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Afropop Premier: Juaneco y su Combo’s “Sirenita Enamorada”

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Afropop is thrilled to be premiering “Sirenita Enamorada,” a song from The Vital Record’s upcoming compilation Juaneco y su Combo: The Birth of Jungle Cumbia.

Juaneco y su Combo were one of the first groups to perform music in the genre alternatively known as cumbia amazónica, cumbia selvática, jungle cumbia, or chicha. The group was formed in 1965 in Pucallpa, a city in the Peruvian Amazon, by Juan “Juaneco” Wong Popolizio. His father, Juan Wong Paredes, the son of a Chinese immigrant father and local woman, was the leader of Juaneco y su Conjunto, which played waltzes, polka, and rumbas at fairs and weddings in the Pucallpa region. After returning from military service, Popolizio took over his father’s band and replaced the group’s acoustic instruments with electric guitars and a Farfisa organ. Noé Fachín, a lead guitarist adept at the criollo style, also joined the group. Fachín was called El Brujo (the Witch Doctor) and, legend has it, his electrifying guitar style was inspired by the chants of traditional ayahuasca ceremonies.

Not only did the group explore new musical territory as they amplified their instruments, but they also were one of the first modern bands to embrace the indigenous culture of the Amazon. Emulating the clothing of the Shipibo people, the original inhabitants of Pucallpa, the band wore parrot-feather headbands, seed necklaces and cushma cotton tunics. While native traditions of Peru were often treated with disrespect at this time, the band incorporated legends of the Shipibo into their songs.

This album is a compilation of the very first recordings from the group, drawn from ’45s and an LP released on the Lima-based IMSA label in 1970 and 1972. Those original vinyl copies are very hard to find today and the masters have either been lost or taped over. While other Juaneco y su Combo music has been featured on various compilations, and Barbes records began re-issuing their music several years ago, this is the first time these tracks are being re-issued in full.

The group’s original lineup suffered a tragic loss in 1977 when more than half the band, including Noé Fachín, died in a plane crash. However, the band has carried on up to the current day, now with Popolizio’s son Mao Wong Lopez leading the group.

“Sirenita Enamorada” (Mermaid in Love) references the mermaid folklore prevalent throughout the Pucallpa region along the Ucayali river. The song showcases the piercingly fuzzed-out electric guitar of Noé Fachín, which builds up to a hypnotic crescendo over Juaneco’s chanting. We hope this little taste leaves you eagerly anticipating the rest of this beautiful compilation.

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  • The Vital Record

    Thanks for the awesome review. Just wanted to add that all the songs on this release have not been heard since 1970 and 1972. They did subsequently re-record a few of the tracks here with another producer, but they’re totally different recordings. Those are what Barbes did such a good job with a few years back. These are their first recordings: raw, mysterious, and off the charts jungle allure.