Photo: Alan Garza
When you look at the slew of local acts on this year’s Free Press Summer Festival, they’re as eclectic and diverse as our city itself. Quite possibly the most diverse and possibly even energetic, Houston’s Gio Chamba will bring his crazy blend of electronics, multi instrumentation, and Latin jams to those in attendance. Chamba is like a mix of Carlos Santana, At The Drive in, and Tito Puente while still keeping things fresh and inventive. Anyone who’s seen him perform just once can tell you about something crazy he’s done for the sake of performing, and no one who sees him thinks that he couldn’t be the biggest act to come out of Houston in the past twenty years.
FPH: You perform a type of music you call Digital Cumbia. Can you describe what that technically is and what it means to you?
Gio Chamba: Digital Cumbia is a new style of electronic music that first emerged in South America, particularly in Argentina. It is the blending of traditional and folkloric music, such as Colombian Cumbia (which in itself is already a blend of African, indigenous and European culture), with electronic dance elements and urban beats. To me, it is the bridge between the older generation and the newer generation of music and culture. It creates an open platform where people of ALL backgrounds can join in to groove on the dance floor because there is something for everyone. It definitely connects with the tribal essence and the digital upbringing that we all have within us at this period of Earth time.
FPH: You live here, but you’re originally from Nuevo Leon. How did growing up there influence your sound, and is there any kind of “flavor” from there that you incorporate into your music?
Gio Chamba: I was born in Houston, but I spent the first 8 years of my life in Nuevo Leon, and I would also stay there every summer vacation once I permanently settled in Houston. So I definitely gathered inspiration from both places. In Nuevo Leon, I would always be out in the streets with my friends, skateboarding, playing soccer and exploring. I soaked up the urban culture—the slang and the sounds—when I was there, and exchanged music with close friends. I was introduced to music from Control Machete, Cartel de Santa, Rigo Tovar and the local Nuevo Leon Cumbia Legend, Celso Pina. I really connected with him because he collaborated with many artists, including rock and rap artists. There is an eclectic flavor that exists in Nuevo Leon, particularly in Monterrey, because there is a lot of American influence there but at the same time, it has a lot of Latin American influence. So that’s part of the reason that I include many elements in my music. The other part comes from our city, the most diverse city in the world. Houston.
FPH: Someone recently told me that you were everyone’s favorite musician to play with before you started performing on your own. What made you decide to take the leap from behind the scenes performer to solo artist?
Gio Chamba: I LOVE creating music with others, but after many years of playing in groups, I realized that sometimes it is quite difficult to be on the same page as every member, as far as dedication goes. I also started branching out and wanted to create diverse music at one point, but couldn’t find musicians who were willing. After about two years of trying to form an eclectic band and record music that I had written, I realized that I couldn’t wait on anyone to jam with me or record my ideas. So I went within. I meditated a lot and started intense practicing, writing, and saving up to buy my own producing/recording gear. This time in my life was necessary for my personal growth as well. I realized that I needed to create a self organizing system. I really focused on creating an honest sound/feeling that comes from the heart and can connect with everyone. I also realized that it was easier to stay focused and travel if I do it on my own.
FPH: You mix Latin rhythms in with a primarily electronic set; what kind of artists inspired you to come up with that sound, and why do it solo as opposed to doing something similar with a band?
Gio Chamba: My sound is inspired by artists that have existed before my time and also in present time. I draw a lot of inspiration from many of the artists in Houston, because I immersed myself in the diverse music scene that our city offers at a very young age. Although I used to play primarily in punk bands, I always threw in some Latin flavor in the songs that we created. Also, growing up being friends with Los Skarnales has inspired me to “mix it up” and throw in many elements, all while still having the “just be yourself” punk attitude. Electronic producers and all around good people, such as Josiah Gabriel (MKE), Flcon Fcker, Android Genius, Stephen Farris and George West, have inspired me to explore digital soundscapes and gear that were new to me in a live setting.
The amazing DJ crew known as Bombon, re-ignited the passion that I have for Latin American rhythms and blew my mind with their urban and EDM remixes of my childhood Cumbia memories. For a while, I had been wanting to make roots, psychedelic Cumbia (Chicha) with a group, but no one really wanted to. About 5 years ago, I got turned on to an artist from Argentina known as Chancha Via Circuito by a friend from Buenos Aires. I remember being fascinated by his unique blend of folklore Andean music and Cumbia with Digital elements. I would listen to him when I felt frustrated with forming a group and when I went on my first solo tour to the East Coast, I ran into one of his flyers in D.C. that was symbolically placed on a light post about 20 feet from the small venue that I performed at. It was a sign that I could do it by myself, without a group. I thought to myself, “This guy is from Argentina and he’s touring the U.S. performing solo?” It was the reassurance that I needed. I took the flyer with me since his show had already passed and realized he was on a label called ZZK Records, whose artists are the pioneers of Digital Cumbia & Electronic Folkloric Music. I didn’t look into them too much at the time because the first solo music that I produced was really Santana influenced and every song was a different genre such as reggae, afro-cuban, latin soul, hip-hop, etc. It wasn’t until Bombon brought El G from ZZK Records to one of their monthly parties, that I really got crazy about Electropical music. I started producing more and more dance, Digital Cumbias and incorporating them in my sets. That’s when I saw a great reaction from people of every every race and realized that I should focus on Digital Cumbia/Electropical songs.
FPH: Some people might not know this, but you were once in a Spanish language commercial for FPSF. Is it surreal to be performing on the festival?
Gio Chamba: Haha! That commercial was fun! It was the idea and creation of Mark Armes from FPH. He’s been a long time friend and had a wacky idea of making me a Spanish news anchor, so we did it. That very same year was the second time that I had performed at FPSF. So far I have performed at the festival three times, this is my fourth year performing but my first time performing solo as Gio Chamba. The first time that I performed was with Cop Warmth Vs. B L A C K I E , the second time with SOMOSUNO and the third time was with PAPAYA DMT aka TEJAS.
FPH: Your live sets are like a giant party, where it feels like you’re inviting the audience to join in with you, with the crazy lights and the intense energy…What do you have planned for the crowd at FPSF?
Gio Chamba: I make my live performances fun and interactive with the audience because in my viewpoint, it isn’t all about me. Music is a feeling, a vibration, a co-existence of notes and sounds through melodies, harmonies, rhythms, etc. It’s a very powerful force! So it makes sense that this force involves other people and since I don’t have a band backing me up, I invite everyone to be a part of the force that my music creates. It’s an honest, open-minded sound that does not discriminate and is NOT egocentric.
For FPSF, I invite all of the Houston family, from all backgrounds and nationalities, who love to be themselves, love to dance and who want to be a part of this new, original H-town inspired movement. There will be rapping,singing, MCing, guitar shredding, beautiful ladies dancing, lights, BASS, percussion, smiling, laughing, break dancing and many other surprises that you will have to attend to find out! Like H-town rapper Low G once said “…and that’s the whole recipe, but I ain’t gonna give you the rest of the recipe.”
The best part of Gio is that he reps Houston hard and does so by making our city proud when he performs outside of it. His high energy and talented blend of genres makes him one of the acts you can’t miss at the festival this year. And after reading his description of what he does, why would you ever think of missing his set?