This is the first new record from Los Wembler’s de Iquitos in 25 long years of relative obscurity beyond their home country of Peru. About 10 years ago, Barbès Records–the record label based around the Brooklyn venue of the same name–re-released music from Los Wembler’s as part of a double-disc compilation, The Roots of Chicha. That album revived the psychedelic Peruvian cumbia style known as chicha and put it in the ears of the world at large—from a music previously heard only in the Amazon and parts of Lima to a wildly popular dance sound much loved by listeners across the globe. The music blends surf rock, Colombian cumbia, Amazonian melodies and ‘70s psychedelia into this magic, technicolor stew that’s seen as a forgotten yet significant part of South America’s pop history.
Los Wembler’s de Iquitos, formed in 1968 by five brothers and their father Solomon Sanchez, was at the heart of Peru’s chicha life, crafting what became known as cumbia amazonica—Amazonian cumbia—and churning out enduring hits like “Sonido Amazonico” and “Danza del Petrolero.” From the very beginning to the present, the five brothers have lived in Iquitos, Peru, a large but remarkably physically isolated city in the heart of the Amazon, where the easiest access to the world beyond was through radio, which played popular sounds from across South America and psychedelic rock from the U.S. They picked up electric guitars and wah-wah pedals, gave themselves an exotic, English-sounding name and steadily rose to fame throughout the Amazon region. Now, almost half a century later, they’ve kicked into a higher gear, performing far beyond Peru: They made an appearance in 2015 at Brooklyn’s Pioneer Works, their first in the U.S.
In the wake of this rebirth, Los Wembler’s wanted to record something new. This EP, Ikaro del Amor, is the result. Los Wembler’s are in fine form on this four-song recording, staying true to their signature style. The EP kicks off with the title track, “Ikaro del Amor,” a sizzling track that begins with a vamp sounding like hyped-up surf rock with bits of country & western and Latin percussion. The title of the song is drawn from a Quechua word for the supernatural powers Amazonian healers employ to conjure spirits during ayahuasca ceremonies. In this song, Los Wembler’s take that magic-embodying word, ikaro and use it to sing about love—here’s some of the lyrics, translated into English: “Ikarame, ikarame [Put me under your spell]/Cure me of this heartache/And make my baby come back.” It’s one of the more upbeat songs of heartache and yearning that I’ve heard. Tacked on to the EP are two remixes—of “Ikaro del Amor” and “Dos Amores”—produced by the Meridian Brothers of Colombia. They’re strange little experiments, stripping the songs down and situating them in minimalist, computerized habitats. They’re fun to hear next to the originals but not strongly compelling on their own.
One of the group’s old hits makes a reprise on this EP: “Sonido Amazónico.” It’s still hot, it still has that waviness and fuzz and it still has those excellent birdcalls and monkey hoots that the Sanchez brothers make to evoke the real sounds of the Amazon. However, there’s something about these recordings that doesn’t fully capture the group’s vibrant, psychedelic sound from their original tracks and live performance. Perhaps it’s nostalgia for an aesthetic of old-school, lower-fidelity guitar twang and fuzz, but they are not quite as richly vivacious as were the tracks from the early days, where you could almost hear the dense humidity of the Amazon in the quality of the sound. That said, the EP is still classic Wembler’s chicha and, even after nearly five decades, the brothers are still going strong. If Amazonian cumbia has been a love in your life for many decades or just one, you should head on over to Barbès Records for this EP, Ikaro del Amor, from the one and only Los Wembler’s de Iquitos.