With her new album Golpes y Flores, Eliana Cuevas has created a beautiful musical love letter to her native land of Venezuela.
The award-winning singer/songwriter has been based in Toronto since 1997, but she drew inspiration from her homeland for this, her fifth record (to be released on ALMA Records on September 8). Eliana explains that, “Venezuelan music is very rich and I wanted to showcase some of what my country has to offer musically speaking. I was keen to feature traditional Afro-Venezuelan rhythms and mix those in with what I do here in Canada.”
Cuevas was able to discover and record some of the finest percussionists in that country, and their contributions mesh seamlessly with those of her A-list Canadian accompanists. Their work is framed within her eloquent original compositions, while Eliana’s fluent and pure vocals complete a sound that is both timeless and freshly contemporary.
Golpes y Flores was arranged and produced in Toronto by noted composer and keyboardist Jeremy Ledbetter, and recorded and mixed by awardwinning engineer John “Beetle” Bailey (Serena Ryder, Molly Johnson).
The sessions featured Cuevas’ regular band of Ledbetter, drummer Mark Kelso (Holly Cole), bassist George Koller (Loreena McKennitt), and percussionist Daniel Stone (Nelly Furtado), plus guests Rich Brown, Aquiles Báez, Adolfo Herrera, Gustavo Márquez, Aleksandar Gajic, Peter Cosbey, Aysel Taghi, Vedran Curic, Jonathan Tortolano, Marcus Ali, Alexis Baró, Luis Deniz, Marito Marques, Yonathan "Morocho" Gavidia, Javier Suárez & Juan Carlos. Many of these players contributed to Eliana’s previous album, 2014’s Espejo, and their musical empathy is on vivid display here.
Three of the compositions on Golpes y Flores, “Alegria,” “No Se Puede,” and “Mi Linda Maíta,” were co-written by Eliana and Jeremy, with the remaining seven being Cuevas originals.
Eliana has never been constrained by genre boxes in her songwriting, drawing freely from jazz, Latin, folk and world music elements. Cuevas' stylistic diversity is reflected in the fact she has won a Toronto Independent Music Award (in 2007), a National Jazz Award as Latin Jazz artist of the Year (2009), and for Best Latin Album at the 2014 Independent Music Awards in the US, for Espejo.
That variety is again evident on Golpes y Flores, as songs range from the sparse and tender ballad “Mi Linda Maíta” to the dramatic and strings-driven “Nunca Jamas,” the horns-embellished “Despierta” and breezy “Poderosa,” and the full-blooded Latin jazz feel of “Seré Libre.”
Afro-Venezuelan rhythms are a consistent thread on the album, and Cuevas is thrilled at their presence. “Once I found these percussionists to record with, we adapted some of the songs I’d already written, as well as writing some new songs around those rhythms.”
Eliana credits Venezuelan musician Aquiles Báez with facilitating the collaboration. “He performed in Toronto last year, so we took the opportunity to record a couple of my songs with Aquiles and his trio here. He then connected me with the percussionist Yonathan “Morocho’ Gavidia, who put me in touch with the other players.”
Cuevas draws upon personal experiences in her very poetic songwriting. For example, “A Tear On The Ground” was inspired by her family’s visit to India. “It was a very spiritual experience, I spent a few days doing yoga at an ashram that was right by a lake that had a sign warning people to be careful of the crocodiles. It was a beautiful quiet place where I could go to to meditate and it inspired me to write… ”
Another song with special resonance is “Mi Linda Maita,” dedicated to Eliana’s grandmother. “She passed away a couple of years ago, and I wanted to honour her,” Cuevas explains. “’Poderosa’ is about the strength women have and their ability to make life. I wrote it as I was pregnant with my second daughter.”
The album title also possesses a deep meaning, Eliana states. “’Golpes’ means hit, often referring to rhythms, while ‘flores’ means flowers. To me, the title suggests a combination of the sophistication, beauty and gentleness of flowers and the strength and force of the Afro-Venezuelan rhythms.”
Golpes y Flores is dedicated to Eliana’s two daughters and to Venezuela. “It is not a secret there are problems there right now, but not enough people know how rich Venezuelan music truly is and I’d like to show the world some of the beauty my country still has to offer despite all of the problems it is currently facing” she says.
She has certainly done that here, crafting a lovely work that is highly worthy of your attention.