Introducing… La Chiva Gantiva

This feature originally appeared in Songlines #98 (March 2014) p23. Download a pdf here.

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The Colombian band are injecting fun and funk into the festival circuit with their musical mash-up of influences. Alexandra Petropoulos reports

“We have a word for our music: punfklore.” I’m surrounded by the core trio of the Brussels-based Colombian band La Chiva Gantiva – Rafael Espinel, Natalia Gantiva and Filipe Deckers – while they patiently try to teach me how to pronounce the term they coined to best describe their music. While not a word that rolls elegantly off the tongue, it does its job well, aptly describing their unique mixture of punk, funk and Colombian folklore blended effortlessly together in a party-time, festival atmosphere.

Gantiva, Deckers and Espinel met in Brussels and started to play together after discovering their common musical ground. “At the beginning we were really just Colombian roots music. Then after our first concert we felt a really beautiful energy between us and the public. Then we started mixing and, this is the evolution of La Chiva Gantiva,” Deckers explains.

Punfklore was only an organic progression from their Afro-Colombian roots. “Colombia is a very important place because we have two oceans and the influences from a lot of countries around the world. So we have a big mixture… rock’n’roll and funk and other influences,” Gantiva emphasises. She goes on to explain that a chiva is a colourfully decorated bus that travels the Colombian countryside, acting as a connection between the country’s diverse people. “So it’s the same thing with the other members of the band; it was the point of communication. It is a good name for explaining what we are and how we live.” And so, just as the chivas connect the people of Colombia, La Chiva Gantiva connect a variety of musical traditions and people. Band members from France, Belgium and Vietnam keep the group’s music as vibrantly colourful as the chivas.

When combined with their rhythmic Afro-Colombian music, the funky horns and punk sensibility create a perfect party storm, and they easily became festival favourites last summer. So how do they translate that same energy on record? “It’s two different things. Live music is in the moment, it’s instant. For recording, you have the time for listening again and again.” Espinel points out that they take their studio time just as seriously as their stage performances.

And this has lead to their second album, Vivo, which unlike so many other bands who rock the festival stages but are unable to deliver in the studio, manages to successfully capture the spirit of their live shows on record. And indeed, the album bursts with character, fun and a sound that could only be generated by such a mix of musicians, just as Deckers had hoped it would. “We wanted to find our sound, so that when you hear it, you say ah, yes, this is La Chiva Gantiva.”

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