When June Carter Cash wrote “Ring of Fire” back in the early 60s, it’s unlikely that the Peruvian indie pop scene of the future was at the forefront of her mind. Maybe it was, although popular music legend tells us her love for Big Johnny inspired the song. Now, over 50 years later and several thousand miles to the south, the hugely catchy chorus of “Ring of Fire” (“And it burns, burns, burns/the ring of fire”) finds resonance in the new single from Lima’s modern-day psychedelic highwaymen Kanaku y El Tigre.
Of course, “burn, burn, burn” means “Quema, quema, quema,” the song title in question, which is taken from Kanaku’s eponymous album. With Johnny Cash widely known as The Man in Black, this could be The Music Video in Hyper-Fluorescent Neon Pink, as the band brings their disco carnage to a hook based on the tortured cries of the tripping. The setting adds to the kaleidoscopic horror, with the band taking the roles of inmates at Dr. Leary’s Institute of Rampaging Hallucinations. The unrelenting heave of the track’s percussive core stokes the video’s sense of chaos even further.
In the words of singer Nico Saba, who co-directed the video with Mikael Stornfelt, “the song evokes a primitive intensity and sensuality, in which band members seem to be calling on a species of sinister spirits that take control of their soulless bodies.” If that doesn’t sound like drugs to you, it may be that music and the counterculture are now so entwined that one is indecipherable from the other. Or maybe you just need to find a better dealer.
As a full-fledged admirer of anything that avoids choruses in favor of soaring intensity, I find much to applaud in “Quema Quema Quema.” It also marks a notable shift from much of the other material on Kanaku y El Tigre’s latest album, which fuses Peruvian rhythms with folk and the indie poppiness of innocent youth. But this is different. This is fire. Johnny and June would have loved it.