Interview: Piper Street Sound, Chicha with Southern Drawl

Piper Street Sound (Matt Mansfield)

Piper Street Sound (Matt Mansfield)

In this interview with Piper Street Sound (aka, producer Matt Mansfield), get ready for Chicha with a Southern drawl, where South America meets the South of the US!

Interview: Piper Street Sound

One of your albums is called “Chicha de la Piedmont”. We’re so curious! How did you get into Chicha music?

    Two main ways.

    The first was a collection of music put out by Barbes Records The Roots of Chicha and also a collection called Cumbia Beat by Vampisoul both great labels. This was around 2008. If I had heard Chicha music before this who’s to say? I had definitely heard Cumbia of several varieties already. I worked in many kitchens in Atlanta and was exposed to a lot of Latin sounds that way. I have been an explorer of music since I was in middle school back in the mid 90’s and had an interest in folk music from all over, international popular music (lots of Cuban and African music) and punk music/music with a DIY ethos. So it wasn’t a stretch to listen to some old Peruvian Chicha music (proto-chicha?) and really enjoy it. I have been a huge fan of Calypso, Mento, Ska/Rocksteady and Reggae and was used to searching around for somewhat “rare” music. The way I found these 2 albums: I read a review about Chicha on the site emusic [Richard Gehr’s reviews of The Roots of Chicha and Cumbia Beat] and bought the albums and really fell in love from there. I had a good friend in high school who was from Peru and though mostly we listened to Big Pun and whatever else at the time, our friendship and the warmth of his family sparked an interest in Peru and likely biased me towards Peruvian things now that I consider that fact, looking back on it.

    The second way I discovered the music was in a heavily filtered manner. I picked up on bits and pieces of Chicha which was being included in remixes in the internet based world of Nu-Cumbia/Cumbia Digital and Tropical Bass music. I can thank ZZK Records for turning me on to this scene which took old and mixed it with digital technology to make new, and more specifically the album ZZK Sound Vol.1 (which was reviewed by the writer Richard Gehr once again on emusic). The blog Generation Bass (and writer El Güero Único specifically) helped me connect to this scene as well) and also Tropical Bass, Cassette Blog and Alberto Caballero aka Caballo of Latino Resiste too.

    Album: ZZK Sound Vol.1

    As a Reggae musician and engineer and producer I had already been exploring Bass music and fusions of “tropical sounds” with electronic music for a good while (thanks to Bill Laswell, Lee Perry and others) but labels like ZZK and producers like Chancha Via Circuito, Frikstailers and El Remolón helped focus it on Cumbia and more so in a larger sense to the sounds of South America. From there I got involved in several Facebook groups and the Chicha elements would be a recurring theme.

    The bass scene now in Lima is amazing with acts like Dengue Dengue Dengue!, Animal Chuki, Sonidos Profundos, labels like Terror Negro, El Flying Monkey and parties like Fiesta TOMA exploring the blend of old and new with Chicha as a common source of inspiration.

    Making Digital Cumbia in Peru

    I will say I just dived in and more or less started sampling old music without much specific knowledge and certainly no credentials. I do have respect for the things that came before my time but I was really excited by the world of possibilities with sampling and making my own versions of things I perceived as variations on Cumbia. I’ve been a musician since i was 12 and blending psychedelic guitar and keyboards with a rhythm as easily mimicked as Cumbia was just natural. I won’t pretend that I’ve always presented a delicate or nuanced interpretation of Cumbia or anything like that. I love old music and traditional music and it needs to be studied and preserved but I am not a traditionalist. As I’ve listened to more and more music derived from Chicha or containing at least elements of old tunes I’ve gotten a feeling for it if not a fair ability and mimicking it and taking it into my own direction.

Dialect Trio – Cumbia Clarkston

On your bandcamp it mentions that your music is “built on the foundation of chicha music” (among other genres) and “inflected with southern soul”, so for newcomers to the chicha genre, what is the foundation you refer to? And how do you inflect it with “southern soul” or “southern drawl”?

