Sonido Gallo Negro

Sonido Gallo Negro might be the most interesting group to play Ruido Fest next weekend. The simplest way to describe their sound: Cumbia on acid. But it's much more than that; there's a ton of history encoded in their music and it needs to be unpacked in order to gain a deep appreciation of what goes into their sound. If one is to speak of Gallo Negro, one must speak of 60's Peruvian Psychedelica - they must speak of cumbia chicha - and they must speak of Morricone...or, at least, allude to the sounds of Spaghetti Westerns. But even that doesn't quite get us there...

With all this talk of Peruvian psych-rock and cumbia chicha one might be surprised to learn Gallo Negro is based out of East D.F. in the Aragón neighborhood. The surprise should dwindle as it becomes clear that this is where the rituals of the Ancients are being realized in the belly of the city - and that realization is bubbling up into the hearts and sounds of those who have no other choice but to touch it. This contemporary engagement with ancient ritual is just what the modern, phonic alchemist needs to fuse these very powerful sonic elements.

The first thing I noticed is the cumbia. It's slightly different than cumbia Colombiana because its played in the 5-note pentatonic scale - the "Black" scale. Cumbia Peruana, or - cumbia chicha, changes the classical form then splashes in folk huayno and some kitschy 70's garage rock that brings the psycedelica and the surf. The sound is very much reminiscent of Peru's Los Miralos and Los Destellos. It's a perfect scaffold for the wonderful quirkiness presented in their melodic expression that seems to be heavily indebted, (or at least, deeply infatuated with) Spaghetti Western composers like Morricone and Nicolai. This is the feel of their first album, Cumbia Salvaje (2011).  It was such a success, their second album, Sendero Místico enjoyed international distribution last year and is doing nothing other than moving the peoples hearts and minds. The Spaghetti elements are still present, although dramatically softened - if only to bring out more of the folk, surf and psycedelica. What we get is a refined sound that still retains the edgy, mercurial flavor of the ancient voodoo mystics. It's a wonderful fusion - and I could probably stop here.

But wait...

There's more!

I made a claim at the start: Sonido Gallo Negro might be the most interesting group to play Ruido Fest next week. The picture I've painted thus far, although mildly interesting, might not garner the top spot on this list, if I were to stop here.

Who is Dr. Alderete and what is a theremin?

I'll start with the theremin. Back in the early 1900's, the Soviet Union was looking into proximity sensor research. One of the discarded devices produced by this work made its way to the Western Hemisphere where it found use in movie soundtracks that sought to express unease, eeriness, or quirk. The theremin consists of two electrodes that sense hand movement. One controls frequency while the other controls volume. What we get is an instrument that can be played without being physically touched. It allows the Theremist (Dr. Alderete) to create a fluttering drone sound that seems to tie this entire project together both musically and conceptually with images of magic, voodoo, and shamanism.       


If you know anything about Jorge Alderete, you aren't first going to think about music...okay, maybe if the first image that flashes is album art from, say - Los Fabulosos Cadillacs. Then, fair enough. It is important to note, however, that Dr. Alderete is known more as one of, if not the most prolific visual artists in Latin America. His unmistakable visual fingerprint is this psychedelic-kitsch, textured with images from classic sci-fi, wrestling, and ancient ritual. He is a modern day shaman who has found avenues to express himself both visually and musically; and these avenues have converged into this amazing multimedia project that is Sonido Gallo Negro. I say multimedia because I feel the album art Dr. Alderete creates is as important to Gallo Negro's concept as his theremin playing. I don't think Gallo Negro would be as powerful as they are without his presence and contribution.


Sonido Gallo Negro will perform Sunday, July 12 at Addams/Medill Park.

Next Up: Chicano Batman