The Rich History—and Present—of Latin American Prog

Laghonia

Laghonia

The “classic prog rock” category usually contains heavy hitters like King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Can, and possibly Le Orme—bands hailing from Britain, Germany, and Italy making complex, technical concept albums about themes like madness and alien invasion, or taking rock down improvisational paths into new worlds. Less storied are the tales of Latin American bands, even though the prog scene in Latin America has a long history and a surprisingly vital present.

According to Diego Ferreira Camargo, the Brazilian-born founder of Polish prog reissue label Progshine Records, “The scene in Latin America wasn’t as strong as, let’s say, Italy. But putting all artists and bands from the ‘70s together, we have this really big catalogue of amazing records,” he says.

As in other parts of the world, prog in Latin America developed from psychedelic rock. Brazil’s Os Mutantes were an important bridge; they are most famous for their early albums which fused psychedelia with Tropicália, but they moved towards progressive rock in the early 1970s, inspiring other performers. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, popular prog bands across Latin America included Traffic Sound and Laghonia from Peru, Los Jaivas from Chile, and Arco Iris from Argentina. The scene was never huge because it was so spread out, and as prog became less popular worldwide, it faded in Latin America as well.

There are still bands throughout Latin America that continue to work in the style to fascinating effect, though. Below is a list of some of the best tracks, past and current, available on Bandcamp.

Laghonia, “Glue”

Another Peruvian rock classic reissued by Repsychled, Laghonia’s “Glue” has a garage rock crunch, but that distorted, Hendrix-influenced guitar points the way ahead to prog planets to come.

Traffic Sound, “Meshkalina”

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A founding document of Latin American prog, Traffic Sound’s Virgin, from 1970, has been re-released by Lima-based label Repsychled. “Meshkalina” is one of the most popular ‘70s rock hits from Peru, combining classic acid-rock heft in the vein of Iron Butterfly or Deep Purple, with some funky Latin percussion and an infectious “yah-yah-yah” chorus.

SinSilencio, “La Conquistada” (Los Jaivas cover)

Chile’s Los Jaivas was one of the most influential and innovative Latin American prog bands, incorporating Chilean indigenous instruments, folk tunes, and lyrical themes into their music. For one album they even took their instruments up to the heights of Machu Picchu to record. Contemporary Chilean band SinSilencio’s 2016 cover of “La Conquistada,” from Los Jaivas’ 1975 El Indio, dispenses with many of the original’s acoustic folk touches for a sweatier, heavier guitar approach. Still, the cover captures the sweeping flight of the original: “En el horizonte de mi mente
se ha escondido el sol” (“In the horizon of my mind there is hidden the sun”).

Trem Do Futuro, “Labirinto / Danças Dos Lírios”

Trem Do Futuro is a northern Brazilian band; Camargo says they, “come from a part of the country where progressive rock is not even a word people know.” Formed in 1981, they didn’t release their first self-titled album until 1995; Progshine re-released it in April. This fruity keyboard and flute mini-suite is influenced by the folk music popular in the region; it’s reminiscent of Gentle Giant’s folk/prog fusion.

Anima Mundi, “Septentrión”

Anima Mundi is Cuba’s best-known (and maybe only?) symphonic prog band. The title track of their 2002 album Septentrión is emotive balladeering framed by Vangelis-esque washes of sound and topped off, rather unexpectedly, with bagpipes. And that’s only in the first four minutes!

Quarto Sensorial, “Do You Wanna Funk With Me?”

Quarto Sensorial is another Brazilian band, hailing from Porto Alegre in the south. This track is from a 2009 EP. Like the title says, it’s a driving blast of fuzak. George Clinton would surely approve.

Jorge Pescara, “The Reptilian Song”

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Pescara is a Brazilian musician who plays a Megatar—a combination of a Touch guitar and a Chapman Stick. “The Reptilian Song,” recorded in 2011, embraces the Eastern influences of psychedelia and prog with Middle Eastern-ish rhythms, with Kuis Guerreiro on the Chinese flute.