    I’m honestly no expert on Chicha, as I dove into this attempt at making (our Dialect Trio version of) it after I was adept enough as musician and producer (I produce my own music as Piper Street Sound) to just recreate the overall feeling, or maybe the shell of what I was hearing on recordings, but what we meant was we took old Psychedelic Cumbia – Juaneco y su Combo, Los Mirlos, Los Destellos, Los Shapis, Chacalón y La Nueva Crema – anything that sounded like that which we could dig up on compilations or online or in remixes, we tried to adapt those styles to what we already had available as a trio of Drum kit, Bass and Guitar and in a manner which felt natural. Dialect Trio never had any pretensions about actually sounding like these old bands. We just used the foundation. The güira pattern and hi hat cymbal, the bass lines and the swirling kind of surfy pentatonic guitar.

    Dialect Trio – Diamorpha (with Santiago and Yaya)

    We also enlisted fantastic local Atlanta percussionists like Santiago Junca and Yaya Brown to play with us too. They are greatly talented with a variety of Latin styles and Santiago (of Colombian heritage) in particular provided some crucial lessons and demonstrations of how to play the rhythms on various drums and percussion instruments. I’ve recorded him a handful of times and he performs occasionally with Dialect Trio or with my own Piper Street Sound live sets which are sometimes just laptop and live percussionist or sometimes laptop and full live band too.

    Half the stage is a guy playing roots rhythms on organic and natural percussion, hand on skins and on the other side is a guy with a laptop synthesizing the roots, hand on plastic and metal. Together with balance we move into the future.

    Visually I think that shows what I am doing. Half the stage is a guy playing roots rhythms on organic and natural percussion, hand on skins and on the other side is a guy with a laptop synthesizing the roots, hand on plastic and metal. Together with balance we move into the future. But now I just veered off course didn’t I.

    Back to Dialect Trio but first I’ll explain that Dialect Trio is primarily a studio project and in some ways could be seen as an offshoot of Piper Street Sound and equally an exploration of Russ Bledsoe’s song writing and melodic ideas that don’t fit into his full time project Bonemeal Baker which is a blues project also featuring Robby Astrove on drums. The Southern drawl is just natural to us. Russ Bledsoe, our lead guitarist, is a bluesman from Palmetto, Georgia (he is very “country” in many ways).

    Bonemeal Baker (Russ Bledsoe) – Fox and Snake

    Robby, our drummer, has been playing Funk, Blues and Rock since the early 90’s (he is a ranger at Mount Arabia and an expert on indigenous fruit trees, gardening and spends a lot of time out in the woods gathering wild growing fruit) and I have a strong basis in southern music from Blues/Soul/Funk/Rock and also the folkier side of it and some country and Bluegrass.

    My family is very rooted in the Deep South and I grew up spending about half my life down in West Point, Georgia with my share cropper descended side of the family learning to cook the way my Grandma Geraldine does– biscuits and cornbread from scratch, greens and beans and all that. We all love Jazz music too with New Orleans being a big influence for the Jazz and Funk. And Memphis too for the other styles.

    We just all love a lot of music and a lot of good music comes from the South. Our southernisms are just natural to us and when we put down a Cumbia rhythm we can’t help but start sneaking our regionalism into it. Honestly what great US music (maybe even all American music) doesn’t have a big dose of the South in it? Jazz, Blues and Rock are all so indebted to the southern experience even when removed to other regions and sub-genres. I think we saw something similar in Cumbia and its influence on Chicha. It can be adapted to many regions and many instruments because it is so transmutable. Nothing we play is Neo-Traditional but the bones of the older styles are always there. Europe, African and America (I mean the continents not the USA), that’s what blues came from, that’s what Cumbia came from.

A famous Chacalón song declares proudly “Soy muchacho provinciano”. Do you think a good Southern boy can relate to this sentiment?

    Yes. I feel the same connection to my region. Love that tune too! But I will say I am strongly opposed to that interpretation of southern regionalism that connects to Confederate Flags and/or the justification of slavery and racism. I love the South but there are certainly aspects of Christian extremism and racism still prevalent here that I hate. So to me regional pride doesn’t mean confederate flags, anti federalism, racism and those images of the Jim Crow South or anti-yankee feelings. The only people native to the South were decimated and slaughtered so who are we now to try and keep newcomers out or act like we own land we stole. I say the South is a region to be shared. I am happy to see northerners, immigrants from any other part of the world coming here and moving our culture forward. It is even better when I see people move here and realize the beauty of our region while showing respect for the environment and realizing the stereotypes they held about the South aren’t all true. We aren’t all hicks and rednecks and racist and even the “hicks and rednecks” which are here (there are plenty and that’s not a derogative term to me) aren’t all racist backwards people either. I am proud to come from poor, rural and kind hearted people. So bottom line is I love my region and I want you to love it to. Let’s all make it better. People aren’t better or worse based on where you come from on this earth, we all just come out of our mother’s womb and we don’t decide the place time or situation that we are born into. Sorry for the rant!

