Nicola Cruz’s 2015 debut Prender el Alma was a jaunt through an Andean landscape where the rain fell in color and the winds carried flute melodies. By now, visual soundscapes and striking images that render listeners completely synesthetic have become the French-Ecuadorian producer’s calling card. With each of his releases, he dives deeper into the heart of South America, bringing with him the influences he’s gathered from the rest of the world.
On his newly released Cantos de Visión EP, Cruz leads us into a quieter, foggier corner of the continent. The EP, which was released last week through Canadian label Multi Culti, is tight and succinct, dotted with field recordings from the Amazon jungle for texture. Cruz slows down the tempo and dims the lights enough for an intimate experience and ascent into otherworldliness to occur.
Cruz describes the first song, “Tzantza,” as an initiation, opening listeners up to message and revelation. A gentle marimba rhythm snakes its way over a kick drum and builds the intensity gradually. “Bruxo” and “Danza de Vision” drive the energy forward and elevate the experience until “Rio Branco” sparkles through with its wisps of voices, chimes, and flutes, marking the journey’s resolution. The project keeps its bpm pulse slow and steady, boasting an enigmatic spirit that is more like “Sanación,” the lulling opener of Prender el Alma, and less like the big, bright euphoria of Cruz’s hit “La Cosecha.”
“Prender el Alma was, in a way, about exposing sounds from Ecuador and South America always with the certain feeling — let’s say it was a bit more colorful and optimistic. This EP is for sure darker, and I love to explore that side — darker colors, darker vibes,” Cruz told Remezcla, speaking from a rehearsal in La Paz, Bolivia.
“Even if the inspiration behind it was a ceremony, I tried to be subtle about the message.”
While Cruz says he was inspired by the structure and essence of traditional medicine ceremonies, he’s hesitant to make his analogies too literal. He explains that he wanted to keep the sound and message ambiguous to avoid overusing and co-opting sacred terms associated with South American rituals. “There are some words and ideas that are too big to be thrown out there,” he said. “That’s why even if the inspiration behind it was a ceremony, I tried to be subtle about the message.”
Cruz, who is based in Quito, has championed his style of “Ecuadorian folkloric, mixed with contemporary or electronic music” for several years. His reverence for the traditions he uses is ever-present in the music. He pulls snippets directly from vinyl records that he finds while traveling — you can hear his classic sampling in the echoes of indigenous Ecuadorian singers that flash in and out of “Danza de Vision,” or in the mapalé percussion rhythms of “Bruxos.” While some electronic artists run the risk of suffocating nuances under layers of production, Cruz’s slow-boiled pacing leaves plenty of room for Andean chants and flute arrangements to radiate. “At slower tempos, elements fit better,” Cruz explains. “They have more space, they can be appreciated more.”
The dance floor also had a role to play in finding the right tempos for Cantos de Visión. Cruz spent a lot of 2016 touring, completing eight shows in the United States and stunning audiences at festivals in Europe. He actually tested out “Tzantza” at Barcelona’s Sonar last June, and often takes note of how people react to his songs live.
Still, there isn’t one tempo or style that defines Cruz’s approach. His influences remain broad and expansive, and releasing music on two labels offers avenues for testing new ground. Prender el Alma came out on the Buenos Aires-based label ZZK, long-time champions of electronic dance music from Latin America. ZZK was a laboratory of sorts for Cruz to go on “album mode” and play with broad inspirations and curiosities. Multi Culti, he explains, keeps him dexterous as he tries new directions that come from more immediate reaction to his surroundings.
“For me, this is my dialogue as a music producer. I don’t only like electronic music — I enjoy music in many manifestations, and that’s what I’m trying to get at with each of my releases,” he said.
Nicola Cruz’s Cantos de Visión EP is out now on Multi Culti.