Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Jan 13th 2009 2:00PM by Steve Hochman
Frankly, that music couldn't have happened any other way, not just from their separate cultural epiphanies about the power of Peruvian music but with the sounds they each latched onto in their various settings -- dub, funk, electronica, salsa, Cuban and Middle Eastern styles among them. One could make the case that their dispersion has been essential to Novalima.
Well, so much for that. Now they're all back in Lima. And that's having new impact on the music.
"It's much better now," says Morales, before heading to the beach for a family afternoon in Lima. "Before, there were time difference and other elements to deal with. We'd sent MP3s but not interact. I would send something and have something sent back in two days, but it wasn't on-the-spot real time."
The transition started a couple of years ago when Novalima emerged from their international experiment to try out life as a live act, involving several Peruvian percussionists and singers, for a European tour. That, Morales says, is clear in the more band-oriented mentality of the new album in contrast to 2004's 'Afro.' But even then, the recording still largely was done in the old way.
Now, since finishing 'Coba Coba,' the members have been able to make music regularly, all in the same place, too -- along with the expanded roster of Lima musicians.
"It makes it much easier," Morales says. "We progress faster. We play together at least once or twice a week. Can exchange ideas, and with the percussionists there's much more contribution from everyone. New beats and ideas that we can play in rehearsal make it much richer, that interchange of musical ideas."
The journey back to -- and in the first place, away from -- this is rather distinctive. Growing up, the four founding members were surrounded by that culture, a minority facet of the country that was long buried by native and Spanish-rooted populations but one that emerged as a strong part of the nation's heritage in the past few decades via such figures as poet-folklorist Nicomedes Santa Cruz in the '60s and singer Susana Baca coming to prominence in the '90s. Giving it a personal connection, Morales' great-grandmother Rosa Mercedes Ayarza was a noted historian, composer and educator who in the early 20th century was doing crucial ethnographic work in that regard, and it is with 'Concheperla,' a song she first transcribed, that Novalima opens 'Coba Coba.'
"I listened to a lot of Afro-Peruvian music as a kid, but it was not my preferred music," Morales says. "But I heard it a lot, at occasions or going outside the city."
The youngsters' real musical interests were elsewhere.
"We've known each other since childhood. Grimaldo and Carlos lived on the same street since we were kids. I was in Carlos' high school. We were like 10, 11 years old and our fascination was for heavy music. First we were into Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and Cream -- different from what everyone else here, which was commercial pop on the radio. After that it was more the punk scene. We started doing the band in the '80s, playing heavy in the hardcore punk scene. Later on we were widening the music influence with funk, experimental, psychedelic -- early Pink Floyd."
But then it was time to get on with life, and a decade ago the members moved out into the world. Morales headed for London to study business, but soon was exploring the club scene and ultimately DJing. And in the process, his world view broadened tremendously.
"I started listening to Brazilian music -- here, we don't hear that," he says. "And also Cuban, as well as Indian, Egyptian ... London is so multicultural. And I stated getting into all that music, and with the DJs the house music and drum-and-bass."
But if his new lens gave him a wider perspective, it also worked the opposite magic in bringing something familiar into sharp focus.
"Going outside and listening to all this music from around the world, you start discovering your own music," Morales says. "Have to be outside to discover where you came from. Music here is really good and no one knows it. Started doing research and every time I came back for holidays I went to old parts of the city to look for old records and going to the outside to see the music and relating to the music with different ears.
"And that's how the band started. We discovered this music that was inside us from childhood and it became our preferred form of music. Here it was something we took for granted."
What's more, the traditions provided a strong foundation for all the other musical directions the members pursued, the blend avoiding the pitfalls that come with a lot of ethno-electronica producer projects. The sounds on 'Coba Coba' were all made by the group and associates, with nothing sampled from other sources.
Now that they've done their ruby-slippers move and found no place like home, they've also found that their sensibilities are reflected in what's happening in Lima.
"We hear a lot more Peruvian music here and people more willing to hear it," Morales says. "Even in Peru, what we hear on radio is still cheesy romantic songs, not very musical. And all the pop hits and not really Peruvian music. But now we hear it much more in clubs and parties, and if you go to record stores you see it on display as something people are promoting and proud of. Even more than Madonna we see it now, with other Peruvian stuff coming out. There is a sense of renewed pride for the last three or four years.
"It comes together with Peruvian food getting lots of recognition outside of Peru," he adds. "Food and music! This all comes together with the music. A cultural movement right now, which I didn't see when I left for London 10 years ago."