Chancha Vía Circuito and the story of electronic cumbia

Almost 15 years on from the first experiments with digital cumbia, the genre’s architect reflects on the past, present and future of electrified folklore in Latin America.

A little over a decade ago, Pedro Canale was just an eager kid running the merch table at his older brother’s club night. That Wednesday night party, Zizek Urban Beats Club, was the nucleus of a movement where South American roots music and folklore came alive via modern electronic tools. Zizek, the Buenos Aires party, spawned a record label that would go on to define the sound of electronic cumbia with a roster of artists like La Yegros, Mitú and Nicola Cruz. Pedro Canale stepped out from behind the merch table to become Chancha Via Circuito, the label’s star producer. He achieved crossover success with the release of his 2010 album, Río Arriba.

That record, which earned a 4.5/5 from then-editor-in-chief Todd L. Burns, established Canale’s transcendent, even mystical, approach to electronic cumbia. It borrows dub’s spacious minimalism and new age music’s sense of awe at the natural world. Canale wasn’t the first producer to dabble in these kinds of hybrid experiments, but the clarity of his vision made him stand out from his contemporaries. His music became the gold standard by which the rest of the artists in the scene were judged.

In 2018, a new generation of producers has taken up his blueprint, with the movement expanding to include bustling scenes across Latin America and beyond. Canale released his fourth album this year, Bienaventuranza, which sees the project expand from a computer-based solo act to a live trio that pairs acoustic instruments like the charango (a small Andean lute) with delicate electronic production. On Bienaventuranza, Canale takes his musicianship to the next level by moving away from a loop-based method and toward full-fledged songwriting. With the help of his bandmates Heidi Lewandowski and Federico Estevez (and a strong cast of singers and MCs), he adjusts the group’s electro-acoustic balance to achieve the ideal mix of modern and traditional.

Canale is currently on his most ambitious world tour to date. RA staff writer Max Pearl caught him in between gigs in New York City, where they had an in-depth, career-spanning talk that looks back on nearly 15 years of electronic roots music.