Blog November 13, 2013
Peru Maravilloso: Tiger’s Milk Records' Duncan Ballantyne Tells All!

Peru Maravilloso was just released yesterday in the US. It is the first compilation from Tiger's Milk Records, a new label devoted to Peruvian culture, founded by Martin Morales, the owner of  Ceviche, a popular Peruvian restaurant in London. Afropop got the chance to chat with Duncan Ballantyne, one of the compilers, about the process, and the future of Tiger's Milk. Takeaway: "This is just about really good music from Peru."

M.G.:  Hello Duncan, thanks for speaking with Afropop. How are you?

D.B.:  Not bad! It’s Friday night!

M.G.:  Oh yeah, sorry! What a weird time to do an interview!

D.B.: No, no it’s fine. I’ve got a few more hours before I go out tonight!

M.G.:  Okay. Let’s jump into it. Why is the label called Tiger’s Milk, what does that mean?

D.B.:  You know ceviche? When you’re cooking, and you marinate in citrus and chilis and let it sit for twenty minutes, that juice, that detriment afterwards, if you leave that until the next day, that’s “tiger’s milk.” It cures hangovers!

M.G.: Nice! Why don’t you give us a little background into who you are, and who the other compilers of Peru Maravilloso are?

D.B.:  Sure. So I previously worked at labels that dealt with Latin American music: Far Out Records is a Brazilian label, works with Marcos Valle and Joyce and some new bands as well, a lot of new stuff coming out of Brazil. And then I went to Cartel, they are a management company, and Soundway is part of Cartel. So I label-managed Soundway. And then I went traveling, and when I came back I got a message from Martin Morales. I’d known Martin from the music industry, because he was a DJ at Nottinghill Arts Club, at a night called Future Flamenco, for many years. I knew of him, but I didn’t know him personally. Anyways, we got in contact, and he was telling me that he’d given up his job at Disney, he was working with Miley Cyrus very closely, as a top exec in Europe. And previous to that, he was working with Steve Jobs, setting up iTunes Europe. And he said, “Duncan, I’ve had enough, I want to give back something to Peru.” He’s Peruvian. He moved over here when he was young. So he said, “I’m about to set up a restaurant, I’ve got investors. I want to bring Peruvian cuisine and culture to the UK.” And I was like, “That’s great.” And he said, “But I don’t just want to set up a record label, I want to get someone on board who really understands the music, or who is really willing to commit to the music.” But also, he’s interested in food. And that suited me!

So we just started brainstorming. This took about six months. We did a lot of research online, and went through Martin's big record collection and other people’s record collections; there was just loads and loads of Peruvian music, old Peruvian music, across genres. And a lot of it is not actually specifically very Latin: some of it has a lot of Western influence. Rock was big in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the counterculture and psychedelic scene happened there just after the UK and US. There was also a lot of cover versions happening. So we just thought, this brilliant. And then we looked at the modern music coming out, and there were a lot of bands, like Dengue Dengue Dengue, doing tropical dubstep. Bass music is quite big in Peru, but it’s all quite respectful of its past and its history. So the combination of old and new music was what really, really excited both of us.

So we released the 7 inch, and the restaurant, Ceviche, opened at the same time, both to resounding success. Which led to development of the idea of an album and developing the sense of the label, what was the purpose of the label, and how that fitted in with the values of Ceviche and Martin. He gave up all these amazing jobs to pretty much try the impossible: to popularize and promote Peruvian culture. So we got an album idea; we decided to do a compilation.

In the future, we’re going to do more compilations of old music and we’re going to look at new artists in the electronic tropical scene. We’re going to work directly with artists from Lima. Everything is from Peru, there’s no sort of short-cuts, although a lot Peruvians are living in places like Berlin in Europe, which is quite cool, nothing wrong with that. But it is strictly Peruvian music.

