Album Review: Luzmila Carpio – Luzmila Carpio Meets ZZK [ZZK Records, 23 February 2015]

Luzmila Carpio meets ZZK Records in this 2015 EP and the result is enthralling.

Hailed as the most influential indigenous singer in South America, Carpio’s music has become a key instrument in her ongoing activism for the Quechua community. While it’s natural to be wary of remixes of traditional music, the seven remixed tracks in this album demonstrate a highly informed understanding and sensitivity towards the Quechua culture, and strikes an impressive balance between breaking sonic boundaries while staying true to Carpio’s musical style and tradition. This is an album that reaches out to new audiences, whilst keeping the Quechua dialects and culture alive.

Born in the village of Qala-Qala in the Northern Potosi region of Bolivia, Carpio grew up learning the songs of the native Quechua people. Her unusually high flute-like voice with its distinctive whistle tones is highly spiritual and otherworldly, while at the same time, its soulful and ancestral undertones firmly ground her to her roots. Having grown up in the land of the Pachamama (“Mother Earth”), her music is inspired by the Quechua community’s relationship with the natural world as well as their stories of suffering and marginalisation. The way her music showcases both the beauty and struggles of her people is perhaps why this remixed album is so fitting, because it too presents us with the beautiful as well as darker side of an indigenous culture in the face of modernity, at a crossroads between folklore and the future.

The seven ZZK affiliated producers in this album have reinvented four of Carpio’s songs, giving them their own folktronica twists. Captain Planet’s remix of “Tarpuricusum Sarata” kicks of the album, where his muted charango coupled with steelpan-like interludes over low synth pads begin our journey into Carpio’s new world. King Coya’s more vocally stripped down version of the same song evolves into a more instrumental piece, sitting on top of a distorted bassline riff that drives the piece forward. Nicola Cruz turns Carpio’s birds songs in “Chu’uwa, Yaku Kawsaypuni” into an ambient electronic chorus and takes a darker and almost sultry twist, while Tremor’s remix of “Warmikuna Yupay – Chasqapuni Kasunchik” features Carpio’s whistle range, creating an intriguing mix between her liberating vocals and his strict four to the floor beat pattern. The final song “Amaotayku Avelino Sinani” is presented in three very different manifestations, with the most acoustic remix of the EP coming from Chancha Vía Circuito, while its most dramatic version comes from El Remolón, who reinvents the track’s sense of time, space and harmony. The album ends with El Búho’s remix which creates a spaciousness allowing Carpio’s unusual voice to soar among a chorus of bird songs once again.

A sense of magic realism pervades this album, creating the feeling that we are being pulled into a new yet strangely familiar world. It is almost an alternate reality, if you will, that has been created as a result of this unique collaboration, and is definitely an album to savor.