Rising up like subterranean steam through cracks in the asphalt, Pacha Massive’s highly anticipated debut album, All Good Things, emits 100 percent New York vibe without rehashing anything. Dousing sophisticated urban breakbeats in Latin American folklore, the Bronx-based Colombian/Dominican duo of Maya Martinez and DJ Nova have been building up buzz with their loungey hybrid sound since they met in 2003. It didn’t hurt to make their live debut opening for Latin alternative rock royalty Aterciopelados at Madison Square Garden, and follow it up by snatching the battle of the bands trophy at the 2005 Latin Alternative Music Conference. So far Pacha, who take their name from the Quechua word “Pachamama” meaning “Mother Earth,” have been living up to the name with their celestial performances. And now they have a solid album to go with it.
Nova, 31, and Maya, 26, are the heart and brains of Pacha, and they have Bruce Lee and a Cuban composer to thank for it—among others. They met while working with Ivan Benavides from Sidestepper and immediately found musical commonalities. The resulting Dominican palo/Colombian cumbia/Cuban son/drum ’n’ bass/dancehall sound that they’ve been able to conjure proves that Darwin’s theory of natural selection can be applied to musicians. Nova’s and Maya’s ability to adapt to their various musical environments has ensured their viability in a field starving for fresh ideas, but saturated with ill-advised hybrids. Pacha’s sound—like their passports—is stamped with every place they’ve ever been.
“I’m Colombian,” Maya asserts proudly. “And when you hear the CD you can kinda tell, ’cause this fact is in every song.” Not surprisingly, tracks like “Oye Mira” and “Pies A La Cabeza” with their mixture of accordion, Andean pan pipes and Afro-Colombian percussion subtly marinate in her home country’s cumbia and ballenato. But just in case the folkoric seasoning passed your palette without notice, the closing instrumental track “Cruisin’” is an uncompromising, juicy cumbia with just a dash of electronica.
Although born in the Colombian countryside, Maya grew up in New York City’s Washington Heights and after returning to Colombia to finish high school, she spent two years in Havana.
“I went by myself when I was 18,” she recalls. “I was very interested in learning the double bass. I ended up buying like five double basses there, ’cause they were like $100 each.” She studied theory, piano and bass under Cuban contemporary classical composer Tulio Peramos and legendary Cuban music teacher Elvira Fuentes, who is a regular guest lecturer at New York’s prestigious Juilliard School of Music. Eventually, Maya grew weary of the isolation and “lack of information,” and she returned to New York, where she eventually met Nova.
Though Nova’s not as well-traveled as Maya, his musical immersion is no less profound. But like his partner, his music is also representative of where he comes from and where he’s been.
“Coming from the Dominican Republic, I was listening to traditional music like palo, bachata, merengue and things like that,” he explained. “Then, when I got to New York and started clubbing, I was exposed to things like industrial music, which I’d never heard. One of Nitzer Ebb’s bass lines was so sticky that I couldn’t get out of my head. With Skinny Puppy, I found them to be way ahead of their time. They were very eclectic and that sort of filtered into what I do. I never said, ‘I wanna try to sound like Nine Inch Nails or Front Line Assembly,’ but you go through life and just try to let these influences come out.”
While admitting that he “didn’t have the privilege of traveling and studying in other countries,” Nova proudly recalled his humble musical beginnings: “In the Dominican Republic, where there was no money to buy musical instruments, I simply grabbed some two-by-fours and wrapped rubber bands around them and just started pl