pictures, but I really love the sounds of the insects and animals in the jungle. I've been in the jungle of Peru, Bolivia, the jungle of Argentina, Belize, Mexico, the Amazon. It's really interesting. There is some particular birds in Palenque in Chiapas in Mexico that I like that sound like laser guns—chiu! chiu! chiu! chiu! So you feel like you are in the middle of a movie of science fiction. I really like the frogs in Peru also. They are very particular sound.
What about when you’re tapping into more mystical aspects of your music. What kinds of traditions or cultures do you draw on there?
I don't have a religion, but I think [my music] reflects my search of when I was really into master plants, the master plants of the jungle, the ancient medicine. Some years ago, I was really digging into this aboriginal medicine that maybe some countries or some cultures like in Brazil also use as something religious. But for example in Peru, the aboriginals use it only as medicine to clean the spirit, the body, the soul, everything. So [in that way] I think it has a spiritual ingredient.
I feel like we’re seeing a lot of producers incorporating Andean influences these days. I'm always hearing panpipes.
Yes. I think many people are opening the eyes to this music nowadays.
Panning back and looking at the big picture of the scene you're a part of, do you think it’s fair to say there is an electrofolkloric scene?
Yeah, I think it's a moment where you can talk about an electrofolklore scene. But not exclusively from Buenos Aires. Nicola Cruz is from Ecuador, or El Búho is an English guy but lives in Mexico but is producing this music also. It's getting bigger and more and more interesting every day.
Do you feel like it's getting more mainstream?
I don't think so, because it will never reach the radios or big venues. It keeps growing, but slow and not mainstream.
In the U.S., reggaeton and bachata for the past few years have really gotten into mainstream pop and dance music. There’s the back and forth between the U.S. and Cuba now too, as well as Obama’s immigration reform bill, so there seems to be a heightened awareness surrounding music from Latin America. And there are places like Boiler Room or Red Bull Music Academy which target these little communities, like the electrofolclórico scenes, to do shows.
I see the platforms like Boiler Room or Red Bull as helping and pushing the scene. I think it’s something good for all of us to have more opportunities in the market, more opportunities to travel and share our music.
Do you think there's ever a danger of people appropriating it? Or what happens to it when it's outside its original context? Do you think there’s a risk of losing the sense of community or original intent?
Maybe it has a risk when many people are just copying and trying to make something more and more commercial with it, but I think the difference is that we as producers try not to lose the essence of the folklore, like taking really care at the moment we do the music. It's different. We are not thinking in massive [terms], so we can take time to do good things. Making good music and not just like...when something has no value. Like something you use only one time. Disposable.
It’s when you are not feeling the same responsibility as you started. If I’m really into feeling what I'm doing, it's like something is true. True in the music. Maybe you can feel it. But if I do this kind of music only thinking whatever, maybe that is the only risk.
How'd you first get interested in more folkloric music? Was that in Buenos Aires?
Yes. My parents used to play a lot of music in the house. They are not musicians, but they really love music, and when I was a child, I listened to a lot of folkloric music from all over the world. But I think I got really interested when I was 23 and when I started traveling. So this is when I rediscovered the folklore and the cumbia and this South American stuff, and I could feel and say, "Wow, here is something very important."
I really fell in love of cumbia when I discovered every color that it has in many different countries. Some kind of cumbia in Colombia, another one in Mexico, another one in Peru. Many different colors and tastes. Also in Argentina. So it was a very huge scene to discover.
What would you say is the color or taste of the different cumbias you named?
I think cumbia villera in Buenos Aires, that's cumbia from the ghettos. It's more bitter and dirty. The color is purple. I think in Peru, the color is green, because they started in 1970 when all the people from the jungle started playing guitars, electric guitars, like surf rock, but making cumbia, so it has more taste like cumbia surf. Colombia is like more orange. I think. It has a lot of accordion. Mexico tastes like tequila, very strong alcohol. And more like zombie stuff. It’s because my experience being there is they really drink a lot and dance like zombies, like, zoomp! And also they put the pitch low like in cumbia rebajada in Monterrey. So it's chh chch chh chch chh and they dance like zombies.
Do you generally see sounds in different colors?
No. Sometimes I compare music with food. I like to do the parallel with food, because I think the music can really feed your spirit or not. It can be garbage.
What tastes like garbage?
Many things that you can find in the radio. Something very mainstream. With no taste.
Over the summer in the States, there was a lot of talk of “tropical house.” Like with Justin Bieber and Jaehn Felix’s remix of Omi's “Cheerleader.” But it’s one of those things where I don't know what “tropical” actually means anymore in terms of sound. People say tropical this, tropical that. Tropical bass too. Do you see other patterns like that in music today? Or in any of the things you say taste like no taste?
Yeah, like fashionable music, like trendy music. Like moombahton. It only represents a moment. It's not really deep. It's something like aesthetic, like really interesting only as an aesthetic.
Anything else you feel is important to touch on about your music or your process?
I feel like I found a kind of conclusion that for me, it's more important to keep the silence, the mind, and to listen to everything, to see everything, not only one thing, not to stay focused in one sound or one thing you see. So, to keep this silence in life is more important than listening to music or to having music playing anytime when you work, when you are driving. I used to do this almost all my life. Always music playing and listening to new things—listening, listening, listening.
[Now] I feel the necessity of this silence, of no music. So when music starts, it’s nice for me, because when I go to listen to something, it's a very important moment, you know? If music occupies this place, it has to be very something special. If I go to a concert, if I put a CD for example, it has to be really important. If I will put something on, it has to be more interesting than the silence.