A sea of hipsterati in leather jackets throng the outdoor terrace of Buenos Aires' National Fine Arts Museum, looking for something to drink. This being Argentina, the free wine is actually good. But the main attraction is Pedro Canale, better known as Chancha Via Circuito—a young producer who emerged from Argentina's avant-garde "digital cumbia" scene with one of the most hauntingly beautiful albums of 2010, Río Arriba. Hailed by critics as Argentina's version of Nicholas Jaar, Canale is part of a growing movement of DJs and producers who are dusting off and updating the Latin American folk music known as cumbias.
On the mic at this particularly packed hometown show, Canale imitates the sonidero style, where DJs call out people in the crowd—somewhat like the Jamaican toasting tradition common to reggae sound systems. But his intonations are all primal: bird squawks, animal calls, deep-throated shamanistic chants. Like an Argentine Tarzan, he swings from vast Amazonian jungle to jagged Andean highlands, endless Pampas plains to the Pantanal's flooded wetlands.
This musical journey through the South American continent is rooted in Canale's own travels. "I travel and experience new places in order to prepare for an album," he explains a few hours before the museum show, when we meet up in Patio del Liceu, a former girls school turned arcade of art galleries, boutiques, and the odd café.
Today, Canale's third album Amansara drops on Wonderwheel. "Amansara" means "to tame," and fittingly, the album is marked with moderate tempos and spellbinding rhythms; this is not a dancefloor banger like his debut, Rodante, but a slow burner that begs a good pair of headphones. But while Rio Arriba sounded like a hypnotic journey through the wilds of South America, the influences are less clear on Amansara. Everything from the Mayan ruins of Mexico to the rivers that course through Russia and Turkey served as inspirations.
The biggest difference this time around is that, with a major label release, Canale had to steer clear of illegal samples. Subsequently, he had to comb through sound libraries and pick out parts to reprogram or record with live percussion. "This changed the process and the aesthetic because I love sampling and working in collage. But it came out cleaner this way," Canale says. Even better, it encouraged him to make his own field recordings of birds, frogs, and bugs to weave into his densely textured tracks, loosely echoing the insect electronica of Brokenhearted Dragonflies.
This approach is unsurprising for a producer who admits he doesn't like city life. "I live an hour from Buenos Aires because I prefer living in an area with nature. For a year I lived in Villa Crespo [a hip neighborhood] and it drove me crazy," he says, laughing. "I like urban and electronic music, but especially putting them in dialogue with natural and organic sounds. It's not so easy to arrange birdsong."
Not that he doesn't keep a toe in the vibrant cultural scene of Argentina's capital. For years, he sold CDs by local producers at ZZK, the Buenos Aires party that established digital cumbiaas both a local scene and global sound in the mid-2000s. The party spawned a successful label, which boosted Canale's career to his current perch on the eve of a new album and short US tour.
The cover art for Amansara
As our time together draws to a close, Canale's gaze drifts to colorful, magic realism-style paintings on the walls around us. They are by his former partner Paula Duró, whose work is also found on his album covers, and projected live at his shows. "I identify with the boy on the cover of Rio Arriba," Canale reflects. In it, a solitary boy sits in a forest with a snow-capped mountain in the background. He plays the flute, which emits a rainbow stream of sound. Even as he DJs everywhere from Buenos Aires to Brooklyn, one senses that as Chancha Via Circuito, he would be much happier playing alone with only the birds and frogs to hear him.
09/24/14 @ Louie and Chan (303 Broome St) w/ Uproot Andy & Nickodemus
09/25/14 @ The Flat - Houston, TX
09/26/14 @ Kava Lounge w/ Cumbia Machin – San Diego, CA
09/27/14 @ 57 - Los Angeles, CA w/ Nickodemus, Sabo & Captain Planet
* with Cumbia Machin, Rafi eL, co.Fee, Andres & Subsuelo crew
^ with Nenas Rudas (Azucar) and Alfredo
~ with Nickodemus
" with Nickodemus, Quantic, Thornato & Myk2Melo
Amansara is out today, September 23, on Wonderwheel. Get a copy here.
Greg Scruggs is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. Find him on Twitter… or Copacabana beach - @TROPICALISMOrio