Dreamland Mambo with Lucrecia Dalt’s New Album ‘¡Ay!’
The Berlin-resident Colombian musician Lucrecia Dalt has a huge body of work already. Between solo records, collaborations, film and television soundtracks and more, she’s released some ten albums, and become an important connector in the international art/electronica world.
She’s worked with the likes of Gudrun Gut, Nicolas Jaar and Wolf Eyes’ Aaron Dilloway, and most recently released on the always-exploratory Brooklyn label RVNG Intl.
Across all these she’s touched many bases from electropop to complete abstraction, and shown herself as a producer willing to go the whole hog in pursuit of the weird and wonderful.
However, ¡Ay!, her second album for RVNG, is something else again.
Digging into the bolero, mambo, salsa, and merengue of her homeland, she’s got seriously into the groove.
But it’s a narcotic, fantastical groove – all the abstraction and weirdness of her previous work is in play in stretching out and spacing out her rhythmic source material, to create something that makes you feel like you’ve got a table at some dream cabaret show in a psychic interzone.
To find out more about the wild creative leap that brought her to ¡Ay! and the process behind it we spoke to Dalt on Zoom in Frankfurt, where she was staying at a friend’s and working on a new score.
She was surrounded by old blues vinyl, which she had been digging into, raising fascinating questions about where this most mercurial musician might go next...
This album is quite a break from what’s come before. Was there a decision made that this would specifically explore a new sound or new ideas?
There was definitely that idea of thinking about how to approach those memories of the music that I listened to as a kid, growing up in Colombia. But I never knew exactly how, when would I have the time, and just where the settings and conditions could be perfect for having enough time to really dedicate to this type of approach.
I knew it needs full-time dedication to really bring that in and make it work musically the way that I wanted. It was something that was there for quite a while, and it finally happened.
So how did you end up with the time on your hands to do it? Was it just other projects coming to an end?
Well, kind of yes and no, because I was actually scoring for The Baby TV show as well as I was working on this project. But I think the initial ideas really happened during the first part of the pandemic, and I was having the time to really sit down and just be at home and think about all these things, and set up the keyboard and analyse musical structures and progressions of the music that I liked, and stuff like that.
So it's not that I was less busy, but let's say I was in the same place, which is sometimes what you need to develop stuff like this sometimes. When you're traveling or touring, you're just too disjointed.
Did you have a vision of how it would turn out? Given the styles you were drawing from are quite energetic dance forms, did you make a decision it would come out so slow and strange?
No. I had no idea what it would become... I mean, intuitively, I knew that I wanted to have some of the elements that are in this type of music. Like, the instrumentation, like trumpets and clarinets and whatnot. But I did want to process them in a way that is not usual to this type of music, and that is more like my territory of processing with envelopes and adding rhythm through texture and stuff like that.
So, that was sort of the premise, like how do I put these two things together somehow? Like on one hand how I worked with the past album and processing my voice, and trying to link that to the sci-fi story through playing things, the Prophet 6 [synthesiser] and stuff like that. And the other part that was more related to the tradition, let's say.
If you were digging into stuff from your childhood, was that an emotional process?
Yeah, it was highly emotional of course because it's music that is so much embedded in my existence, and related to this kind of comfort that I feel listening to that music, remembering being at home with my parents, grandparents and stuff like that.
But it felt emotionally rich and bright, you know? It wasn't like too much for me. It wasn't melancholic or anything like that. It was more like, this feels cozy. You know?
There are a lot of electronic treatments of Latin music, more and more all the time in fact – were you aware of any past precedents in particular?
Yeah. I mean, I'm a big fan and friends with Eblis from Meridian Brothers, and I think from Colombia, I feel he has been consistently the one that very meticulously and researching and whatnot this type of music, and approaching it in a very interesting way as well.
Julian Mayorga is another one that I feel is doing great stuff. So yeah, it's really nice because the question is always: “How do we do this? How do we work memory? How do we work with this material?” – and especially at this distance for me, being so far away, especially emotionally again.
Were you considering these different approaches as you composed, or did you try and clear your mind of other people's ideas and do something personal?
Absolutely, yeah. I think it's only obviously personal because first, I didn't want to make a genre album. Like, I wouldn't call this a bolero album or anything like that. That was the starting point. And then it derived in many things, and there are basic patterns of music, basic rhythmical patterns that you can recognise, but we shifted everything on the way, you know?
Especially with Alex and the percussion played his way. We really thought about how not to make it “that”, but make it something else, you know? I think I really wanted to make an album that had everything that I like and care about in the same place, like cinema.
And my love for cinema, my love for texture and processing, and my love for tropical rhythms and all this stuff. That was the intention, and I think I managed to combine all these things!
Someone else who creates cinematic, storytelling worlds in songs – and jumped out at me as a comparison to the sound of this album – is Tom Waits. Is he an influence?
Haha! A lot of people say that, and it's funny because it wasn't at all in my mind. It was actually Marta Salogni who mixed the album. When I went to show her the first demos, she was like, "This is reminding me of Hoist That Rag," specifically, that piece from Real Gone, I think?
Because obviously she was thinking about how the way he's using reverb on that record is very special, and the distortion and stuff is unique.
So she told me that, and I was like, wow, this is great – because then I feel like she really understands this album, even though it's not a direct reference, the use of those effects for a really specific purpose is definitely what I’m doing! And in fact there are all these hints to tropical Latin music in his work, too.
And are there now new techniques and approaches you’ll take from this album into future work?
Yeah, I think inevitably, every past project bleeds into the new one, and I like to think about it as a global development. Especially conceptual themes from the past albums were kind of developing towards this.
Even though I really consider them always as a very delimited and as a universe sort of on their own, but I think a lot of themes are already... They came from one another. So, yeah, that will continue. But see, I don't know how that would happen... I don't know what the hell I need to do next, you know?
Like, after doing this approximation, I don't know how am I going to explore rhythm again. I love rhythm, or groove, pulses and stuff like that, but let's see.
Do you think this music will translate well to playing live?
I am doing it already. I did the release party in Berlin last week, and yeah, a totally new experiment as well because I've been working for three months setting up this live show. That's where I feel the biggest change is, because usually I was just sitting on a table with modular synths and stuff, but now I'm dancing and I'm singing, and I have a percussionist and we have all these elements on stage.
I'm sending all the flutes and clarinets through this timbale, through a transfuser in the timbale, and there is a light design and whatnot. So yeah, I would like to think about it more as moving towards a little version of an opera or something like that.
Were you happy with the audience response?
Yes, yes. Berlin was amazing. I mean, it's home, and it was the release party, so it was symbolically very charged. But yeah, wonderful. Wonderful. It felt great, yes.
And finally, music from outside Western Europe and North America is more and more in the mix on its own terms: are you optimistic about how this is progressing?
Absolutely, of course. I don’t like it when things get too... narrowed. When things get – I forgot the word...
Yes, that's the word, yeah. Compartmentalised. Yeah, I think it's really lovely when things get mixed. When you get ideas from here, you bring it there. You know. I love that stuff.
And I think that's the main purpose of art, you know? To bring all these elements and create something new out of that. So I think it's great to see that happening and to hopefully have more of that, of course that’s great!
All Images: Aina Climent
Writer | Joe Muggs
Joe Muggs is a writer, DJ and curator of many years standing, covering both mainstream and underground. His book 'Bass, Mids, Tops', covering decades of UK bass music, is out now via Strange Attractor / MIT Press, and you can subscribe to his newsletter at tinyletter.com/joemuggs.