Just as the respiratory sound and motion of the railroad had symbolic importance for early American blues, so too does train travel inform the music of Chancha Vía Circuito (a.k.a. Pedro Canale), the young Argentinian producer and musician who, backed by his ZZK crew, is quickly becoming the conductor of cumbia's ongoing expansion beyond traditional Latin audiences.
The railway that connects downtown Buenos Aires to the outskirts can be a dangerous way to travel—the conditions are poor and the cars crowded (the train Canale rides is affectionately nicknamed "La Chancha," or "The Pig")—yet, for Canale, who has commuted to and from the city for 28 years, La Chancha is a real, live character, from which he derives his name, his persona, and his music.
In the same way that rails are conduits for the passage of music and culture between cities, Canale and his ZZK posse (which includes the likes of King Coya, Villa Diamante, Fauna, Douster, El G, and others) are dedicated to integrating a variety of traditional Latin sounds into their digital productions. Their nightclub (backed by ZZK Records), too, is notorious for its wild parties and as a refuge for digital cumbia and other emerging tropical sounds. It's what originally drew Chancha to Zizek: "It was founded as a place for those looking to dance and get down to hybrid musical genres," he says.
Chancha's first days at Zizek had him working the merch table. Inspired by the sounds he was hearing, and wanting to "make music that people could dance to," he says, Canale quickly began recording and passing tracks to ZZK's management. He was blown away when his debut, Rodante, found much critical praise, both in Argentina and beyond.
In spite of his success and the growing reach of digital cumbia, Canale remains as humble and laid back as ever—people are often surprised to learn that the unassuming guy working the merchandise table or hanging out by the sound board is also the producer and musician whose cumbia-dub makes them sweaty with dance.
Canale found music early, playing electric bass in elementary-school band before moving to guitar. Shortly thereafter, he was composing songs and immersing himself in multiple projects at once, dabbling in everything from rock to reggae. It is no surprise, then, that self-recorded acoustic sounds are continually inflecting his synthesized music.
While composing, Canale is always searching, letting images from his day-to-day experience inform his music. Rio Arriba, Canale's second album (which dropped earlier this year but has not yet found distribution in the US), naturally takes the shape of a surreal collection of photographs snapped from a train; each song is self-consciously derivative and beautiful, indigenous and licked by dub. His remix of Miriam Garcia & Alicia Solans' "Pintar el Sol," for example, crawls so slowly that the record seems like it's been dipped in syrup. In short, it is Canale's brand of digital cumbia—it lopes and it grooves.
Throughout Rio Arriba, these spells of percussion and ambient atmospheric sounds, like the hoot of an owl or the rattling of coins, worm through its bassy underbelly. The name of the album, Canale says, refers to "a trip upstream… in a search for something essential"—an appropriate metaphor for both the man and his neo-primordial music.
Rio Arriba is out now on ZZK
Check out Chancha Via Circuito's XLR8R podcast here.