New Connections

A former Richmond musician brings exploratory cumbia sounds to open for Bio Ritmo in a new music venue, Ember Music Hall.

Seeing innovative Richmond alt-salsa institution Bio Ritmo in a spanking new venue may be enough reason to go to Ember Music Hall on Friday night. The return of Richmond-born, now Brooklyn-based musician, Joshua Douglas Camp, is incentive to arrive early. The multi-instrumentalist’s solo C.A.M.P.O.S. project combines Latin rhythms, analog exotica, multi-layered loops, and in-the-moment improvisations that test the limit of the territory a single performer can cover. And you can dance to it.

Camp grew up and went to school in Chesterfield County, where his parents still live in his childhood home. He got a degree in musical composition from Virginia Commonwealth University, studying with seminal local fixtures like Dika Newland and Doug Richards. For most of his twenties, he had “a pretty cool day job as an accordion technician” with Hohner when they were just off the Ashland exit, he recalls. “During the ‘90s, I played, wrote, and produced in bands, including Spike the Dog and Dirt Ball.”

But it was One Ring Zero, with fellow Hohner employee Michael Hearst, that was the breakthrough. Their collaboration started in Hearst’s Semmes Avenue basement studio, resulting “Tranz Party” on Plan 9’s Planetary Records. “We were kind of accepted by the weirdos,” Camp recalls. “But it really didn’t start to click until we moved to Brooklyn.”

In 2000, the just-beginning-to-be-gentrified New York City borough was fertile ground for a smart and eclectic musical project. Their profile exploded with their fifth release, the high concept “As Smart as We Are.” The album featured lyrics by a who’s who of the era’s leading novelists such as Margaret Atwood, Paul Auster, and Neal Gaiman. Soon the band was featured on shows like “Fresh Air” and “Morning Edition,” and playing gigs at the Kennedy Center and the Whitney Museum of Art. One Ring Zero followed up with “The Planets,” an update of Gustav Holtz’s iconic suite, and “The Recipe Project,” with genre jumping arrangements of ingredients and instructions from top chefs.

The band is still listed as active, but Camp and Hearst have branched out into other products. For Hearst, it is a series of “Music For” recordings, enlisting a variety of hip musicians on songs for subjects including “Unusual Creatures” and “Ice Cream Trucks.” Camp built a heterogeneous career, playing accordion on Broadway, scoring commercial music for brands including Polo and Victoria’s Secret, composing classical chamber works, and performing with bands ranging from country to Klezmer.

Along the way, he discovered an affinity for Latin music.

“I knew the people in Bio Ritmo from their beginning, but salsa wasn’t really my thing. When I got to New York, where you meet so many Latin musicians, I realized there was this whole history with accordion and cumbia.” He was a founding member of Olivier Conan’s Peruvian cumbia sextet Chicha Libre. The band put out two well-reviewed albums and an EP before moving into occasional reunion status in the middle of the last decade. The dissolution left Camp with a trove of song ideas and demos written for a band that was no longer active. Bio Ritmo leader Marlysse Simmons suggested he submit them to Pablo Yglesias at DJ-run Peace and Rhythms Records, and C.A.M.P.O.S. was born. “I was thinking it would be an EP,” Camp says, “But they released a double record.”

This is the first RVA performance by the band, whose name is both eponymous and an acronym for “Cumbias and More Psychedelic Original Sounds.” The music is joyously propulsive and kaleidoscopically melodic, enjoyably unpredictable, and approachably coherent. “I guess the difference [with living in NYC] is that in Richmond you can go see this cool salsa band in a club, but on my block, you just hear that in the streets. It’s just part of the culture. People are just playing it all the time and I think it really started to seep into my consciousness.”
Ironically, moving north musically marinated Camp in a style from way, way, way down south.

C.A.M.P.O.S opens for Bio Ritmo at Ember Music Hall, 309 E Broad St, at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, July 28. Tickets start at $20.89.

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