The Tropicals






Urubamba by the Italian duo The Tropicals is the perfect foil to Nino Nardini’s and Roger Roger’s Jungle Obsession (1971). Both albums are released a few months apart, are made by Italians and Frenchmen, intermix field recordings and sound libraries with cavalcades of drums, flutes and Funk Exotica and simply entrap that European version of epidemical funkiness of the time which can be rightfully ridiculed, but equally enjoyed. The Tropicals are Giancarlo Barigozzi alias Ginazzi, a Jazz saxophonist, clarinetist and flutist whose signature instrument is – at least on this record – the latter one, and Oscar Rocchi alias Chiarosi who provides the electric piano and keyboard to the drum-laden LP.


Released on the Jump label, Urubamba presents an overarching African topic, but is keen on venturing to Jamaica, India and other locations all around the globe. Rounding the enthralling sounds off is the talented use of acoustic guitars, several bongos, congas and djembes as well as the terrific voice of an otherwise unmentioned female singer who provides chants that remind of Sally Terry's vocal range off Robert Drasnin’s eternal classic Voodoo! (1959). Occasionally, Ginazzi and Chiarosi join the fun with playfully savage shouts and humming. Even though this album remains the only LP by the duo, these musicians are very skilled and the exotic flavor is on top of that instantly omnipresent. Jazz musician Giancarlo Barigozzi has played for Frank Sinatra and other big names, whereas Oscar Rocchi appeared on many international Jazz quartets. Here, it seems, the duo plays it cool and has lots of fun in fathoming out the playful, melodious, sun-fueled and accessible side of Jazz, i.e. the very trademarks that make the genre called Exotica so luring. Urubamba is one of the lost Exotica classics that never came to be. But it is so catchy and warmhearted that I must write a declaration of love about it.


It’s that blend of Africa with Italian Pop which wafts throughout the album and is fittingly injected in the eponymous opener already: Urubamba features the same-titled exclamations in a kind of melancholic timbre by The Tropicals themselves, with Ginazzi’s dubbed flutes panning through the stereo field in a delicately warbled fashion. Careful conga accentuations add to the dusky steppes that are aurally visualized. The final segue is fulminant, comprising handclap-heavy “ye!” chants and an uplifting, contrastive tempo. African Popcorn follows, and it is here where the Italian production technique wafts heavily through the air. Chiarosi’s silkened keyboard backings are funky but laid-back, Ginazzi’s flute work twirls above these cascading liquids. The unmentioned femme chants wordless vocals before the magnificent djembe solo boosts the oomph of that piece. Similar to a sleazy-slick concrete jungle atmosphere, African Popcorn is a superb intertwinement of Exotica with Funk.


The Girl From Morococha is much more poeticizing and lachrymose, with aqueously clicking rain sticks, sun-dappled ukulele twangs, backing djembes, short harpsichord droplets and the soft tremolo of the flute forming a rose-tinted backdrop for the titular girl to sing beautifully. Frank Hunter’s White Goddess and Robert Drasnin’s aforementioned Voodoo! (both 1959) come to mind. Brazilian Butterfly then depicts a wonkily baroque Space-Age feeling via its exoplanetary harpsichord prologue, but soon moves into mellifluous Exotica flumes via glockenspiel glints, jazzy electric piano chords, sizzling maracas and that gorgeous temptress whose voice gleams like a refreshing waterfall in the desert. The acoustic guitar aorta rounds the Brazilian-Far Eastern duality off. While Flute Safari moves back to Africa, and decidedly so, by means of croaking guiros, glittering wind chimes, a superb conga and bongo groove and a lead flute which is echoed by an all-male choir that possibly consists of the duo’s doubled voices and rounded off by sound libraries of birds and monkeys, Tropical Love is an upbeat and Pop-focused piece of elasticized dryness with hot pentatonic electric piano tones, “love me” whispers, a curiously but wonderful mountainous loftiness and a revved up percussion placenta in tandem with electronic bass blebs. Very catchy indeed!


