Pucallpa, in the Amazonian plain, is the birth place of Juaneco y su Combo. Founded by Juan Wong Paredes, of Chinese ancestry who made his living as a brick manufacturer, Juaneco y su Combo is one of the most conspicuous representatives of Peruvian cumbia. The music of Juaneco y su Combo is embedded in the magical spirit of the Amazonia forest, crossing the borders of Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Brasil. Beginning in the late 1960s, Juaneco y Su Combo were pioneers of a surreal, viscerally psychedelic blend of surf music, Peruvian folk tunes, Colombian grooves and Cuban dances, which became known as chicha: the corn beverage whose name became attached to the music. When Juan Wong Popolizio, Juan Wong’s son and saxophonist of the band, took over the musical direction of Juaneco y su Combo, then, the Ola Amazonica —the Amazonian Wave— was born. Juaneco’s first recruit was Noé Fachin, a guitar player in his 40s who had been working as a carpenter and a teacher and moonlighting as a criollo guitar player. Noé was already something of a virtuoso and brought a serious musical knowledge to the band. For the next ten years, he would become Juaneco’s main composer, as well as the group’s lead guitarist. Pucallpa was still a fairly isolated city at the time. Music was heard mostly through local radio broadcasts that played cumbias as well as Peruvian criollo standards. Nearby Brazilian stations, whose signal easily reached Pucallpa, favored carimbo, a Brazilian Amazonian rhythm with a strong African influence. These cumbia and carimbo rhythms would become the building blocks of Juaneco’s new sound. The band’s first hit, in 1970, was “Mujer Hilandera,” a cumbia version of a popular 1950s Brazilian song called “Mulher Reindeira” or “O’Cangaceiro”.
Soon, Noé Fachin found his voice as a composer and wrote a series of songs based on cumbias and carimbo rhythms. They used idiosyncratic melodies which mixed every sound familiar to the band — Brazilian classics, huaynos, Venezuelan joropos, criollo songs —. The themes that run through the songs were based on local indigenous folklore, largely borrowed from the Shipibo Indians who dominate the region. None of the band members was actually of Shipibo origin, but they did identify with the tribe in very profound ways. The Shipibos made up a majority of the population, but more importantly, as the town’s original inhabitants, they were the ones with a true understanding of the jungle. Juaneco y su Combo became the musical ambassadors of the selva (the jungle, which defines Pucallpa both geographically and culturally) and their style of music is still referred to as Cumbias Selvaticas. They dressed in traditional costumes and sang about the jungle. In 1970, Alberto Maravi, the owner of a Lima-based label called INFOPESA, offered the band a recording contract. Their first album, El Gran Cacique established them as the leading band from the Amazon almost right away. They spent the next seven years travelling all over Peru with forays into Brazil, Ecuador, and Colombia, recording three more albums, all of them produced by Alberto Maravi. On May 2nd 1977, the day after playing a Labour Day party in San Ramon, most of the band flew back to Pucallpa. Their plane crashed and Noé Fachin, Walter Dominguez, Ediberto Vasquez, Jairo Aguilar, and Wilfredo Murrieta all joined the pantheon of fallen music idols. Juan Wong, singer Wilindoro Cacique, timbalero Rosendo Hidalgo, and conguero Juvencio Pinchi, who had all gone straight to Lima to finish work on their new record, were not on board the plane. They decided to reform the band a few months later, with five new members, and kept on playing. They never filled the creative void left by Noé Fachin, who had written all of their best material, but remained a great live band and did record a few gems including the iconic “Ya Se Ha Muerto Mi Abuelo.”
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