Interview: Q&A with Diego Hernandez – Eck Echo / Radio Amazonia (December 2021)
There’s a small but wonderful miracle going on air throughout the depths of the Peruvian Amazonas. Aptly named La Voz de La Selva, the radio station based in Iquitos (in North Eastern Peru) is the only media of communication reaching and giving voice to the communities living in the vast, remote and sparsely populated jungle area, who have no access to the internet and hardly any to electricity.
What’s more, the station also broadcasts distance educational programs (like Aprendo en Casa and Al Son del Manguaré). Through AM radio waves, these productions are able to reach children in a region which currently has “half of the school-age population without access to education”, and whose situation is made even worse due to the closure of schools because of Covid-19 and lack of telecommunication services.
In July, German-based, but Peruvian at heart, global beats platform and label Eck Echo joined forces with La Voz de La Selva to promote an inspiring educational project called Radio Amazonia. Meant to raise funding to offer local Amazonian children the opportunity to access the distance education programs broadcast by the radio, Radio Amazonia intends to build 2000 receivers manufactured with recyclable material, solar panels and rechargeable batteries. The project also aims for the training of teachers and families to improve distance learning in the region.
To do so, they gathered together 11 musicians and DJs under the “direction” of Peruvian artist Daniel Valle-Riestra, also known as Qoqeqa, to release a compilation shining a light on some of the most forward-looking traits of the Latin-American electronica and folktronica scenes.
On Thursday, the campaign will end its funding efforts with an online-streaming closing party featuring sets by Benjo, Dengue Dengue Dengue, Basy Tropikalne crew, Prisma and Q-richi. So, to officially invite you to Thursday’s event (which will also be one of the last days to make donations for the project), spread the word about Radio Amazonia even further and give you a better idea on the project, we reached one of its prime movers, Eck Echo’s head honcho Diego Hernandez (Q-richi)
In a few words, can you briefly introduce Radio Amazonia to us? Not just the compilation itself, but the significant project that inspired it as well.
Radio Amazonia was born at the crossroads of two initially independent developments. On the one hand, our friend and musician Daniel Valle-Riestra, aka QOQEQA, had been curating a compilation of tracks by artists that he is particularly fond of, and on the other hand, our platform had been participating in social causes in the midst of the first wave of coronavirus in mid 2020, collecting donations in Europe to send them over to the Vicariato Apostolico in Iquitos, the heartland of the Peruvian Amazon. This religious body was able to collect enough funds to purchase, install and maintain an oxygen plant as well as oversee medical aid throughout the region.
We have a firm belief in the professionalism and initiative of this organisation, so when they asked for our help again early this year together with Radio Voz de La Selva, I knew right away I could really invest all of my energy in this cause. Once our people in Iquitos laid out the project to us, I found the concept of broadcasting education through radio waves quite fascinating, so I immediately got in touch with QOQEQA and we decided this was the right context to launch the music compilation- thus Radio Amazonia was born.
What’s the importance of radio as a medium and a station like La Voz de la Selva in a remote region like Loreto in North Eastern Peru?
In other parts of the world we tend to think that the internet is the solution to every communication problem but as it turns out, in the Peruvian Amazon, as in many other places where nature still has the upper hand, this is not the case. Furthermore there is a lack of relay infrastructure so internet providers only operate within larger cities. The radio not only fills this role in this case but also has served for many decades as a vehicle for cultural exchange – for instance, some of the legendary musicians during the heyday of psychedelic cumbia such as Juaneco y Su Combo or Ranil, would also live in isolation from the metropolis of the world yet their sound was very informed- this was in part due to the broadcasting of music via radio airwaves, both the official and the pirate kind. Radio transmission was a major factor behind the spread of Colombian cumbia and US rock’n’roll. In addition, radio stations such as La Voz De La Selva have been paramount in newscasting and bringing together local communities. Their current remote educational program Aprendo En Casa is nothing new to them- what has changed is the circumstances around it, there is now a real need to bring this program to the families in the region.
Can you introduce QOQEQA, the musician/DJ and producer who curated the compilation? How did the collaboration come about and how did it develop?
Daniel – formerly from Animal Chuki- had already been making waves in the global dance music community last year with the debut release of his QOQEQA project under the label Kebrada. His groundbreaking approach to polyrhythms are slightly influenced by Afro-Peruvian trends but mostly stemming from his interactions with the djembé and other West African instruments. He approached me in 2020 after he saw what we had achieved with our fundraiser to alleviate the coronavirus outbreak in the Amazon because he wanted to ensure that this compilation is bound to a social cause. He let it rest until I revived the project with the Radio Amazonia proposal – a couple of track changes and artist IDs were changed or added – notably the pioneering digicumbia producer Tribilin Sound and veteran Micky Gonzales and the compilation took its final shape.
How did the curating process work out? How and why did he pick the tracks included in Radio Amazonia?
The common thread here is Daniel’s own music taste in addition to his personal acquaintances and collaborations. Most of the producers in this 12-track compi are Peruvian, save for two Chileans (Carla Valenti and Merci&Marco) and one from Mexico (Alfonso Luna). While many of the tracks are sort of “broken beat” oriented, to put it broadly, we also find dembow (Tribilin Sound), 3Ball (Alfonso Luna) Zouk (Vitu Valera) and Downtempo (Ricardo Zavaleta), so the compilation serves ultimately as a buffet catered by Daniel (himself present on the second track ‘Yuvia’) on which music styles are emanating from the Latin electronic universe.