Side B opens with the portentous Tarzan Dance, a quasi-pandemonium of ever-repetitive flute-and-electric-piano spirals, rattling drums and prolonged screams. The harpsichord flecks are of a Gothic quality, Giancarlo Barigozzi’s performance on the flute seems crazier than ever, and the trumpeting elephants and chatting apes only amplify the feeling of being in a jungle. A fleeting visit to an island follows: Jamaican Love Song is only partially Dub-related, but shares the downbeat structure with the genre. Here, the aura really resembles Drasnin’s Voodoo! LP, and very strongly so. The chantress sings luringly and in a transcendental way while being echoed by males later on. The backdrop is rather black and minimal, with only the drums, shakers and possibly a few guitar chords with flute tones expanding the scenery. The drums are mixed too loud for my taste, they destroy the fragility, but everything else is right.


Message From The Jungle meanwhile features the same bumping drums but enlarges the variety with delightful conga coils. Xylophone driblets merge with the polyphonic warmth of warbled flutes and acoustic guitar chords, all the while the whitewashed and diffuse electric piano somehow interpolates the perception of wideness due to all other instruments being much crunchier than these blurry blebs. Baobab Blues is dedicated to the African tree and inherits one of the greatest melodies. Everything is warm, the flute is limewashed, “baobab” whispers are dropped over an eminently sun-soaked piece of insouciance. The guitar is the first wah-wah example on the album, everything gleams and scintillates amicably. A superb hit.


As is Amazon River with its jazzy physiognomy and less embellishments. Wordless vocals, ticking claves, bass guitars and pumping djembes altogether form the stage for a surprisingly drum-focused tune with those typical Jazz-evoking piano chords and paradisiac flutes. The closer Indian Cobra ventures back into Pagan climes with its carefree undergrowth complexion and rattling shakers which link, as one would expect, back to the track title. The flute play differs a bit, it is not as stringent and orderly, thereby fueling the impression of listening to a Peruvian band, were it not for the pompous drums and majestic piano prongs.


Urubamba is considered a gem by me, one that is on par with Nino Nardini’s and Roger Roger’s Jungle Obsession despite – or because of? – its much more focused and less ornamental movements. Notwithstanding these limits, the duo of The Tropicals injects a wide variety of drums via tape-dubbing, and these alone make this album excitingly exotic. There is more though: the flute tones and electric piano chords are equally essential, no doubt about that, but even more important for the aesthetic success of the album is the quintessential Italian style that runs as a golden thread through all tunes. Spencer & Hill movies come to mind. The tone sequences and tonalities are only slightly funky, Jungle Obsession beats the crap out of Urubamba in this regard; however, Urubamba sounds warmer and more coherent without neglecting the peculiar Afro-Bop coolness and sleaziness.


More acoustic guitars and the fact that the normally gelid electric piano is curiously used for augmenting the warmth of the arrangements are both important distinctive markers, followed by the final revelation: the beautiful vocals. They are almost always wordless, but the purified aura of the female lead singer’s voice is enchanting and resurrects the spirits of many a vintage Exotica release. These tunes could have appeared in the post-Golden Age of Italian cinematography, and since they are strongly exotic, tropical and even a tad pentatonic, they turn out to be delightful companions during jogging, exercising or dreaming away in one’s hammock. Urubamba has all the potential for a classic album that only waits to be resurrected, so I severely hope that it is going to be reissued sometime in the future. Vinyl versions are of course available, but do not appear as regularly on eBay or GEMM than its scope would suggest. If you are searching for a foil to Nardini’s and Roger’s Jungle Obsession and Afro, Spooky (1976), Brigozzi’s and Rocchi’s Urubamba would be your best choice, both geographically and thematically.


Exotica Review 251: The Tropicals – Urubamba (1972). Originally published on Aug. 17, 2013 at