A Barcelona singer and producer samples the world.
Mon Jun 28 2010
Pablo Daz-Reixa came of age in the Canary Islands, the paradisial Spanish outpost situated off the northwest coast of Africa. Like some strange E.U. Hawaii, its tropical climate is home to loggerhead turtles, bottlenose dolphins and ruddy British tourists. It was from this environment that Daz-Reixa, echoing ambitious types before him—United States Presidents, Old Testament stars—fled. “If you’re really young or really old, it’s great,” he reasons. “A lot of old Northern Europeans go there, like, to die. They buy a little apartment near the beach and chill because it’s sunny all the time. But if you want to discover new things or meet people who can inspire you, it’s a hard place.”
Daz-Reixa, 26, now lives in Barcelona, hub town of international cool. As El Guincho—a name he shares with an endangered bird found in his homeland—he has recorded some of the smartest party music of recent years. Alegranza! (Young Turks/XL), El Guincho’s 2008 American debut album, is a frenzied blur, presenting the musician chanting in Spanish over a spastic collage of samples drawn from the far reaches of the world. Although it’s often compared to the work of Animal Collective, Alegranza! is intuitively global: the sweaty after-party to M.I.A.’s Kala.
El Guincho’s songs (most recently displayed on Pirates de Sudamrica, an EP of South American covers) tend to be festive and fast. Dance to them, if you must, but beware of cardiac arrest. Yet as with much rowdy work, its roots are distinctly cerebral. Daz-Reixa arrived in Barcelona at 19, lured there not by music but by literature, having won a grant to write a novel. “But the novel I wrote was very, very bad,” he says, speaking by phone from Spain. Hearing the protest of a reporter—it can’t be that lousy—the musician laughs. “It was horrible!” he unhappily exclaims. “Like, muy mala. I think I lost a year of my life to it.”
Having studied music in his youth, Daz-Reixa found himself returning to song, specifically work of the Canaries. “I was homesick,” he says. “I asked my grandma to teach me old songs from the Canary Islands—ones passed down from generation to generation. They sounded a lot like the Peruvian and Venezuelan songs that I had heard on record. That’s when I started investigating.”
The musician delved into Spanish and South American recordings, becoming intrigued by the way artists distorted their source material. He especially reveled in the work of Brazilian singers like Milton Nascimento and Gilberto Gil. “A lot of those guys were inspired by English and American pop,” Daz-Reixa explains. “But even if they wanted to have that sound, they couldn’t, because their culture is so strong. By accident, they ended up with something completely new.”
Like many young men with bright ideas, the musician toyed with attending graduate school. Specifically, he hoped to move to New York to study ethnomusicology, intending to explore a theory he had hatched about island music. (His notion: “The sad songs are often in major scales, which we usually think of as being uplifting.”)
Daz-Reixa’s research, however, proved too fun for school—as well as for Coconut, the Barcelona rock band he had joined. The seamless blend concocted from his coffer of samples—Cuban doo-wop and Mexican cocktail pop, Trinidad steel drums and Canary Islands standards—accidentally gave rise to El Guincho. Like the songs he had studied, the artist’s own work proves blessedly crooked, as he swallows an array of disparate sounds and regurgitates them into an odd new dish. It’s not exactly world music. Yet it’s unmistakably music of the world.
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