Friendship is a Priority: Interview with Los Wembler’s

By | 01 May, 2019

Los Wembler’s were one of the top bands who forged and defined the Peruvian cumbia sound. After forming in Iquitos in 1968, the group released countless albums through the 70s, albums that included classic tracks like “Sonido Amazonico” and “La Danza del Petrolero”. Their music was distinguished by the Amazonian region where they came from, with Solomon Sanchez and his five sons distinguishing themselves by creating a sound that became known as cumbia amazonica.

In recent years, Peruvian cumbia has found new fans in Peru and abroad, leading to Los Wembler’s reuniting to tour the US and Europe, and even recording a new album. Below is an interview with Jair (singer), Alberto (guitarist) and Misael Sanchez (percussion) from the current group’s line-up [their father, Solomon, passed away at the end of the 1970s, with the five sons continuing the legacy], discussing the group’s career, how they created their own distinctive sound and what’s next for the group.

You aren’t the only Peruvian group who was formed by a father and his sons, as Juaneco Y Su Combo also happened to be a family. Was your dad responsible for your involvement in music or was this a mutual interest?

Our father was a fervent evangelical, we were strongly influenced by this lifestyle and religion. At the same time, music was in our blood. Our father was a musician, our mother a soprano and our grandfather a multi-instrumentalist. We did not really have a musical education, each one of us had a different talent. My two brothers were very good guitar players, our other brother a drummer and myself, a singer. The idea of forming a band came from our father, we liked it from the start. That’s how The Wembler’s were born in 1968 and since that year, we are active under this name.

Each band came from a different city, either located in the Amazon’s urban area or the coastal region. How was your daily life in Iquitos reflected through your songs?

Even if we had different styles, there was competition among bands such as Juaneco Y Su Combo and Grupo 2000. Juaneco got inspiration from the music of the Shipibos, a tribe of Peru. We innovated and we are the only sound that is still alive from that time. We add whistles and animal noises, onomatopoeic sounds, that give our music a lot of character.

Alberto Sanchez (left), Jair Sanchez (right)

Based in the largest isolated city in the world, 1,000km away from the capital, how were you reached by the label Odeon Del Peru who offered you your first contract?

We come from an island: Iquitos. We wanted to record our songs, but we did not have the money to travel to the capital. A Canadian radio station rented us their studio in which we recorded twelve songs for an album that we called Al Ritmo De La Cumbia. When our father travelled to Lima with our LP to promote it, the record label IEMPSA liked it a lot. They released our record and offered us a contract. We had a good response and eventually, other offers with better deals. We decided to move to the labels Sonoradio and then Infopesa, where we recorded all our other songs. Our audience still loves us.

One of your characteristics is remaining close to your homeland, by imitating animal sounds and other jungle noises through whistles and high notes on the guitar. Was this your signature sound to stand out from the rest?

The sound of the jungle is different from that of the coast, that of the sierra: that is the chicha. Our style is the Amazonian cumbia, though the Colombians are the creators of the original cumbia. Throughout the Amazon, people have their rhythm, style and their songs. We make the cumbia with another nuance influenced by our surroundings.

Misael Sanchez

Many bands made out of brothers often split due to overwhelming tensions, but you proved otherwise, sticking together to this day. How did this bond never break?

We are going to celebrate 50 years of artistic career. Our family is very united, we are very religious and friendship is a priority for us. That is why we are still together. We are five brothers and our family keeps growing. Our children are also musicians and have been influenced by our sounds. We keep our style alive.

Can you tell me more about your new album, recorded in Lyon, following on from your EP last year?

Our manager Olivier Conan organised this European tour for us, he is French and lives in the U.S. Liking the sound of the jungle, he contacted us years ago and we are like brothers now, we have a very strong and beautiful friendship. In 2014, we went to The Smithsonian Center and he organised a tour in the U.S. for us. The idea of releasing a new album was born there, ending up recording in Lyon. It was a challenge because we had to record 12 songs in three days, all original themes. We hope the reception in Europe will be positive.

What does the cumbia peruana bring to our ears that the cumbia colombiana doesn’t?

Colombian cumbia was created thanks to the African slaves and their instruments. Amazonian cumbia is characterised by the singing and the sounds. Peruvian music has also African influences, even if it is not so strongly noticed. Peruvian cumbia has a different melody to Colombian cumbia, because of the beauty of the jungle and its sounds. “La Danza del Petrolero” was created during the oil boom in Iquitos. In our songs, we try to talk about the jungle’s people, their problems and lifestyles. Los Mirlos is a band from Lima that has copied a lot.

Interview translated by Coco Maria

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