• Joel Dwek

ARGENTINA: Churupaca - Churupaca

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

An ambitious, if not entirely successful set of Latin-Balkan fusion music that alternately delights and frustrates

Most often here at 200worldalbums.com we review things we like, but occasionally I find myself having to review an album I don’t know if I like or not. Usually I know pretty quickly whether or not I like an album, but Churupaca’s self-titled debut album has left me stumped even after several listens. Is this a good or a bad thing? I’m not so sure. This previously happened with our album from Monaco, Il n’ya plus rien by Léo Ferré. With that album, I was initially unused to the classic chanson style of talk-singing, his unusual song structures and instrumentation, and I didn’t understand his lyrics on what is a very lyric-heavy album. Once I got used to his style and was able to find out what things he was singing about, I was able to warm to the album much more. That cannot be said of Churupaca. As a Spanish-speaker, I don’t have that problem here. I think it’s a slightly deeper issue. Each time I listen I like different things and dislike different aspects of it, and I’m left both slightly in awe of an album that can make me think this much as well as confused as to what exactly they want to be.

“Balkan/Latin fusion was always going to be an unusual sound, and it’s not one that I have fully acclimatised to, but when it works, it really works,.”

Churupaca’s style is hard to pin down. It’s got a reggae twang to it at times, like in the song Padrino, but that song too contains almost Balkan style strings and Latin beats and rhythms, which change back and forth to classic pop/rock drumming. It even has a rap in the middle. That should give you an idea of why I find it hard to pin these guys down. Other songs, like the opening Eterno Retorno, are more straightforwardly Latin with Balkan inflections, and as such, I enjoy those more. I like experimental bands, and I can always appreciate the skill and effort that goes into musical fusion, but it has to actually work for me to enjoy it fully. And while Churupaca is certainly successful for part of the time, there are moments when it sounds like the band just chucked absolutely everything and the kitchen sink at a song – so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should, to quote one of my favourite films. As such, when they find a groove and settle on it, I enjoyed it immensely, and when it didn’t, I struggled to go along with it. Francamente is an excellent example of this, to contrast with Padrino. Francamente is a mix of Latin acoustic reggae, but they took that musical idea, and took it to its natural conclusion, and as such it is one of my favourite songs on the album. Another great track is No Se Vive Feliz Comiendo Perdiz, a song that centres lead singer Juana Aguirre’s powerful voice. The style here is similar to the opening track, mixing Balkan and Latin, and it works, because they’ve balanced both modes well.

Overall, I’d say I like the album, with reservations. I think it is confused and a mixed bag of songs, but there is enough ambition, talent, and panache here for it to be a flawed success. Balkan/Latin fusion was always going to be an unusual sound, and it’s not one that I have fully acclimatised to, but when it works, it really works, and the ones that don’t work are noble failures, because they failed reaching for great heights. It also makes me interested in listening to more of Churupaca, because their self-titled album is their debut, and many bands improve on their debut. These guys have real talent and skill, and I’d love to see what they put their minds to in the years to come.