Musician and broadcaster, Sandy Burnett, is intrigued by Argentine vocal star, Sofia Rei’s musical and fashion sense.
The first thing that leapt out at me about Sofia Rei was her music – an intriguing mix of Brazilian, folk music and electronic sounds blended in a way that I’d never quite heard before. And the second? The dazzling fabric of her skirt she’s wearing in a memorable publicity photograph.
It turns out that the latter’s just as much of an international melange as the former: the skirt is from Buenos Aires though the fabric is Mexican. As for the music, it’s the result of a long musical exploration, which has seen her moving from an early training as a classical singer in Argentina, through contemporary music, jazz and even punk, to singing music from all across South America – Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Cuba and Brazil – in her current base in the United States. So there are plenty of different musical elements thrown into the melting pot of her music. And the array of South American instruments used to support her is just as rich and varied, some of them more familiar to us in the UK than others: charango, bombo, Paraguyan harp, and cajon.
The music scene of Sofia Rei’s Buenos Aires has always been vibrant and varied – with tango and folklore rubbing shoulders with rock, jazz and other forms. But when she left the Argentine capital in 2001, it was in search of something she couldn’t get at home: Sofia Rei had become obsessed with vocal improvisation, and all the different ways of using the voice as an instrument. Which led her, eventually, to New York City.
It didn’t take long for her to start working with some of the top artists there: Bobby McFerrin, Maria Schneider, Geoffrey Keezer and Lionel Loueke are just some of the names that leap out of her CV. While being in the Big Apple helped her to come into closer contact with music from her own continent, thanks to the way that the community of Latin American musicians share and collaborate on music there. Funnily enough she’s found that there is a greater variety of Latin American music on offer in New York than there ever was back in Buenos Aires – and that sense of sharing and borrowing comes across strongly in her own music.
Listening through to her latest album, I got the sense of being taken on an extraordinary journey. In fact, De Tierra y Oro (which translates roughly as “Of Earth and Gold”) brings together a collection of mostly original songs that she’s based on people, places and situations she came across in her travels across the South American continent. A stone hidden in the trunk of a willow tree, for example, is the starting point for a reflection on love in the song “El Sauce” (sauce means “willow”, by the way – nothing to do with KP…) While a cock fight in Cartagena, a town on Colombia’s Caribbean coastline, is what inspired the album’s opening track, “La Gallera”. Throughout, her words and vocal lines are underpinned by bass lines from longtime collaborator and co-producer Peruvian bassist Jorge Roeder, who’s also travelling over to play in this Pizza Express gig.
It’s a ReVoice! return for Sofia Rei, who was part of John Zorn’s extraordinary Mycale project, definintely one of the highlights of last year’s festival. What was it like working with him, I wondered? She describes him as “an amazing musician, and a wonderful person as well – brilliant, generous, loyal to his musicians, and with the energy of a hurricane.” While this year, Sofia Rei has the headline slot to herself and her own material. I’m planning to be there, and if you can make it down too, prepare to be dazzled. And not just by her wardrobe.
For more about Sandy Burnett visit www.sandyburnett.com