So Peru Maravilloso was the first album we set up. Martin and I compiled it together, and then we started working with a guy named Andres Tapia. He is a record label owner in Lima, his label is called Repsychled records, and he is a wealth of knowledge, and has a wealth of records. He is currently in Lima, he has an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Lima, which runs through the 24th of November, called Salvaje which is looking at rock in Peru from 1963 to 1975. It’s lots of artifacts from bands like Los Nuevos Shains, a lot of the early punk bands, Zulu, the Mads. So he got everything from old ticket stubs to old instruments that they used. It’s the biggest ever exhibit of Peruvian music.

So it was three of us. Martin, me and him, the compilers. I think we’ll continue working with Andres in the future, because we’re going to do a comp of more rock, psychedelic music, though not anthropological. That’s going to be an important distinction for us, unlike Soundway I suppose: we don’t sort of try to slice a section, an epoch, and say, okay, that music is from that era and it has that pigeon hole. We’re not doing that. I think you’ll find that Peru Maravilloso is all over the place musically.

M.G.:  Totally, but it holds together very well as an album of music to listen to.

D.B.:  I think so. I do think it does. It is mad, though, because there’s tracks in there from 1963 right up to 1979.

M.G.:  Which is a broader scope than some compilers would work with?

D.B.:  Yeah, I think it’s much bigger.

M.G.: And did Andres mainly help fill in backstory on the artists, or did he contribute tracks for the album? How closely did you work with him?

D.B.:  Well, we wanted to present a broad spectrum, but we didn’t just want to then go into the psychedelic rock side of things, because that would just be a bit too broad, it would not make it an enjoyable CD, to go from salsa to really hard psychedelic, punk, garage rock. It was one step too far. So we decided just to keep it within the realm of Latin music. So that covered everything from chicha to salsa to very soundtrack, odd, unique tracks; some cumbia, some surf. So there was some psychedelic rock, but more on the surf side of things than the garage. So Andres brought in some of the more bizarre tracks.

M.G.:  Like what?

D.B.:  Like Lucia De La Cruz’s version of “Toro Mata,” which is a really orchestrated, quite deep version. I think that really helped. And the lead track, actually, Lucho Neves Y Su Orquesta, “Mambo De Machaguay.”

M.G.:  Yeah, that's a very strange track! I hear everything from New York bugalu, to the style that Sergio Mendes was doing in Brazil. It sounds like they were listening to everything.

D.B.: You know, a lot of people have said to me that they love the album, and they love the first track. When I first started listening to it, I thought it was just run of the mill mambo, you know, and then that piano line comes in, and it just sort of changes everything! It’s got an Andean twist to it. I’m not sure, Martin was saying it’s got a very Andean feel to it.

M.G.: And then there’s that track “Meshkalina” which definitely has a funk sound to it that is atypical to my ears.

D.B.:  Yeah, that was a really unusual track. If you listen to a lot of other Paco Zambrano, it’s not that good. Maybe that was someone in the marketing machine or one of the labels said, let’s cover Traffic Sound.

M.G.: It wasn’t their song, right, there was a rock band...

D.B.:  Right, Traffic Sound, but it’s so different. Paco Zambrano added his own touch. This was our first single on Tiger’s Milk Records. With Juaneco Y Su Combo, “La Cumbia Del Pacurro,” so it was two tracks from the album. We led with two really strong tracks, and I think that really helped creating a little groundswell and interest.

So the process was really easy. We used Skype a lot, and we talked about music a lot. Andre recorded music and sent it over to us and we listened to it. I was scouring record shops, physical and online, all over the world. I was speaking to diggers on the West Coast of America, there’s quite a lot of good blogs out there, covering Latin music. The guy called Franko from Supersonido was really helpful for the single. And a guy called Beto, who did the Panama comps for Soundway.

M.G.: Nice, those are great. So moving forward, are you planning on releasing full albums by current artists, or are you mainly looking to continue with compilations?

D.B.:  Well, I think it’s a learning experience as a new label in the current environment. I think you have to be ready to not set too much in stone. You have to be ready to adapt. We’ll learn from this compilation, see how it goes. Reactions are good, but of course we have to sell something before we can plan ahead. Also, I’m going to Peru on Sunday of next week.

