Travel From the Andes to the Amazon With Lagartijeando’s Cinematic New Album ‘El Gran Poder’

Photo by Maria Silvia Zundel

Few musical trends have become as recognizable as the cultural collision of traditional Latin American rhythms with mainstream pop genres. For many Anglo or non-native artists, the blow of a pan flute or strum of a charango might seem like an intriguing exotic flair to add to an otherwise straightforward song. To Lagartijeando, those instruments come with emotions and time-honored traditions that deserve reverence and joyful celebration.

Lagartijeando is the stage name of Mati Zundel, an Argentine producer and troubadour based in Dolores, a town located about 200 kilometers outside of Buenos Aires. Before getting caught up in Argentina’s folk renaissance, Zundel was a 14-year-old grunge kid playing bass with local musicians. In an interview with Remezcla, Zundel reveals it was those invitations to play with “local folklore and cumbia bands that led [him] to learn and treasure the traditional sounds of [his] homeland.”

The name Lagartijeando comes from the time he spent in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, where he observed the lazy coolness with which lizards crawled around the city’s rocks and walls. Zundel is an adventurer at heart, distilling the emotions of day-to-day experiences into musical storytelling. His records are exquisite diary entries, depicting vivid accounts of his extensive travels through the Americas. “As an adult I was able to incorporate all those experiences into this project,” he says. “It’s a synthesis of that exploration, of going to the city and studying music production, of learning to play guitar, then diving into electronic music, and traveling all over. That whole combo of moments and journeys gave way to Lagartijeando.”

Zundel turned heads with his first EP Neobailongo, released by generative Argentine label ZZK back in 2010. Amazónico Gravitante, his first LP, was his account of a year-long trip that featured Ecuadorian bomba, Peruvian huayno, and charango, an instrument that has become his trademark, which he first learned to play in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Cardos Rodando!, his next project, took him back to Bolivia and through Brazil, where he immersed himself further in Andean roots music, as well as Afro-Brazilian candomblé percussion. This last trip proved to be his most consequential.

“I don’t perceive indigenous music as something that was created for fun or aesthetics.”

All of Zundel’s previous experimentation paved the way for El Gran Poder, Lagartijeando’s latest record. The album is verdant and cinematic, a more reigned-in vision than his wilder early compositions. At the heart of it all lies Zundel’s charango, his primary composition tool. “There is a lot of ornamental flair,” he offers, “but the base for the warm, organic, acoustic sound you hear throughout the album comes from my charango.”

Lead single “La Memoria del Viento” is a danceable yet stirring charango-led meditation from a father to a child about his travels and the inevitable passing of time. “Antofagasta de la Sierra,” which has already been given the remix treatment by El Búho, evokes similar feelings of walks in nature that eventually lead to the dance floor. On “Tecnotitlan,” we are treated to a mashup of Andes versus Amazon, an earthshaking instrumental colored by flutes and Afro-Brazilian percussion. And then there’s “Camino en Llamas,” an outstanding chasm of melancholy and beauty that, though not overtly implied, can easily be interpreted as a plea for climate change awareness.

El Gran Poder gets its name from the Aymara festivals in Peru and Bolivia that celebrate family and collective identity. Songs like “Chukisake Sublow” and “El Gran Poder” weave in chants from indigenous communities, an addition Zundel broaches cautiously. “Some music is very magical,” he starts. “I don’t perceive indigenous music as something that was created for fun or aesthetics, but instead plays a religious or spiritual role in these cultures, evoking protection and healing. It’s one of the most fascinating contributions of the native peoples of Latin America. I included some of those sounds and chants to highlight our connection to something greater than ourselves.”

“We can bridge that gap between tradition and modernity.”

Lagartijeando hangs in a strange genre limbo where labels for his music bounce from digital cumbia to slow house. “It was once unthinkable that genres like folk and electronica would someday pair and mix so well,” he reflects. “What interests me most as Lagartijeando is putting into play some of this forgotten music, that with time gets relegated and left aside. Indigenous music is powerful and transformative, and I’m interested in working with emotions that reach beyond [a] simply aesthetic [level].”

By highlighting different musical traditions, Lagartijeando is connecting the cultural dots of the continent. Despite our different stories and identities, he believes we are still one people on the continent and the planet. “I think ZZK really kickstarted this whole movement about 10 years ago when they began mixing cumbia with hip-hop and electronica. I feel like they woke up Latin America to those possibilities. With this music from everyone’s country, we can bridge that gap between tradition and modernity.”

Lagartijeando’s El Gran Poder drops on March 31 via Wonderwheel Recordings. Press play on our full advance stream below, and pre-order the album here.