The four Paris-based musicians offer a new approach to Venezuelan music. Their first album, La Candela Del Rio, flows like an incandescent musical river.
The traditional and popular music of the Land of Grace, including Joropo styles, are transposed onto the sounds of incantatory songs, poetry, jazz, Afro-Latin rhythms, kraut rock and trip-hop. In order to understand this group’s universe, simply forget the news, the crisis and the tensions: Insólito Universo shows us a very different kind of Venezuela. Instead, try to see things through the lense of a Wes Anderson film taking place in a country where the rivers are illuminated, glowing and glittering under a cosmic, experimental folk soundtrack.
The group’s name was inspired by a popular 1960s Venezuelan radio program: “Nuestro Insolito Universo,” which told urban legends and paranormal facts intercut with intriguing and unusual soundscapes. Stories of this kind are now experiencing rebirth through Insólito Universo, who present Venezuela through an unusual dreamlike filter. “It has been abnormal since the group’s beginnings: the way the musicians were brought together, each individual’s course, the mix of different musical styles … we don’t fit into any one box” explains Raúl Monsalve (bassist, percussionist and initiator of the project). The young artist has already engaged in sound experiments with the likes of famous London group The Heliocentrics and Family Atlantica as well as with his band
Y Los Forajidos. It still took a completely random and unusual encounter to push their musical research to its climax.
Let’s take a trip back together, to the buzzing Parisian district of Montreuil a few years back. The weekly jam session staged by Le Bidule cafe were favoured by some of the most eminent world musicians. Between two improv sessions, Raúl met the Venezuelan singer and cuatro player, Maria Fernanda Ruette. She invited him to her residency at the FGO Barbara cultural center to continue their musical exchange. A few weeks later, this unusual encounter had led them to Insólito UniVerso: a quartet that exists in an atypical universe, navigating between eras, between the music of the black Atlantic and psychedelic rock.
“It happened naturally, in addition to coming from the same country, we had the same musical reference points: the trip-hop of Portishead, the world of the singer Joséphine Foster, the pop of Stereolab, the minimalist sounds of Meredith Monk and well – substantial networks of ‘70s psychedelic, kraut-rock and great bands like the Meridian Brothers” All these influences are the building blocks of La Candela del Río. It feels transported by a river, constantly in motion, creating a new music. “There are many currents of water in Venezuela that come together and form shared routes, etc … Our music is a bit like that. We don’t want to lock ourselves into any particular musical genre. Venezuelan music mixes many different cultures, coming from Africa, India, and Europe. We took this background and mixed in our more modern influences.” Maria Fernanda Ruette, with her cuatro (a small four-stringed guitar that is typical to Venezuela), sings with a blend of languor and intensity. The aura of the poet Conny Méndez is reflected in “Transmutada,” a progressive piece of complex pop and meticulous jazzy arrangements that ventures into the golden age of krautrock and pop.
Another poem is also present, the famous “yo soy mi río” by Eugenio Montejo is carried here by a throbbing keyboard and by the Afro-Venezuelan rhythms of San Millan: these cadences were inherited from Congo and Nigeria, stemming from the XVIIth century. These traditions, and more, are absorbed into Insolito Universo’s disorientating world.
Joropo, the traditional musical style of the Venezuelan coast is illuminated through most pieces but in a changed light: the harp gives way to a haunting cosmic orchestration from the first note. The keyboard of Edgar Bonilla Jiménez, sounding almost hallucinatory; the sustained bass of Raúl Monsalve; the complex drums of Andres Sequera and the vocal ease of Maria hoist the sails of the Merengue (Caribbean dance genre), a backwind of psychedelic rock propelling them into rarely-explored waters. The icing on the cake is the fact that Malcom Catto (drummer of The Heliocentrics) officiates over the sound, handling mixing and co-production on the album.
We are invited on a fantastic epic – to dance during the parades of San Pedro de Guatire on “Lloviendo in Guatire” or to chill on the mysterios beach of “Machurucuto.” To encounter Venezuelan folklore via the world of Mike Patten, Pink Floyd and the Meridian Brothers seems impossible. It took a group with enough audacity to bring these universes together. Insólito UniVerso proves it with verve and brilliance on this, their first album La Candela del Río.
Insolito Universo, La Candela Del Rio (Olindo Records)