It’s fair to say that La Chiva Gantiva are a band with a variety of different aspects to their personality. What started out as a project between three Colombian students, who played percussion together in their hometown of Brussels, soon became a fully-fledged outfit thanks to the recruitment of a quartet of extra musicians with French, Belgian and Venezuelan roots. Since their formation, they have managed to garner plenty of acclaim, especially from those who’ve been able to see them live on the festival circuit, their own shows or even Trafalgar Square, where they played a couple of years ago.
Their second LP, Vivo, doesn’t deviate too much from the formula of their debut, Pelao, but comes across as tighter, more focused and upfront. Nearly all of the songs are sung in Spanish, though speakers of other tongues really shouldn’t let this get in the way of enjoying what is a fun album. The overall sound is so lively that it would take a person with a very cold heart not to jive along. Even when La Chiva Gantiva feel the need to add lots of lyrical detail, such as in the delightfully playful El Pollo, the fast vocal delivery acts almost as another musical instrument entirely.
What makes them stand out is how they throw in elements of modern rock without making them too overbearing or distracting. El Valor Tiene Mareo is dominated by a head-banging riff that goes head-to-head with frenzied brass, and Pigeon is so littered with power chords and desert rock guitar lines that it wouldn’t feel too out place next to something by Queens Of The Stone Age or Rage Against The Machine.
Elsewhere, there are even nice subtle nods. Even though the title track isn’t particularly guitar-heavy, it has a punk-esque vibe throughout, complete with a spectacular call-to-arms chorus. Estrenando features an effects-laden outro that builds intensely and the beginning of Amamar is so noodly and precise that it’s veering towards math-rock territory, bizarrely. They are, ultimately, tiny details but they add so much.
But the backbone of La Chiva Gantiva will always be the sounds of South America. Para Arriba is a bustling opener that, given its reliance on Latin grooves, acts as an easy enough welcome, without being too challenging or experimental. Meanwhile, the handclap-heavy Me Voy de Mi Cabeza and the hypnotic Wepaje sees them bring the funk with ease. It’s true that they’re not quite as adventurous as some of the other material on Vivo but they’re no less enjoyable.
Vivo is a firecracker, one that manages to pack in a slew of ideas and styles over its 40-minute running time, and it is immensely enjoyable to listen to. It’s also remarkably accessible and, whether they are at their most furious or at their most playful, it’s consistent in energy and tempo. Most importantly, they manage to get the balance of traditional and modern just about right. La Chiva Gantiva deserve a much expanded audience off the back of this album.