In her most recent project, an exhaustive exploration of the voice as an instrument of texture and expression, Sofia Rei breaks away from the established continuity of her work, creating a daring new soundscape that blends South American folk with pop, electronic music and improvisation.
In a recent soul-searching trip to the Elqui Valley in Chile Sofía, equipped only with two back packs with recording equipment and her charango created the core of her newest musical venture: “Umbral” (Threshold). Her unorthodox compositions are built almost exclusively from vocal loops and incorporate the series “Cinco poemas cínicos” (Five Cynical Poems), in which the songwriter displays her natural inclination towards lyricism. Incisive and imaginative, Sofia’s poetry responds to heartbreak, deception and disappointment with unrestrained candor, elegant humor and a heavy dose of sarcasm.
Umbral’s band is comprised of some of the most talented musicians of the New Latin international scene. The album is set to be released in 2019 and is produced by world music luminary long-time collaborator JC Maillard (Lisa Fischer, Angelique Kidjo, Richard Bona, Touré Kunda)
Chilean singer, songwriter, folklorist, social activist, poet, and visual artist Violeta Parra would have celebrated her 100th birthday this year. In her new recording, El Gavilán, vocalist, songwriter and producer Sofia Rei celebrates her legacy by approaching her music with the imagination and daring that characterized Parra’s work.
Sofía re-imagines Parra’s music in a contemporary setting and records an album in duo with eclectic and adventoruous guitarist Marc Ribot and with the surprise participation of Angel Parra, Violeta’s grandson. Sofía also plays caja vidalera, a hand-held single head drum from Argentina’s northwest, and charango, a small, five double string guitar from the Andean region of South America. It is still, in essence, the classic folk voice-and-guitar arrangement, but framed by both, electronics and traditional instruments. The results — spacious and almost minimalist— illuminate Parra´s work from unexpected angles.
Sofía built most of the song arrangements with only multilayered vocals sculptured as loops with effects and a wide range of textures creating a sonic landscape unique to each composition.
El Gavilán” is a thirteen-minute composition from Parra, closer to atonal academic music than to Latin American folklore, in which the pain and desperation of a devious love take flesh in a dissonant sonority and lyrics that resemble babbling, as if nothing was left to say other than what this disruptive and mourning music expresses. “El Gavilán” is also the piece that inspired this project. Violeta Parra’s body of work is a heritage to which one always returns, as her figure is the symbol of multiple artists: a woman, Latin American, a revolutionary, a lover. Firm and sensitive, militant and suffering, a compiler and a creator.
Sofia Rei’s third album, De Tierra y Oro, has received two Independent Music Awards in the World Beat category for Best Album and Best Song in 2013 and has been featured on CNN, NPR’s Tiny Desk, WNYC’s Soundcheck, The New York Times and many more.
Sofia describes the album as a series of “philosophical wanderings” -songs that draw on a wide range of South American folkloric influences and bracingly modern sounds, with her powerful voice in the forefront. The album was produced with her longtime bassist and collaborator Jorge Roeder and co-producer Fabrice Dupont.
The textures run the gamut of contemporary to traditional: from layered and effects-treated vocals, electric guitars, loops and drum machines to Bolivian charangos, Paraguayan harps, Colombian marimbas, Argentine bombos, Peruvian cajones and more.
Rei’s vibrant multi-tracked vocals and use of reverbs, delays and harmonizers make “De Tierra y Oro” a bold departure from her previous work. Singing in Spanish, Rei tells stories that reflect her diverse travels and experiences: a cock fight in Cartagena, a nightmare in Buenos Aires, a love letter in New York, a haunted man in the Andes.
Produced and arranged by Sofia Rei and Jorge Roeder, Sube Azul, recipient of the Best Album in the 2011 Independent Music Award in the World Beat category is a fully formed synthesis, reflecting Sofia’s immersion in modern and progressive jazz while also responding to the pull of ancestry and the appeal of organic, pan-musical connections.
A native of Buenos Aires, Sofia brings to bear the folkloric traditions of Argentina and its regional neighbors (Peru, Colombia, Uruguay), tying together diverse influences in a program full of complexity, melody and romance.
The songs speak of heartbreak, individuality, special characters in Sofia’s life, the challenges of life abroad. There are tributes to Argentina’s copleras (female folkloric singers), and comments on what Sofia terms “the end of the utopia of the upcoming Latin American revolution.”
And yet even as Sube Azul spans the continents, it transcends its origins and gathers force as a self-contained narrative, more than the sum of its parts.
Ojalá -Sofia’s debut album- presents a rainbow of poignant melodies, involved orchestrations, folkloric textures and all-around superb musicianship, centered around Sofía’s rich, full-bodied, dolorous vocal instrument.
Singing in Spanish, Portuguese, or English, Sofía pursues a cross-pollination of traditions reflected in her original compositions and arrangements.
Ojalá has received incredible critical acclaim and has been chosen a TOP 10 Album of 2006 by the “Jazz Journalists Association.”