STEVE INSKEEP, host:

So those were the Tony Awards last night. Now if you were to step into a certain bar in Brooklyn, you would find a different style of Latin music. It's a style that's heard almost nowhere else on this continent. The music style is called Chicha, and the guy who runs the bar is also one of its leading practitioners around here. His name is Olivier Conan. He plays a small South American guitar called the cuatro, and he's about to help us discover this music as part of our series, Musicians in Their Own Words. Conan says he discovered the music while walking the street markets of Lima, Peru.

Mr. OLIVIER CONAN (Guitarist, Chicha Libre): Anything you buy is in the market, pots and pans, DVDs of "Rambo." All the vendors had a boom box, and you could go through any CD, and they would play it for you right away. And one of those vendors started playing me Amazonian Chicha.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CONAN: A lot of the sounds were familiar, but put in that order, it was a completely new sound to me.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CONAN: It's got that vaguely Middle Eastern scale and that surf influence and spy music, and it's somehow undeniably Amazonian.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CONAN: I think music has always been globalized. There's always been this sense that there's a pure music, the Platonic image of the music that exists independently of any foreign influences. There's no such thing.

One of the great things about Chicha, it's not music that belongs to the people that play it. They kind of made it up. They play cumbia rhythms in a way that is a little stiffer than Colombian musicians would play it. You know, it's faster. It goes boom, boom, boom, boom, instead of the more laid-back Colombian cumbia feel. They borrow things, and they're very conscious about it.

(Soundbite of song, "Para Elise")

Mr. CONAN: Los Destellos covered "Fur Elise" in '68, and (unintelligible) Chicha (unintelligible) with a surf guitar.

(Soundbite of song, "Para Elise")

Mr. CONAN: Barbes is a club, bar, community place in Brooklyn that we built. It was a Laundromat before us, a Chinese laundry. There was a Chinese family living in the back room, where the music takes place. I think we've really managed to have a community-centered scene.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CONAN: Chicha Libre started as a tribute band. I think that what we did was very similar to what British bands did with R&B.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CONAN: We take many liberties with the music. So think of it as free-form Chicha.

Chicha Libre uses slightly different instrumentation than a classic Chicha band would. We only have two percussionists. They play bongos, bells. Then we have an electric guitar. Instead of an organ, we have a strange contraption called an Electrovox, which looks like an accordion but has all the parts of the vox organ inside.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CONAN: It sounds amazing. It's got a really great sound, really low-fi.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CONAN: And after the cuatro, which is not a Peruvian instrument - it's a Venezuelan and Colombian instrument.

I can't find a proper cuatro case here, so this one is actually put together with rubber bands.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CONAN: I play a lot of stuff that's often played on the guitar in Colombian cumbia, likeā€¦

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CONAN: That gives you an idea of the texture.

(Soundbite of "Primavera in La Selva")

Mr. CONAN: We've Chicha-fied a number of songs. "Primavera in La Selva" means spring in the forest, but it also used, as its main theme, Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," the spring, and not because it's Kitsch. It just works.

(Soundbite of "Primavera in La Selva")

Mr. CONAN: Spring in the forest is ironic because there's no such thing as spring, really, in the jungle. But you're still likely to hear Vivaldi's "Spring" if you're on hold at your bank, even in the middle of the jungle.

(Soundbite of "Primavera in La Selva")

Unidentified Man: (Singing in Spanish)

Unidentified Group: (Singing in Spanish)

INSKEEP: That's Olivier Conan, telling us his story in his own words. And you can hear music of Chicha Libre by going to the music section at npr.org. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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