La Voz de las Cumbres

13/02/2024Bongo Joe Reissues Funeral Dirges And Popular Songs Recorded By The San Lucas Band Of Guatemala In 1974

Best file this under 'special interest' and yet, there is no doubt in our minds, that this latest release on the infamous Bongo Joe Records should appeal to a wide array of music aficionados. "La Voz de las Cumbres" ('the voice from the summits') by The San Lucas Band (of Guatemala) is the first-ever reissue of "cult 1974 recordings of a Mayan brass band playing funeral dirges and popular songs in its distinctive extended harmonic and rhythmic style." As hinted to in their band name, this group hails from the Guatemalan mountain village of San Lucas Tolimán and has been "the pride of its town since 1922," keeping local musical traditions alive and performing a little-known repertoire that dates back over five centuries.

In all honesty, you may find it hard not to smile upon hearing the cacophonous sounds on this record, which at times give the impression that these guys are hardly keeping it together or were, quite simply, the only musicians around. It is likely that they are untrained or rather self-taught, as their delivery is reminiscent to that of an elementary school band. But, to be fair, the release notes reassure us that their style of playing is "characterised by a preference for freer rhythmic structures and a wider variety of pitches than Western scales allow" and that the record itself is in fact "one of Jon Hassell and Charlie Haden's favourite records" that was even "nominated for a Grammy upon first release" in 1975. Albeit, this record will likely remain one that only a "small community of enthusiasts" and "adventurous listeners" will truly appreciate and take at face value.

Just to be clear, we are not claiming that we belong to the chosen few that get it. But we do feel that these recordings have a profound sincerity to them that is spellbinding. The absolutely enchanting disarray on display in each of the eight tracks is so genuinely endearing that it will cause you to let your guard down and listen free of judgement. That seems to be the key to enjoying these faraway sounds, these 'voices from the summits' that might weird you out at first, but should quickly win you over with their unassuming beauty.

AUTHOR: Lev Nordstrom