Whether blissfully misplacing dance-steps in an Argentine boliche, or praying for your life in a speeding taxi, anybody who has spent time in Latin America will have undoubtably stumbled upon one of the region’s fundamental musical genres: cumbia. As one of Latin America’s more traditional, and popular, brands of music, over the years cumbia has been combined with various different musical odysseys and trends of the day, to create a growing list of offspring genres.
One particularly contemporary example of this is electro-cumbia: the union of traditional cumbia music with electronic beats. And one of the chief protagonists of this progressive new musical genre is Argentina’s very own Chaski Pum. We tracked him down down at one of Palermo’s trendy art-houses, Casa Dasein, to bear witness to one of his high energy performances, and to learn a little more about this intriguing new genre.
Paying homage to his Bolivian Incan roots, Chaski Pum appeared onstage wearing his increasingly unmistakable poncho and sombrero ensemble, and set the night off with a bang with his trademark song ‘Alto Guiso’. The show was a delightful merger of Chaski’s unrelenting enthusiasm and quirky dances with his innovative sounds, which made for a brilliantly entertaining performance, and a crowd left wanting more.
Chaski Pum, the artist, is the hard-earned product of Wilka Rojas Caro’s many years learning and experimenting with music. As he explains: “I’ve been playing music since I was ten years old. I studied piano, guitar, and I’ve played in all different kinds of bands. First I was playing tango, and then I played with electronica and funk groups in Mexico.” For Wilka, music wasn’t just a choice, but something he inherited. “I’ve always had music all around me, as my dad is a musician. He’s from Bolivia, and plays traditional Bolivian folk music on the charango, a sort of small guitar, from Bolivia.”
Wilka has travelled across various parts of Latin America to learn about the different musical styles of the region, but was particularly influenced by cumbia music during the year that he spent in Mexico.
The origins of cumbia can be traced back to Colombia’s Caribbean coastal region as a musical and cultural fusion of native Colombians and African slaves. The music was originally played during courtship dances among the African populations in the region, and was later mixed with various instruments, to create the cumbia that can be heard today. It has since spread across the entirety of Latin America, becoming more popular than salsa in many parts of the continent.
Electro-cumbia is a relatively new style of cumbia that fuses traditional cumbia beats with more modern sounds generated through electronic musical instruments. It is not a particularly well-known genre yet, but is gaining popularity throughout Latin America, and especially Argentina. According to Wilka, “electro-cumbia is not so prominent here in Argentina, but it has grown a lot over the last six or so years. People here in Argentina seem to be reacting well to it, and I’m sure that it’s going to keep getting bigger.
“There are not so many Argentine musicians playing electro-cumbia yet, but one particularly important Argentine musician is Chancha Via Circuito. I really like his style, and he is helping to grow electro-cumbia here in Argentina.”
Along with Chancha Via Circuito, Chaski Pum is pioneering electro-cumbia in Argentina. His music has evolved into its own unique sound, which combines elements of the Latin American highlands with synthesizers and electronic sounds, all under the traditional rhythms of cumbia. And, as Wilka explains, his songs each have their own stories: “I like to have messages in my music. But messages through the stories of each song. Stories of common people, real stories, and sometimes sad stories. I don’t like to talk to much about politics, or money, or women around swimming pools, but I like to make music that common people can relate to, and that people can dance to.”
While 2013 was somewhat of a breakthrough year for Chaski Pum, he promises that there will be much more to come in the new year. “I’m going to be busy next year , for sure. There is going to be lots of new material, and many more shows, I’m just waiting to have the dates confirmed.” So if you fancy experiencing a modernised twist to traditional Latin American music, be sure to look out for one of Chaski Pum’s shows in the New Year.
For a taste of Chaski’s original sounds, have a listen here on his Soundcloud page https://soundcloud.com/chaskipum