Zenit & Nadir does eventually find its way onto fairly high ground.
Since the early ‘10s, the Peruvian production duo Dengue Dengue Dengue, consisting of Felipe Salmon and Rafael Pereira, have been making electronic dance music that investigates their Afro-Peruvian roots. Zenit & Nadir see the duo dive deeper into that anthropological interest than on any of their previous projects, recruiting Pudy and Miguel Ballumbrosio, members of a historical Peruvian musical family, to inject some percussive traditionalism. The resulting album takes a few tracks to find its footing, but is ultimately a success.
Opening songs make good on the album’s promise of Afro-Peruvian Futurism, but the compositions struggle to find any liveliness. On tracks like “Ágni,” “Decajón (feat. Prisma & Martin Boder)” and “El Cavilante (feat. Sara Van & Mikongo),” patterns become stale with too little dynamic variation. Even the grounded, natural percussive sounds of the Cajón drum or the Quijada aren’t enough to keep these from sounding a bit steely and cold. Newcomers to the duo might best begin with track four, “Jarana y Tundete,” a signal of the fresh air to come.
The group’s captivating fusion of traditional musical roots on previous projects like last year’s wonderful Semillero or 2016’s Siete Raíces was at its best when the duo leaned into contemporary electronic-dance influences. On Zenit & Nadir, the duo hits their stride by spicing things up with brilliant hits of traditional instrumentals.
The “Llæ” is an ominous and claustrophobic journey and the first truly brilliant song on the album, followed by “Coimú Gqoimú,” a dark experience with a ghostly vocal sample. “Lagos” seems to be another lull, but over its six-minute length, the bpm and drum patterns pick up the pace and as electronics and beats fall and re-enter the mix it has time to grow. “The Invisible Ones (feat. Kalaf) takes listeners into the final act of the album with a request for a story about the group’s ancestors, taken from Africa and brought to Peru.
Zenit & Nadir closes on a run of the album’s best tracks, and outside of “Pacos (feat. Prisma)” marred by the same flatness that mars the album’s start, the back end exemplifies the exuberant music Dengue Dengue Dengue can create at the peak of their powers. “Banyuwnagi” is immediately electric and refuses to relinquish that excitement as additional layers of electronics, sampled pan flutes and grunts make the song more enrapturing. The organic percussion really punctuates the beat on the infectious penultimate track, “Guayabo.” Album closer “Coyuritti” is a little bit subdued, but the swarming and often unpredictable drums add intrigue and a bounce to the atmosphere.
While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of artists doing similar work intertwining traditional music and modern dance music—like Ecuador’s Nicola Cruz, who might’ve set the bar this year in this type of fusion with Siku—the hypnotic coming together of Afro-Peruvian traditionalism and futuristic dance music of Zenit & Nadir does eventually find its way onto fairly high ground.