Radio Zumbido is the performing alias of a programmer and multi-instrumentalist from Guatemala via Barcelona, Berlin and Los Angeles named Juanka. He’s just released his second album, Pequeño Transistor de Feria, on the indie label Quatermass, following a 2003 debut, Los Ultimos Días del AM, on Palm Pictures. The new disc is substantially more stripped-down and organic than its predecessor, which was almost trip-hop with a psychedelic Latin pop edge. Most tracks on Pequeño sound almost like demos or sketches, and some are quite entertaining, particularly the brief tape-loop-and-guitar piece “Everybody Wants To Be Manu Chao These Days.” Samples of vintage Latin music recordings and Spanish radio and TV dialogue appear, as do brief guest contributions of African and Latin percussion. Each individual track is part of a larger whole that documents the sound of displacement, of living in multiple cities whether as an immigrant or an itinerant musician in the laptop era. It’s a fascinating collage.
Q&A WITH JUANKA
It seems like this album was recorded “on the road”—how was it made?
I had to make the soundtrack for a documentary about L.A. (L.A. Now!, by Phillip Rodriguez), so I traveled there to record sounds from the city, etc. Then I went back to Barcelona, where I was living for the last 5 years, and I made some tracks with the samples I’d recorded. Then I moved to Berlin, where I finished most of the tracks for this album. But I wanted to catch the vibe of L.A., especially since most of the percussion I used for the album is stuff I gathered during these trips to L.A. and Barcelona, like mariachi guitars, guiros, African percussion and kalimbas.
How does this album differ from your earlier work?
There’s not too much sample-based stuff, all of the percussion was played live in one take. Also, this album is more experimental and raw, and definitely more filmic! It’s “lo-fi organic music” to me!
The title “Everybody Wants To Be Manu Chao These Days” made me laugh—what’s your impression of the current state of Latin rock (particularly so-called “Latin alternative” music)?
Well, first of all, I really respect Manu Chao’s work, since the early stuff with Mano Negra— he has a very original sound! But I think there are too many clones around, that don’t contribute anything. I went to a festival in Belgium where all of the artists that opened for Manu Chao were the same thing—same sound, same speech, same clothes—so by the time he played you couldn’t tell if it was him or another guy! With the “Latin alternative music” scene, at this point I don’t know if it’s really alternative, but yeah, you find some interesting bands every now and then. I think there’s a difference in the Latin alternative scene from the U.S., and the one from Latin America.