 

Rodrigo San Martín, “Absolutely No Commercial Potential”

Any prog band can make a concept album. Especially ambitious outfits may do a double concept album. But that wasn’t enough for Argentinian guitarist Rodrigo San Martín. The Veil is Broken is not one, not two, not three, but four interlinked concept albums about the growth, development, and career of an (ahem) prog musician. “Absolutely No Commercial Potential” is from the third installment, Coming of Age. “You’ll be bigger than Jesus Christ / All the girls will adore you / All you have to do is sing the songs we told you,” San Martín wails on the nearly nine-minute noodling guitar work-out. Pink Floyd bewailed selling out and made a fortune with The Wall; San Martín is probably safe from that particular hypocritical fate, but The Veil is Broken is still great fun to listen to.

El Trio, “La Verdad”

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Progshine has released the entire back catalogue of this remarkable band from the Dominican Republic, but their 2014 live album Leña ! ! ! En Vivo is the place to start. Blazing spiky jazz-funk, it shifts between passages that recall the punk-funk of the Minutemen, to metal heaviness, and over to almost parodic Latin crooning. A true find.

Dialeto, “Roumanian Folk Dances 4”

Emerson, Lake & Palmer famously co-opted classical themes, so Dialeto’s 2017 album Bartok in Rock is very much in the prog spirit of highbrow appropriation—though it’s admittedly not exactly clear who’s appropriating what when a Brazilian rock band plays Romanian folk dances collected and reinterpreted by a Hungarian classical composer. Whoever is borrowing from where, though, the result is thoroughly entertaining. “Roumanian Folk Dances 4” starts with wah-wah distortion and atmospherics before it swings into that sinuous Roma rhythm, electric guitars imitating the sustained violin lines. As is the best prog, it is both giggle-inducing and sublime.

Eddie Palmieri, “Sabiduría”

Puerto Rican Latin jazz legend Eddie Palmieri isn’t usually thought of as a prog performer. But the title track of 2017’s Sabiduría is a blast of jazz rock with a fiery, wanky, proggy guitar solo followed by a badass, more than a minute-long bass set-piece to which Jaco Pastorius would have been proud to lay claim. As the Latin American scene in general shows, prog’s a sprawling fortress; you can get there by many pathways.

—Noah Berlatsky

 

5 Comments

  1. Albertigno
    Posted August 11, 2017 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    A little off topic, but I need to ask this: why, when talking about Italian prog, the bands mentioned are either Le Orme, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso or PFM? Basically, no other band is ever named (unless the article/post/essay/review is specifically about Italian prog).
    I am a huge fan of Le Orme and Banco (never liked PFM though), but I don’t understand why bands such as Area, Museo Rosenbach and Napoli Centrale, for instance, are so largely overlooked.
    Area’s “Arbeit Macht Frei”, in particular, is one of my favorite prog albums, and certainly my favorite among Italian prog records (along with Banco’s “Darwin”).

  2. Posted August 12, 2017 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Well Albertigno, it’s just like when people talk about Prog from the UK, they talk about ELP, Genesis, King Crimson, Pink Floyd. Bands that had longevity and achieved some comercial success. No one really talks about Fields, Badger, Greenslade or Hannibal.

    It’s just that those 3 Italian bands had a carrer spaning many years, actually, they are all active, while all the other are long gone. :)

  3. Albertigno
    Posted August 14, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Diego Camargo: not really, if at all is like not talking about Van Der Graaf Generator or Yes (something that would be considered fool, given the importance of these two bands).
    In Italy, Area are widely considered to be as excellent as Le Orme and Banco, and Demetrio Stratos (Area’s singer) is in essence our only rock personality (perhaps along with CCCP’s Giovanni Lindo Ferretti, before he went insane). So much so that shortly after Stratos’s death in 1979, a 30-hours concert was set up with basically any important musicians in Italy participating (prog bands of course, but also singer-songwriters and, incredibly, a couple of punk bands).
    I’m not saying this to nitpick, but in order to recommend very-high-quality music. If any of you readers is interested in prog-rock, do yourself a favor and listen to Area (and then also to Museo Rosenbach, Napoli Centrale and Balletto Di Bronzo).

  4. Mark Young
    Posted August 15, 2017 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    You left out all the great bands from Argentina from the 70’s: Crucis, Espiritu, Polifemo, Aquelarre, Invisible, La Maquina de Hacer Pajaros. The golden era of progressive rock in Argentina.

  5. Posted August 18, 2017 at 4:57 am | Permalink

    I understand your point Albertigno (and also yours Mark Young), but I believe the writer had to focus on bands available on Bandcamp. After all, the collumn is named Bandcamp Daily :)

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