Magos Herrera & Brooklyn Rider , Brooklyn Rider
Bluegrass Situation

By Steve Hochman

Most of singer Magos Herrera’s new album, a collaboration with the string quartet Brooklyn Rider, draws on words and music written decades ago by Latin American poets and composers who spoke out against oppression, at the risk of their freedom and, in some cases, their lives. These are complemented by the haunting folk song “La Llarona,” already a staple of the Mexican canon but now globally known via its prominent place in the animated movie Coco.

Composer-saxophonist Miguel Zenón’s new work also teams him with a string ensemble, Chicago’s Spektral Quartet. The collection taps centuries of traditions, both musical and cultural, from his native Puerto Rico, to some extent to shine a light on the historic ignorance of many in the United States for its vibrant commonwealth. Folk melodies, evocations of religious festivals, and impressions of rural villages all mix in a celebration of that legacy.

But each is also very much of the moment, in the moment, tied to circumstances of the here and now, pointedly so. This is music with immediacy, with a purpose.

“I think these days we don’t have the luxury not to have a purpose,” says Herrera. The title of her album gives that purpose shape: Dreamers.

“It’s the spirit of our times, at least to me, after some time of confusion, showing how we got into these times, not only for what happens in America but in the world,” she says. “It was in invitation to ground in the reason why we make music and the purpose of our artistry and our music. And also because one of the first reasons I moved to New York 11 years ago was for all the opposite virtues of what we see — democracy, conversation, interaction, etc. The long story short is [the album] is really a response to what happens to the spirit of our times, beyond complaining.”

She’s made a career of exploring both her own and the larger Latin American heritage, primarily in a jazz context, but this album is very personal.

“I’m a Mexican in Trump America,” she says. “So this conversation of my situation as an immigrant, in every sense I thought it was a beautiful reaffirmation of my background to celebrate these incredibly huge masters of the word.” These influential poets and composers include Mexican poet Octavio Paz, Spanish martyr Frederico Garcia Lorca, Chilean “Nueva Canción” activist Violetta Parra, amd jailed and exiled Brazilians Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and João Gilberto.

Herrera adds, “They lived in dark times, but changed the conversation, and keep inspiring us with what they wrote. It’s music of the incredible poets, some effected by the regimes in different ways, some were exiled, Lorca was murdered. So to honor them, celebrate their love for humanity, for democracy and the love for imagination of their world.”

Read the full story here.