Various ‘Ecuatoriana – El Universo Paralelo De Polibio Mayorga 1969-1981’
(Analog Africa) 7th April 2023

Andean Cumbia lifted off into the cosmos, the latest South America trip from Analog Africa finds the label in “space race” era Ecuador.

Although the equatorial country hasn’t always had the best of relationships with space and sci-fi; a curiosity and fever for all things lunar and technological led to a 60s and 70s boom in modernizing the old traditional music genres and dances, albeit on rudimental analogue equipment and the Moog synthesizer, which produced a kitschy sound and effect closer to Joe Meek than Kraftwerk.

In a land of multiple mystical mythologies and incredible awe-inspiring geography, various Chariot of the Gods and aliens theories were rife; this Inca outpost a hotspot of UFOlogists and the like. However, the accompanying compilation booklet’s author regales one less encouraging chapter from Ecuador’s history. Back in 1949, after a radio broadcast of H.G. Wells famous martian invasion story War Of The Worlds, the Ecuadorians in a blind panic went on a stampede of the capitol. Tragically, during this riotous reaction, the Radio Quito HQ was destroyed in an ensuing fire, leading to the deaths of a number of poor musicians who were recording in the building at the time.

Thankfully, as the Cold War set in motion that infamous space race, the wonders of space travel, the moon landing and the possibilities of technology inspired such iconic Ecuadorian figures as Polibio Mayorga, who rejuvenated a myriad of musical styles like the popular Andean rural and city fusion of Huayno (the rhythm of which is a stressed first beat followed by two shorter ones), the local “couple dance” of Sanjuanito, and the Albazu.

There’s more to it than that of course, as you’ll hear for yourselves, should you decide to purchase this sixteen-track compilation. Because the story that unfolds is one of pushing the boundaries of acceptance; of fusing a multitude of dances that have changed, embraced the cultural signatures of all the geographical borders its crossed. A case in point being the “Bomba”, a rhythm brought to Ecuador via the African slaves wrenched from their lands by the Spanish to toil in Puerto Rico. One such champion, and “master” of this drum and dancer syncopation, the “quiet and introverted”, very serious, Alcibiadar Cilio, is featured twice; firstly with the slow echo-y, keyboard dotted, Mexican sounding ‘Hacienda Bomba’, and secondly, with the Latin-lilted, zippy lo fi cosmic effected ‘Bomba De Pobres’.

But dominating (it is his name in lights on the title) this affair is the already mentioned maestro Polibio Mayorga; a stalwart of the capital’s music business since uprooting from his hometown of Chisalato, 160km’s from Quito. After a four year stint transforming the fortunes of the beloved Santa Clara neighbourhood band Los Locos Del Ritmo – given a new life after a lull in popularity during the late 60s and represented on this collection by the concertinaed, horn serenaded courting song ‘Llorona’ -, Polibio started a near one-man operation on the Fadisa label platform as a solo musician, songwriter and later on, musical director. So popular was Polibio’s injection of modernization and use of the Moog that he pretty much dominated the market; leading to calls from many for more diversity, more acts unrelated to the icon. This would lead to a number of Polibio pseudonyms, including the featured Junior Y Su Equipa, who kick off this compilation with the popular cheery piped, Cumbia lilted ‘America Índia’ – indigenous Tropicana meets the most low cost of Casio effects. But under his own signature, there’s the featured high-pitched, almost cartoonish and childlike, chimmy and whoop of ‘Pañuelo De Seda’, and whirly, giddy and dotty ‘Ferrocarril’.

Appearing in various other guises and in union with other Ecuadorian talents, there’s Polibio teaming up with his tenure compositional co-writing foil at the label, the saxophonist Olmedo Torres, for the tropical Latino flavoured, phaser-effected ‘Unita Maa’, and the dub-tinged, constantly shuffling, piano reverberating slow dance ‘Mi Paisa’. Torres gets to fly without Polibio on the Los Gatos vocal trilling, excitable Andes meets coastal surf music ‘Don Alfoncito’. Another foil, Eduardo Morales, fronts the senorita condoling, almost Mexican-sounding, quivery ‘Muevase Vecina’. Morales was known for recording Sanjuanito songs, the lyrics of which featured the theme of being uprooted. It was mainly the soul music of those forced to migrate from rural poverty to seek work in the cities. You can hear some that earnest toil, a slight sense of travail on the prime example of the form, although with that kitsch lo fi synth production its inevitably more surf-twanged Pacific facing oddity than moody lament, played on the “small” (“requinto”), more high-pitched versions of the clarinet.

From wavy synthesised Cumbia to Andean festivities and accordion-accompanied library music, Ecuadorian traditions are augmented and sent out on a Telstar satellite above the equator on what is perhaps analog Africa’s most fun and curious compilation yet. This is the story of a musical space race unfolding across a collection of carousing, sauntering, zappy lo fi and Moog produced tracks; another chapter in the obscure, near untold, history of South America.

%d bloggers like this: