Exclusive Interview: Argentinian musician Mati Zundel and hip-hop leanings!
Mati Zundel’s music has been called psychedelic cumbia. His beats fuse rhythms from diverse parts of South America, and increasingly reflect the musical influences of a man who has been on the move the last few years – in body and spirit. Hailing from the countryside a few hours outside of Buenos Aires, Zundel has always been partial to folk sounds.
In 2010 he sat down with me at a café in Buenos Aires after having just finished recording his first EP for ZZK Records under the name Lagartijeando, which literally translates as “Lizarding.” The EP had a unique dubby, Andes Mountains kind of sound.
Since the release of his Neobailongo EP, he has traveled rural Latin America with a backpack and a microphone, picking up indigenous rhythms and native chants from Bolivia to Ecuador and all through the Amazon interior. Zundel’s 2012 release –Amazonico Gravitante- is the result – a record that has picked up a growing list of converts (http://www.npr.org/2012/03/09/148317535/first-listen-mati-zundel-amazonico-gravitante).
Amazonico Gravitante incorporates hip-hop rhymes and that Manu Chau sort of traveler’s reggae on guitar. It spans the spectrum of BPM’s, which makes sense since it was recorded on the go through mountains, jungles, beaches, and in the South American cities of Cochabamba and Buenos Aires.
The following interview is a World Hip Hop Market exclusive!
WORLD HIP HOP MARKET (WHHM): The first vocal track on the record is a rap over cumbia, right? The lyrics are great and intense. Who is the MC, Boogat, on El Alto de la Paz? What was the inspiration behind the track?
MATI ZUNDEL: Everything started in La Paz, Bolivia. It really surprised me how the last time I was there huayno was what everyone was listening to, that was the street sound but this time it was all reggaeton.
In La Paz and in the city of Alto, reggaeton was everywhere so I put this track together thinking that really MC Boogat would be perfect for it. So I got to the Alto City Festival and before taking off for La Paz I sent the track to Boogat calling it Alto de la Paz (Above the Peace, combining the names of the two cities into the hook!).
Three months later while I was at a beach in Ecuador I got an email from Boogat; it was our track and it blew my mind what he’d done with it! He took Alto de la Paz and wrote lyrics and melodies that were amazing. The song felt organic, it flowed.
WHHM: Do you sing on El Pueblo? Since you traveled to create Gravitante, it sounds like it might be you talking about getting to Quito, etc?
MATI ZUNDEL: Yes I sing a duet on Por el Pueblo with a friend, Santiago Mundo, along with Ivan Gramatico on the chorus. I’m still not totally confident in my singing so for Por El Pueblo and other tracks I called in some friends to collaborate.
Since last year I’ve started easing back on the computer and made a return to guitar. I got back to songwriting. Por el Pueblo was written in Cochabamba, Bolivia. I was with a friend playing, it was the third day of the trip and I was excited about it. I was about to go to a carnival in a small town and I imagined getting there, getting off the bus in the middle of nowhere. The song just came out complete like that, words and music.
WHHM: Your record spans Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Ecuador. Are there other countries I’m missing?
MATI ZUNDEL: The record is really about the Amazon, and it’s a jungle that happens to include the countries of Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guayana and Suriname. In that way the record is super South American; I recorded samples right in the jungle. The idea was to get back to the connection with nature. That’s the gravity sound in Amazonico Gravitante, grounding the songs to the jungle and to the earth.
WHHM: How did you choose what artists to invite to record on Amazonico Gravitante?
MATI ZUNDEL: I thought of some of them because of their style, like Boogat, Santiago Mundo and Ciudad Satelite. I’d already worked with each of them before and we’re friends already. The relationship is fundamental. I don’t think I could work with anyone that I don’t connect with on a personal level.
WHHM: What happened to you musically between Bailando and Gravitante? Did you encounter new inspiration during your travels from specific locations or from individuals you met? What changed in your vision?
MATI ZUNDEL: A lot happened on a personal level, I switched up my view and my whole mentality musically. Moving from living in Dolores and Buenos Aires to living in the countryside or backpacking to remote regions was an experience that impacted me on many levels. That’s why the album is so varied.
There are energetic songs that put you in the club, like Zindud, Señor Montecostez, Cumbia de la Loviya that were created in Buenos Aires and there other tracks that are much more mellow, like Por El Pueblo, La Montaña o Tarde en la Siesta Cosmica that were written out in the country. Getting to go to festivals and parties in the middle of Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia I found other rhythms to use for dance music, with native instruments like the charango guitar and the bombo leguero drum.
WHHM: Most of the tracks sound like a combination of live instruments over great samples from your travels, is that the case? La Montaña sounds live, for example – even the whistle, haha – was it built entirely live? Were any others created the same way?
MATI ZUNDEL: A lot of the tracks are of acoustic instruments like guitars, charangos, zampoñas, bombos, quenas, and percussion, but I mixed them in with samples and altered the sound in production. Every song has a sample here and there but most of the instrumentation was recorded live.
WHHM: Did you play most of the guitar and charango on the tracks? Did you collaborate with musicians abroad, aside from the vocalists featured?
MATI ZUNDEL: Most songs were recorded with guitar as base, the same as a traditional song, and on many I added a lot of other instruments like charango, bass, marimbas. I also collaborated with musicians like Ciudad Satelite de Cochabamba who played the charango, Jhon Narvaez from Colombia, and Santiago Capriglione on bass. Ivan Gramatico acted as a voice coach and sang back ups. There were guest vocalists like Miss Bolivia, Vanesa Menendez, and Santiago Mundo from Buenos Aires and Marina Gasolina from Brazil.
WHHM: Who played the beautiful flute on Taki Onkoi?
MATI ZUNDEL: Jhon Narvaez and I both did, it’s a wind instrument called the zampoña.
WHHM: How did the collaboration between Miss Bolivia and cantante Vanesa Menéndez come about?
MATI ZUNDEL: Miss Bolivia, Paz, emailed me asking if I wanted to collaborate and she sent over the vocal tracks and I built the music around the vocals.
WHHM: Where in Brazil is Marina Gasolina from? How did you end up collaborating with her?
MATI ZUNDEL: You know I don’t even know what part of Brazil Marina is from. I found her a cappella on the Internet and downloaded it. I thought the song would be more powerful with her actual voice on it so Zizek got in touch with her and she ended up giving the go ahead to use her vocals for the record.
WHHM: Where did you record and mix, mostly? Was it a mobile project or were you based somewhere?
MATI ZUNDEL: Most of the record was done on my old laptop, the mic and speakers are budget. I worked on the album while I traveled from city to city with my guitar and my ideas. Later I stayed in Cochabamba, Bolivia for a while where I recorded some more and then I finished the overdubs, guitars and vocals, back in Dolores and Buenos Aires. The last recordings were of a more professional quality. I mixed the record along with Sebastian Cordoves en Buenos Aires.
WHHM: For the songs where you wrote the lyrics, were there particular experiences that brought out the stories? Did you write La Montaña, for example, in the Amazon along the Caribbean in fact? It’s a gorgeous tune, how did you come about writing words to go with your lush melody?
MATI ZUNDEL: I wrote La Montaña because I was fascinated with the countryside where I was staying. I’d been living on a farm for three months, in the middle of the Andes Mountains and the sunsets there were magical and the starry nights were beautiful. I was surrounded by so much nature, a life force in every twig.
At the same time, I was about to leave for Colombia to do the beaches and so there was this mix of present reality in the mountains and future illusions of being back at the ocean again. On the EP Neobailongo I put lyrics aside in place of beats. So for me this record was a return to the art of songwriting, which is something I love. My writing style isn’t very direct, I prefer crafting metaphors that don’t really say anything but create a feeling.
Amazonico Gravitante track listing