There is a natural bleed between the musics of North America and Mexico in Tucson, Arizona, only 40 miles from the Mexican border. We’re all now familiar with the incipient ‘sounds of the new west’ from the mid-to-late 1990s, and then onwards. Bands such as Calexico, Giant Sand and Friends of Dean Martinez blend cinematic indie music with latino flavours and, in the case of Calexico, incorporating mariachi horns. What might have been regarded as lacking in organic authenticity, is made up in inspired musicianship.
Tucson, Arizona's Brian Lopez and Gabriel Sullivan have bloodlines to the south. They’ve previously explored the music known as Chicha, also referred to as cumbia, in a band known as Chicha Dust, a composite of musicians from the Tucson area. Chicha has been characterised as music which involves classical style finger picking, rock and psychedelic guitars using fuzzbox and wah wah pedals, farfisa organ, and timbales (a single-headed drum with metal casing). For easy reference, the band Los Lobos is influenced by cumbia or chicha in a more traditional framework, but similarly blends western rock forms into their music.
With their new outfit, XIXA, Lopez and company have brought together disparate influences. They explain this the best.. “Winston played for Alice Cooper in the 90s, Efren only knows Latin music and didn’t know Led Zeppelin…you put them together, that core combination of hard rock drums and Efren’s timbales, and it's XIXA” XIXA in other words brings cumbia music together with the amplified surge of hard rock and the more subtle technicolor of desert indie, and what a beautiful racket they make.
Connecting with your spiritual home is what the opener ‘Bloodline’ is about, the thumping drums, latin strumming, and thirsty resonance of desert guitar staging some heady theatre with which to explore spiritual ancestry …. we now know where we go / the hotel is just for show / without an answer / no bloodline before / your body is folding to the weight of the world / the drinks are hard and strong we’re right where we belong / tied down to the land.
The desert has its own sound, one that emanates from its natural surrounds, and one that resides in our minds as perceptions of its vast spaces, it's barrenness, it's fire-hot ochre rock and spindly plants, the plants that have evolved to urge menace on passing travellers. The desert lives and breathes in perpetuity but we wouldn’t survive three days in it. Which makes it a wonderful subject for music, and for film.
The band have said they want to embrace this total aesthetic, including in the presentation of the artwork for the album by Daniel Martin Diaz.
Back to the album, and 'Vampiro' ratchets it up a few notches with some danceable rhythms, twangy guitar, surf-rock and Morricone-style segues for a fine piece of cross-border fusion.
Another defining characteristic of cumbia music is the tropical or calypso rhythms, here adopted specifically on ‘Killer’ the one song that has the feel of a pop single. Tinariwen’s Sadam Iyad features on ‘World Goes Away’ an amalgam of Latino and West African desert blues evidencing a connection that had never occurred to me. The finger-picking style is again, a perfect example of the Chicha tradition.
XIXA have their Zeppelin moment on ‘Down With The Sky’ with its exotic ‘Kashmir’ style eastern melodies, a crunching refrain of guitar distortion and ameliorating Latin percussion, keeping it more in the Americana vein.
The interesting thing on ‘Pressures of Mankind’ is the warped entry of the Farfisa Organ, descending into a call and response which could provide the soundtrack to two clowns ruminating on domestic life.
Mystery plays a large part in the narrative of ‘Golden Apparition’, the distant murmur of industry opening the song, fading keyboards and a single male voice meditating over three notes, before the shimmering guitar, and the light groundwork of percussive brush and cowbell percussion drives us out of the unknown wilds into urban life once again.
After the traditional sojourn of 'Nena Linda', we brace for 10 minutes of epic music which encompasses all that I’ve spoken of musically, but with an added political context.
While President-Elect Trump threatens to build a wall between North America and Mexico, XIXA reminds us that metaphorically, such a wall already exists …. “ Under the terms of the treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo / all Mexicans living in the new United States will need to cut the treaty into small tiny paper squares / and hold them under their tongues / until they dissolve and their reality sets in / this legal precedent is used to set state immigration policy to this day”
For mine, the first brilliant effort for 2016.