We love the term “transnational” that you use to describe your music? What does this term mean to you and why did you start to use it?

    This term comes from DJ Umb (Owner of Generation Bass), I want to be clear that he gets his props for that. I bet people used it before him too but in regards to music he made it present in my mind. His blog did a lot to expand my knowledge of music and connected me to a lot that is happening around the world musically. GB showed a lot of support to Dialect Trio and Piper Street Sound. When I first produced an attempt at a Cumbia rhythm with strong Chicha influence called “Cumbiarus” and it got covered on a post on GB called Sexxy Saturday Cumbia, it astounded me and encouraged me to keep trying.

    Through this post I met dozens of producers from South America and all over Europe too and they were actually saying “Great job!” and “We like what you’re doing!” not “Yanqui go home!”. I soon after this made (online) friends with Angel Moreyra daughter of Jaime Moreyra, the great guitarist from Los Shapis, and was invited into her Facebook group Rica Chicha. That felt awesome that my tunes were getting listened to by Los Shapis. Recently Los Mirlos sent me a very touching message of encouragement about my recently released 4 Chichas from the Piedmont. This was a solo production but features Dialect Trio as backing band.

    4 Chichas from the Piedmont EP

    So to me transnational means beyond the Westphalian concept of nation. We live in an age where these lines drawn on a map are hardly able to contain the actual flow of ideas and information across the world. So it means music that transcends the concept of individual nations with their own music. It all blends together sometime like a soup or better sometimes it comes together like a salad where all can be experienced and yet retain their individual characteristics. I don’t want to blur distinctions to the extent that nothing from the past traditions I draw on in my music is preserved. We need to be aware of the past, honor our elders and learn from it and move to new things too. Do our own thing with the music we all inherit as earth dwellers, make something that we want to listen to, something that moves us.

Your bandcamp also highlights your “great respect for the musical originators”. How do you balance respect for musical tradition with a desire to experiment and incorporate your own culture? And why do you feel this is important?

    I guess I just touched on this question in the last response somewhat but I see music developing as a dialogue (‘Dialect’ in Dialect Trio refers to the process of dialectical development) Thesis Antithesis then the result is a Synthesis. Not to say things are always that clean cut or that drastic. But we take what we hear, we learn about it and copy it and then why not add to it? I don’t seek to destroy old Chicha music just because I put my spin on it. If you don’t like it don’t listen to it! Same goes for any music. But I think as long as we acknowledge that we’re always building from those that came before us and if we can point to those influences and say “thank you” and “I respect what you did” that is important. Particularly as a white male from the US I am sensitive to our history of exploitation and cultural appropriation and don’t want to ignore that. I am not making money off of others work or seeking to exploit anything. Sorry to anyone who feels this way. I just really love the Chicha music I’ve heard. So much music from all of America is amazing to me and I want to play it and mix it and blend it.

    I do want to be careful when dealing with sacred songs, religious music and indigenous culture’s music, I don’t want to exploit those things. But Chicha is a popular music. It borrowed so much from US and European instruments and styles, electric guitars and basses and mass produced drums. Of course US music like rock and blues and Jazz itself was just borrowing from African traditions and other traditions as well. Look at the tresillo bass lines in Elvis Songs, the latin tinge on New Orleans piano playing etc, the Lebanese influence on Dick Dales surf guitar. The North African and Middle Eastern influences on Spanish music which went into the “new world”. So if the music is popular and not sacred then I say it’s up for grabbing and embracing and using it to learn from and as a spring board for new inspirations. Just give the praise where it is due.

    Here is a video that shows what the label I work for, ZZK Records, is up to, just so you can see the diversity of the “world” of music I interact with.

ZZK Films presents – The Nu LatAm Sound