Sofia Rei: Honoring Chilean Artist Violeta Parra – Hot House Jazz Guide
As Dominican writer Julia Alvarez explained at a reading at Harlem’s Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling at the beginning of March: When you lose your stories, you lose your soul. Folklore is the soul of a country. In the case of music, folkloric music is the musical history and soul of a country.
New York-based singer Sofía Rei has decided to honor the musical history of South America, along with its soul, by paying tribute to the South American folkloric tradition in her latest album El Gavilán (The Hawk). The title is a reference to a piece composed by Chilean visual artist, performer and activist Violeta Parra, whose song “Gracias a la Vida” (“Thank you to Life”), many people, worldwide, have heard.
“Violeta Parra was the first Latin American artist who did a solo exhibition at the Louvre,” Argentina-born Sofía explains. In 1964 Violeta exhibited some of her oil paintings, wire sculptures and arpilleras almost decade before Chile was taken by a military dictatorship. “She was a singer and a composer; a folklorist and an ethnomusicologist,” Sofía adds. “She was very important for rescuing so many musical traditions of Chile.” She then reinvented them and created something essential for Latin American culture, which was the New Song movement.
The legacy of Violeta also lies in her personality. “More than anything else, she was a very brave woman,” Sofía says. “She was really truthful to herself. She was really strong. So many people consider her the mother of Latin American music.” 2017 is the 100th anniversary of Violeta’s birth and Sofía is more than prepared for this celebration since she and guitarist Marc Ribot performed for a Parra tribute in Colombia last May.
Sofía’s album features eight tunes, all Parra compositions. Songs such as “Arriba quemando el Sol” and “El Gavilán” translate the authenticity, rawness, urgency and uneasiness of Violeta’s titanesque journey; yet in paying tribute to Violeta, Sofía also continues establishing her own unique, focused, unconventional and, at times, delirious vision: Trained as a classical singer, she can use her voice operatically, but she is also an accomplished jazz performer and improviser. And it is the first time Sofía has recorded electronic sounds.
“I create layers of my own vocals that form the structure of what I am doing,” she says. “There is no bass; there are no drums. You’re not trying to replace them, but hopefully you don’t miss them either. It’s just vocals layering. Each of these layers has its own life. They have enough harmonic content, rhythmic content or counterpoint. It was very fun to piece them together.”
Sofía met Marc while she was working with John Zorn’s vocal a cappella quartet Mycale in 2009. But Marc and she played for the first time in 2013 with John’s Song Project. Angel Parra, Violeta’s grandson, is also on Sofía’s album El Gavilán.
Sofía Rei, on voices, loops, effects, charango and percussion, performs at The Greenwich House on April 13 with JC Maillard on guitar and saz bass, for her project, Umbral. She also plays at Subrosa on April 29, for the release of her album El Gavilán, with Marc Ribot on guitars and Jorge Glem, cuatro.
Source: Hot House Jazz Guide
Author: Emilie Pons