Moses Iten is a man of many talents. A producer with Cumbia Cosmonauts, he’ at the forefront of the worldwide digital cumbia explosion, taking traditional cumbia onto the dance floor with electronic treatments and rump shaking tropical bass. With releases on Melbourne label Scattermusic and the Berlin based Chusma records, their live show is an overwhelming audiovisual feast for the senses with silver spacesuits, live percussion and that rollicking cumbia rhythm.
Recently he collaborated with Christoph H Muller from the Gotan Project, for the Swiss Conspiracy, a project they describe as their attempt to find the hidden links between their Swiss roots, Latin America, the Caribbean, Australia and Africa. Their debut EP Delire Nostalgique is available here: http://theswissconspiracy.bandcamp.com/.
He DJ’ around town as Saca La Mois DJ!! playing a mixed bag of ghettotech, tropical bass and cumbian rhythms, hosts the genre bending weekly radio show Space Is The Place on 106.7 PBS FM and regularly produces documentaries for ABC Radio National, his most recent referencing his Swiss roots, http://norient.com/en/podcasts/moses-in-switzerland/ Recently he sat down for Cyclic Defrost and reflected upon some of the more influential music in his life.
Unknown Artists – Unreleased (Past, Present, Future)
As a child growing up in a village in the Swiss Alps in the 1980s, I mostly experienced music and sound as an essential part of life. This is my first unforgettable album. Time told by church bells every quarter hour, seasons announced by big brass bands and marching drums coming out for Carnival, with us banging pots and pans in the wintry streets at 4am. Moved to tears by soul-wrenching choirs, singing carefree rhymes about shoemakers and swans and the sombre singing and ringing of small bells in church. Cows wearing bells, and men wearing these same bells. Demonic air-raid sirens regularly tested to remind us of the constant threat of nuclear war. My parents did not really have what you could call a collection of recorded music, but thinking about it now – it was in fact alive all around us, and often we played a part in the making of this sound and music. Then moving to life on a farm in Tasmania, some of the Swiss sounds (bells) we took with us, but from this time it is the sound of the natural environment which mostly remains with me: the wind; rain on a tin roof; European domesticated animals and birds in daylight, and the haunting sounds of native wildlife at night. More than any particular album the memory of these sonic rituals impact me most profoundly, especially as I currently live in a big city and so much noise can make me feel quite detached from my surroundings.
Curse Ov Dialect – Lost In The Real Sky (Mush / Valve, 2003)
Hip hop ruled my imagination once I left a beautiful, wild but economically depressed part of rural Tasmania straight after high school, for a factory job in Switzerland. I was hungry for the world and fed myself on hip hop, often multilingual and commenting on social issues I could identify with. Back in Australia, I emigrated once again to be able to study what I wanted, in big scary Sydney. Going to live hip hop gigs at the time you entered a tight-knit community constantly talking of the five elements and encouraging participation. One day I came across Curse Ov Dialect on tour, and I felt at home amongst their community of misfits. On a cursory listen Curse Ov Dialect – and the mysterious MCs behind it – will strike you as a strange beast indeed. But like most albums on this list, music for me is beyond what get’s pressed to piece of plastic (or rendered as a digital file) and should be experienced. Imagine several hundred people of the most mixed backgrounds you could imagine chanting â€œall cultures all togetherâ€, and then crouching down to be part of a silent tea ceremony. Just listen to the lyrics, they are deep, and the production and choice of samples reflects their values. Here is a group of courageous artists who grew up in the most marginalised realities of Melbourne, pushing their own creativity to surrealist extremes. “Lost In The Real Sky’ tackles this world head on, delving into collective traumas bubbling underneath the surface of all layers in Australian society. “Lost In The Real Sky’ is the album which convinced me I could live in Melbourne.
Combat Wombat – Unsound $ystem (Elefant Traks, 2005)
This is music born from experience. It’s difficult to pin down where I first felt the force of Combat Wombat, or met the producer Monkey Marc, a nomad by definition who spent years living on the frontlines of cultural and environmental struggles around Australia from squats in Melbourne and Sydney to forest blockades, living many years in a van to travel from proposed uranium mines to remote desert detention centres for asylum seekers and outback Aboriginal communities. Growing up in the years of Howard’ liberal government in power, Combat Wombat were the antidote, and arguably the myriad artists and activists they connected with their music encapsulated a whole protest movement. â€œFuck one nation – we talkin’ all nation!â€ Combat Wombat as a social and lyrical force (big up MCs Izzy Brown and Elf Tranzporter) are underpinned by music expressed as powerful beats, heavy bass and atmospheric melodic textures. I could have chosen to include Monkey Marc’ musically even more accomplished solo debut album “As The Market Crashed’ (Omelette Records, 2010) in this list, but with the Abbott government just voted in, now is a good time to listen again to Unsound $ystem.
