This week, we're visiting with some of our old favorites, Los Wembler's De Iquitos, the Peruvian chicha masters. Now half a century into their career, this group, known for fleet guitar work that induces nothing short of euphoria, has been tragically touched by the global pandemic. Founding members, the brothers Emerson Sanchez Casanova and Jairo Didi Sanchez Casanova have died from the coronavirus.
Though it feels like a futile gesture, we're celebrating their lives and their music today via a concert from May 2018 in Winterthur, Switzerland. Emerson had already retired from touring with the group, though he is credited for writing two songs on their latest album, 2019's Visión Del Ayahuasca. Jairo can be seen laying down those second guitar parts. Their family members round out the group on lead guitar, lead vocals, bass and timbales:
Sadly the Sanchez Casanova brothers are part of a larger trend. Nestled into the Amazon jungle, Iquitos is a city of over 500,000 people that can't be reached via roads. In 2019, it was hit hard by an outbreak of dengue fever, leaving the city ill-equipped for coronavirus. Despite efforts from the local health ministry to build makeshift facilities to provide oxygen to local hospitals, official reports counted 1,595 cases and 62 deaths in Iquitos as of Wednesday and The Guardian reports that “few doubt” the actual number to be higher. Peru's overall number of deaths from COVID-19 is up to 1,444, second only to Brazil, which has eight-times the population.
Los Wembler's are a special group to me personally. As we took a lunch break here at the Afropop Home Office this week, we put on Visión on the record player, played it through, and when it ended, flipped it over and started it again. It's an album of relentless, playful musicality, one of the gems of my collection.
Our hearts go out to Peru and to the Sanchez Casanova family, who have given us over 50 years of beautiful music.
Take care of each other over the weekend.