Is there any song included in the compilation that you are particularly fond of or would like to talk about?
Having been so involved in it I could talk at length about each track and its uniqueness but I would like to arbitrarily highlight two songs, one being “Otomi” by Alfonso Luna- I am partly fascinated by the fact that he is likely to be one of the most social-media elusive producers I am aware of, but I am even more fascinated by the track he delivered. It is a 5+ minute groovalicious piece of tribal that is full of breaks and halts with incredible payoffs.
The second track I would like to highlight is “Condorcanqui” by Tribilin Sound. The idea behind this dark dembow is simple but the build-up works out so nicely and the melody is one of the catchiest he has ever made. Expect to see this track popping its head up more in the upcoming year, you have been warned 🙂
Eck Echo is a label with a mission, a global-local project committed to sharing and supporting sounds coming from some of the Andean and Latin American lesser exposed and mostly overlooked areas and/or traditions. What does a project like Radio Amazonia represent for your label?
Eck Echo was born first and foremost out of the admiration for music but once we got the project going, nice things and vibes came along the way. If we can make a difference not only musically but also socially and culturally, all the better. The intention behind the compilation in this case is to place the focus in the donation channels but then along the project, QOQEQA himself ended up visiting the region and working together with La Voz de La Selva, so he ended up giving a few music production masterclasses to the children who benefit from the remote education program. This is very important for us- to address the topic of music education- in a world where DIY producers mostly rely on laptops and sequencers, what chances do kids in isolated regions of a heavily centralised country have to bake a couple of beats? It is an open question, we surely do not have the answers.
How is running a label in these Covid-days? How much is the pandemic influencing Eck Echo’s day-to-day life?
The pandemic actually gave the label a boost since producers and DJs were locked down like the rest of us and they could not draw from their usual source of income, namely parties, events and festivals, so they had all the time in the world to sit behind their studio speakers and get that album or song finished. To see this in action you can check out our previous release which is an entire, outstanding LP by Ecuadorian producer Quixosis. At the same time, the pandemic made life on earth once again a bit more fragile, so there were plenty of ongoing issues for us as a label (as for any other kind of entity for that matter). So we said, okay let’s try to help out in whatever we can. This is what gave birth to our “SOS Iquitos” project last year, and Radio Amazonia is a continuation of it.
Despite being dedicated to Latin American music and culture, Eck Echo is based in Berlin, which is also where you live and play. How and how much has Berlin inspired and influenced your work and your label?
I would say Berlin is a huge, if not the main influence on what I do. Ever since I was a little kid and heard about this strange place at the other end of the world divided by a wall and surrounded by tanks, the whole concept seemed so alien to me, then after the wall came down we would listen to all this electronic music coming from the city, not just the Love Parade trance or the Detroit connections via Jeff Mills, but also more experimental stuff like Funkstörung or Alva Noto, or the dub-drenched excursions of the Basic Channel label. As you can tell this is only the techno side of the story but after moving here in the midst of a wave of newcomers from Latin countries who also had their fair share of electronic music knowledge, we started looking back in the direction home from a distance and fusing the whole thing came naturally to us. It has worked out so well on dancefloors here- partly because the partygoers of the city have very receptive ears- they might get down and dirty with drum and bass, downtempo and vintage chichas all in the same weekend.
What can you tell us about the global beats scene in the German capital? Is there any musician/DJ or event series you’d like to suggest to us?
While I would definitely highlight Berlin just because of how permissive and open their nightlife scene has become- to be fair it was even more hedonistic in the 1920s- I think the whole global beat thing wouldn’t work out without the input of sister cities, especially Lisbon, London and Brussels. The exchange we get from and deliver to these places renders one beautifully connected scene. As for Berlin, some of the people whose presence is most felt are Dengue Dengue Dengue and the Voodoohop collective. As for event series, since the pandemic some of our beloved parties have stopped altogether but in the current configuration I would definitely like to highlight the events organised by Colombian DJ and curator Edna Martinez. She has the right blend of expertise in all things tropical and also Middle Eastern, and her lineups are excellent, the crowds that she draws are also incredibly mixed. Currently she is travelling back-and-forth between her hometown Cartagena and Berlin. We are happy for her but she should come back already.
You released Radio Amazonia almost six months ago… What are Eck Echo’s plans for the future? Is there any upcoming release you would like to present?
From what I am allowed to tell you at this stage, I am working on a release together with one of the founding fathers of the Peruvian-flavoured electronic style and also on a clip that highlights the aesthetics of the 1980s chicha art. Next to that we have a few releases planned with my other cassette label Elefandes that I co-run with my buddy Phran from Venezuela, based in Barcelona. For what’s coming, I will say that Congo has a big place in my ears and heart right now. Expect all of this to arrive in 2022 unless Godzilla or aliens invade us.
How can people support the Radio Amazonia project and where can they buy the compilation?
Until the 20th of December you can donate via the following channels:
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