Album Review: “Quoshpaw” by Pancho Montalbán

I first heard of Pancho Montalbán (Y Los Cinco De Guayaquil) when I was attending a workshop on alternative dental therapy in Vienna about three years ago. As it happened, one of the workshop leaders was Federico Romasanta, former member of the legendary Ecuadorian folk group Los Rezoquetes, who had left the group after falling out with Simón Vileza. Romasanta resumed his studies in dentistry at the University of Valparaíso, Chile, and later moved to Europe. He opened a practice in Madrid, was sued by 26 patients for “brutal malpractice” and fled to Vienna, where he soon became revered as the father of a brand new dental therapy, the details of which are, to be frank, too gruesome to be mentioned on these pages without our risking a permanent shutdown.

 

In one of the breaks during the workshop, while Romasanta was rinsing the blood off his clothes, I struck up an interesting conversation with him, in the course of which he told me of his former occupation as a musician in his native land. “The most interesting music coming out of Ecuador these days is ethno-canine rock, as exemplified by Pancho Montalbán (Y Los Cinco De Guayaquil)”, he declared. I begged him to elucidate. What on earth was ethno-canine rock?

 

Romasanta was rather reluctant to explain just what this genre entailed. Several hours later, in his hotel, he treated me to a hearing of “Bark To Hell”, a sort of opera (?) featuring thrash metal orchestrations on traditional Ecuadorian instruments blended with what sounded like several large dogs being pestered by pterodactyls. It turned out that Pancho Montalbán’s backing group, Los Cinco De Guayaquil, are in fact five huge genetically-modified Andean wolfhounds whose vocal chords have been manipulated to sound as if they are screaming in agony when actually they are attempting to sing. The result is bloodcurdling.

 

That explains the “canine” bit of “ethno-canine” rock, but what about the “ethno”? Well, Montalbán has attempted to graft his tormented dog sound onto traditional Ecuadorian rhythms, in particular the yumbo and the festive music associated with dances such as the pindulleros and the zuleta. I have to confess that my knowledge of Ecuadorian folk music is not as extensive as I would like, but it has to be said that underscoring “Bark To Hell” one can indeed detect the typical music one would expect from this land, but don’t expect it to sound like Julio Jaramillo and company!

 

Anyway, infused with enthusiasm bordering on obsession, I flew to Ecuador the very next day and tried to track down Pancho Montalbán, but he had been arrested the week before and was languishing in some sordid prison, accused of the foulest, most diabolical crime imaginable, which I dare not go into in more detail for obvious reasons.

 

I did, however, manage to dig up some rare recordings of Pancho Montalbán (Y Los Cinco De Guayaquil), after blackmailing his former manager Rubén Yaraví with some photos I took of him in a seedy bar in the company of one “Pompita”, whose profession we have no need to dwell on at this moment in time. Unfortunately the sound quality on the C 90 cassettes I acquired from Mr Yaraví is pretty crummy, otherwise I would have uploaded them onto the web.

 

Imagine my glee, oh reader, when I got news the other day that a remasterised version of Pancho Montalbán’s greatest hits was now available. It is a compilation of various snippets, mostly the stuff I have on cassettes, plus what appears to be a rare live performance, presumably recorded at the only known concert given by Pancho Montalbán (Y Los Cinco de Guayaquil) at the Excelsior Theatre in Quito, April 31 2007.

 

The track listing is as follows:

 

1.     Estructuras asimétricas apopléjicas, Primera Parte.

2.     En el pozo de la tía Catalina.

3.     Hunzenbürd.

4.     Quoshpaw.

5.     Estructuras asimétricas apopléjicas, Segunda Parte.

 

The first and last tracks are best described as long fragments. There is no discernible melody, rather a discordant rhythm not unlike the relentless Javanese gamelan, which blends magnificently with the anguished screams of the wolfhounds, delicately orchestrated into a wholly risky piece unlike anything you have ever heard.

 

Track 2 begins as a simple 2/2 dance, reminiscent of the bourrée, and is stunningly rounded off by what sounds like an aria performed by one of the Guayaquil dogs. I would like to know the names of “Los Cinco De Guayaquil” but there is no mention anywhere of their identities.

 

Track 3 is, perhaps, the most violent of the songs on the album but amidst the fierce snarling cacophony there is a curiously colourful musicality. Not for the light-hearted.

 

Track 4 is called Quoshpaw, and lends its name to the title of this collection. In Kayapi (one of the indigenous languages of Ecuador), this word means “decompose” and sums up the wretched misery evident in this merry little ditty, in which one can practically hear the death rattle of at least one of the wolfhounds.

 

I was relieved to see a little note that said something along the lines of “No animals were hurt during the making of this music” although it is certainly hard to believe, given the astonishing realism of what is plainly an unbearable torment for Los Cinco De Guayaquil.

 

I would unconditionally recommend Quoshpaw to anybody who thinks Latin American music is all banal salsa or self-indulgent vindications of the Cuban revolution. This is a minor masterpiece and deserves a place alongside your CDs of King Crimson, Lata Mangeshkar and Mahler.        – Heen

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