Coba Coba by Novalima
Novalima is a group of Afro-Peruvian musicians that was founded in 2001, and Coba Coba, their third full-length album is their first to receive wide distribution in North America.
Like many contemporary ‘world music’ bands, Novalima explores the influence of modern dance hall sounds as represented by DJ culture on their own traditional music, and like many such outings Coba Coba’s experimentation garners mixed results. A mixture of rock, pop, reggae, salsa, dub and electronica, Novalima’s sound is anchored by Afro Peruvian hand percussions that often seem at odds with the rhythmic flows created by the electronic production flourishes. While other artists on the influential Cumbancha label like Andy Palacio and Idan Raichel have deftly interwoven musical concepts from different genres into their songs with dazzling effect, Novalima’s songs often sound diverted by superfluous studio textures.
It is difficult to pin down why some musical ‘mash ups’ work and others don’t. It is not a sense of musical Puritanism that prevents me from enjoying Coba Coba as much as I thought I would – over the last few years CDs from artists like Gaudi, Ticklah and Thievery Corporation have enticed my ears to experience traditional sounds from all over the world in thrilling new ways. Rather, it’s that often the electronic treatments on Coba Coba don’t go far enough in amplifying the beats that Novalima lay down. While some artists have had their songs beaten to a pulp by the overenthusiastic use of the electronic effects, the production on Coba Coba is so restrained and the beats that are added are so ‘chilled out’ that they seem to tether the music rather than set it free. Several times while listening to the album, I found myself wishing that the band would cut loose and really delve into the rhythms they were merely hinting at.
Novalima has all of the raw materials necessary to create great music; the singers are soulful and passionate and the live percussions provided by the musicians are masterful and assured. Ironically, when they stick a traditional sounds – as they do on the hard salsa number ‘mujer ajena’ – they sound the most compelling and engaging, leading listeners to conclude that it is often the electronic applications added to make their music appeal to a younger generation that bog them down.
The fourth track on the album, ‘Ruperta/puede ser’ is one of the few crossover songs on Coba Coba that works as the reggae infused organ melody organically blends perfectly with the Latin rhythms that Novalima is obviously the most at home with. Here, the percussions, vocals and electronic instruments serve the song rather than force it in a direction it does not want to go.
Coba Coba has many wonderful musical moments embedded in its twelve tracks, and frustratingly, it is almost a great album. Novalima is obviously comprised of very skilled and dedicated musicians who should – in time – release a collection of songs that exploits their undeniable talents. If that happens and the stars align themselves just right, Novalima will be a musical force to be reckoned with.