Son de Madera – Son de Madera [Urtext, 1997]
Within hours of arriving to live in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico, I had this album lent to me by my initial host, Don Carlos. Referred to me via the myriad networks of a Mexican family who had adopted me, it was nevertheless intimidating to rock up at 11pm as a complete stranger, get buzzed through the mansion’ security perimeter and stand under the marble arch of the doorway of the principal of the local high school for elite society. Don Carlos quizzed me in Spanish, fortunately it held up and as I mentioned my love for music, he grabbed a bottle of tequila and led me to his library. There I first heard the hypnotic interplay of the “jarana’ and requinto guitars, scratchy violins, the warm double bass, and the mystic baroque poetry, delivered in the African style call-and-response of a male and female singer. The lyrics are repeated, and added on to in each new cycle, with the vocal style reminiscent of the passion to the point of breathlessness as heard in Spanish flamenco. Most weekends I searched for the “Fandango’ parties around town featuring this ‘Son Jarocho’ style. Live, the music never stops, as one ‘jaranero’ guitarist leaves another joins to continue the jam for hours. I fell in love with the dancers, famed for their beauty, swirling their scarves and dresses as they tap dance with great Iberian pose. I spent a lot of time hanging out with a crowd of “jaraneros’ (jarana players), who would always carry their small jarana guitars and burst out for spontaneous performances, much like rappers and beatboxers. This – their best – album always makes me nostalgic for my time spent living in Xalapa, high in the mountains of tropical Veracruz.
Gotan Project – La Revancha del Tango [Ya Basta!, 2001]
I first heard Gotan Project whilst sitting in a raucous student and artist haunt in Xalapa, and in that context it struck me as an experimental record. It had arrived in the Mexican tropics via a beautiful switched-on visual artist from Slovakia who I often hung out with at this bar. It went on to sell millions and has been played in every cafÃ© and airport lounge around the globe. Due to this saturation I stopped listening to it, but the memory of love-at-first-listen continues. Some years later I met Gotan Project whilst on tour in Melbourne, we became friends and ultimately collaborators. My love for experimental Cumbia inspired Gotan’ own label to commission a whole album of Cumbia remixes, released as “La Revancha en Cumbia”. I’m also collaborating with producer Christoph H. Mueller on a new project called The Swiss Conspiracy.
OMFO – Trans Balkan Express (Essay Recordings, 2004)
My first memories of this album are clouded by Kazakh whiskey, whilst being urged to dance on the tables by stunning women dressed in tight-fitting, brightly coloured gold-embroidered dresses. OMFO is short for Our Man From Odessa, birthplace of producer German Popov. As the DJ for the closing party of the Sydney Biennale in 2004, Popov had put me and my fellow rabble rousers on the door list of this exclusive gathering. The venue was one of those industrial wooden wharf buildings lost in another time, and a flock of lambs were penned in between the tables decked out in Central Asian specialities, wine and ultimately the notorious whiskey distilled in Kazakhstan – the country of origin of Biennale featured artist Almagul Menlybayeva, in disguise as one of the dancers on this night. The upbeat dance floor songs on this album made it to the soundtrack of the film “Borat”, but for me most of the magic lies in the dub and pop songs such as “Dolia”. â€œThough it remains unclear whether Trans Balkan Express is a train or a space ship, these are territories that no human ear has ever dared to explore,â€ announce the album sleeve notes. Indeed, OMFO is in large part responsible for giving me the courage to don a space suit and embark on the Cumbia Cosmonauts mission.