M.G.: Awesome. Is that your first time?

D.B.:  Yeah. Martin’s going to be there as well, so we’re going to be meeting a lot of people, a lot of old musicians, new musicians, we’re going to go to gigs. So we’re going to be meeting Kanaku Y El Tigre, they’re a folk-tronica band from Lima, young guys, surfers. They’ve made a great first album, so we’re hoping to work with them on their second album. We already met the lead singer in Scotland, he came over.

So yeah, we’re going to be working with artists, but only if it feels right. We’re not going to pick a band because we’re looking for a certain genre. It has to be a band that’s actually doing something in Peru that we think is so good: so talented and with the songs that are going to be able to...There is that transfer and adaptation to our ears as well, that’s going to be a skill to work out, see who works...But Kanaku, for the moment, is someone we’re going to work with. We’re going to do a digital single with them early next year, to get things kicked off. And then we’re going to do some comps: we’re going to do a rock comp, but it’s going to cover a broad period, so not just that early punk era, early garage. It will probably incorporate tracks from that early, angry youth, student thing, but then also into some of the more melodic progressive rock that was happening in the ‘70s as well. We’re all about trying to be accessible, that’s really important. And there’s also that tapping into food. This is something we’re really keen to do; we’ll be organizing events here in the UK where we’ll be serving food and organizing music concerts, and integrating the two. Already, Ceviche has done pop-up tours of the UK. They did a ten-day pop-up tour, delivering ceviche in a restaurant environment that they created, in ten cities. So we’re thinking of doing something similar, but then incorporating music.

M.G.:  What about Afro-Peruvian roots music? I couldn’t help but notice that, while a lot of the material on Peru Maravilloso is influenced by Afro-Peruvian music, it’s not the traditional Afro-Peruvian music per se. There is a very vibrant Afro-Peruvian song and rhythm tradition; is that something that you guys are actually intentionally not promoting, or not promoting yet, or what?

D.B.:  No. There’s actually quite a lot of revival in Peru for this type of music, for the more traditional songs. I think we’re definitely going to be...We’re not specifically going out to find that; we’re not going out to do an Afro-Peruvian Buena Vista Social Club type project. But next week, we’re going to be in Peru, so there is an element of going as a sponge, and seeing what’s there. There’s a lot of authenticity still in Peru, but it will be very interesting to find out how much is actually on the streets and wafting through the windows of Lima. I suspect not very much, and I suspect it will actually be a case of going out and finding it. Which is definitely what we will be doing. So yeah, I think we’ll be looking at Afro-Peruvian stuff, but I don’t think it’s all that accessible; for example, putting together a compilation of 1950s festejo or cajon bands, it could go into that realm of ‘World Music’ which we’re really trying to stay far away from. We’ve been trying to steer clear of the chicha and cumbia sound, too, because it’s been done before. We’re trying to do something totally new. And the food thing is something new, and finding new music is really important.

M.G.:  When you say accessible, which audiences are you trying to be accessible to?

D.B.: The Tiger’s Milk credo is very similar to the Ceviche credo, which is: Let’s look at how diverse Peruvian culture is, and then let’s bring that diversity to the UK. So that’s what we want to do. And I think if we jump in there as an Analog Africa or a Soundway, it really limits which people will pick up a record. You're average UK listener will find that one track is pretty similar to the next track on those compilations. I personally come as a real head and music fan, but arguably, it’s difficult sometimes, if you are Joe Bloggs and you’ve never listened to that kind of music before, it’s difficult to get beyond four or five tracks, even if they’re beautiful, you’d be thinking, it’s all similar, it’s all highlife, or it’s all Colombian big-band. So we’re really trying to open it up totally; this is a real compilation, moving from one area to another, and it doesn’t really have to be linked. This is just about really good music from Peru.

M.G.:  Ok, got it! Anything you want to add?

D.B.:  Nope! Nice to talk with you, nice weekend!

M.G.: Thank you. We’ll be looking out for more from Tiger’s Milk.