Nortec Collective – Tijuana Sessions Vol. 3 [Nacional Records, 2005]
I invited Nortec Collective to play their first ever show at a club in Sydney in 2005, and I will always treasure the memory of listening to their new album on repeat whilst chilling in a hotel room with producer Pepe Mogt, VJ Cro and especially VJ Checo Brown spontaneously walking around the room acting out a hilarious parody of what had supposedly gone through each producer’ mind in composing the songs. On the surface Nortec Collective as their name suggests may sound like left-of-field House or Techno, mixed with the brass of Norteno folk music (itself a rich hybrid), but it is music richly informed by both sides of the USA-Mexico border, and there are many extra layers to this highly conceptual work to discover. Whatever your first impression, somehow these guys concocted that magical alchemy of producing a pop album that is also a serious work of art born from a community of critical artists. Above all though, it is a fun club record rooted in their home town of Tijuana, Mexico, and infused with a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek self-critique you best get away with by focusing on the dance floor. In 2007 I travelled to Tijuana to make reality a Melbourne/Tijuana grassroots festival of ideas, which had been inspired by a number of late night conversations we had during Nortec’ trip to Australia for Melbourne Festival 2006. We made our late night vision become reality, featuring 30+ artists including architects, street art, poets, performance, DJs andâ€¦cumbia. I hold Nortec responsible for becoming obsessed with cumbia, in the experimental form I experienced in Tijuana on that initial trip.
Various Artists – ZZK Sound Vol.1: Cumbia Digital (ZZK Records, 2008)
After touring Mexico as a DJ with a backpack in 2007, my DJ sets became dominated by cumbia as a rhythm, a subculture, a movement – something beyond genre. I bought all the cumbia I could find, and to supplement the cumbia I already had in my collection – classic Colombian folk and big band releases by the likes of Andres Landero and the Discos Fuentes catalogue – I spent hours, days, weeks downloading or recording songs off Myspace. The so-called “Cumbia Digital’ music was not being released yet, until a club night in Buenos Aires, Argentina launched their label with the ZZK Sound Vol.1 compilation, and perfectly captured what felt like a historic moment in musical history. The subsequent hype around Cumbia Digital as a new genre of music made it the hip soundtrack for the next few months all over the world, celebrated by the hippest press and critics. But even as these waves of genuine excitement and resultant industry hype have moved on to inventing new genres at ever increasing speed, Cumbia Digital has remained relevant. Consider this the album that started it all. Several other albums ZZK Records have released – especially by Chancha Via Circuito, Tremor and the Frikstailers – should also be in my Top 10.
AtomTM feat. Tea Time – XXX [Rather Interesting, 2001]
German in origin, Chilean in residence. His face has graced the cover of WIRE magazine, but this record produced by Uwe Schmidt is little known. Most of his numerous albums are obscure in fact, as Schmidt has several dozen monikers and pseudonyms. It’s very difficult to pick my favourite album produced by Uwe Schmidt, there are several I love, but this one has struck me as especially good. I still frequently DJ tracks like “Me Tiene Loco (Dub)” from it as it packs such heavy bass, is a cumbia, quirky yet consistent, but I have to be careful where to to DJ as the lyrics are XXX. It’s an ironic statement about the normally “masked’ but explicitly sexual lyrics prevalent in Latin American party tunes. In many ways of reminiscent of Serge Gainsbourg perhaps? But if you don’ understand French, or in this case Spanish, hey if you don’ understand the lyrics every track is an experimental-Latin classic. By physically moving to Chile, the take-no-prisoners approach of AtomTM has surely given electronic experimentation with local styles a boost. To introduce yourself to the prolific genius of Uwe Schmidt, the Best Of compilation called “The Eccentric Electrics of AtomTM & Friends’ (The Omni Recording Corporation, 2013) is worth a listen.
Dengue Dengue Dengue! – La Alianza Profana (Auxiliar/Chusma, 2012)
Every track on this debut album seems to be a combination of such simple elements, it makes you think â€œHey! I could’ve produced this myself. In a weekend!â€. But beyond proving the power of how good ideas often seem so deceivingly simple, the fun and uncomplicated nature of this production duo shines through in captivating videos and their live peformances in elaborate masks, that are making this one of the most noticed albums in the short history of Cumbia Digital. Inspired by the cumbia experimentation they heard happening in neighbouring Argentina, this sound hits hard like walking into a smoke filled heavy-bass pumping club on a distant planet, somewhere between Mexico City or grime-y London. Add to this the fact these guys actually come from Lima, Peru and are referencing their own country’ history of psychedelic 1970′ cumbia. I wrongly ignored the hype building up over these guys since announcing themselves to the world as tasteful, talented and playful DJs via mixtapes and edits on soundcloud, but I became an instant fan since experiencing their live set at Fusion Festival in Germany this year. The Cumbia Cosmonauts played before them, we are also label mates on Chusma Records, have just produced a remix for their Simiolo EP, and can’ wait to play in Peru. I will always be excited by new music!