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Rodrigo Gallardo's Andean Folk And Nicola Cruz's Lush Electronics Meet On 'El Origen'

Chilean musician Rodrigo Gallardo, who collaborated with French-Ecuadorian electronic artist Nicola Cruz for a new EP, <em>El Origen</em>.
Courtesy of the artist
Chilean musician Rodrigo Gallardo, who collaborated with French-Ecuadorian electronic artist Nicola Cruz for a new EP, El Origen.

Rarely does bifurcation sound so intertwined. El Origen, a collaborative EP released last month, is like looking at the Andes from two different angles at the exact same time. Rodrigo Gallardo and Nicola Cruz's visions exist on alternate, yet intrinsically connected, planes.

The Chilean Rodrigo Gallardo's four glowing compositions, which reflect deep Andean and South American roots and play with touches of saya, huayno and nueva cancion, open the EP. Halfway through, French-Ecuadorian electronic artist Nicola Cruz steps in and flips the script, reinterpreting and rendering Gallardo's work through a soft-focused funhouse mirror. Cruz builds on what Gallardo has created, using a chromatic production style that fans came to know on his vibrant 2015 album Prender el Alma.

Below, our conversation with the pair about their process, inspirations and sonic fusion.

NPR Music: Did you have a particular idea or theme in mind when you started this project?

Rodrigo Gallardo: The truth is that this was something that happened spontaneously. I'm always composing and I'm always in touch with Nicola. We'd been doing collaborations for a while, so it was just about grouping our songs together and coming up with the original concept.

Nicola Cruz brings the chromatic production style of his 2015 album <em>Prender el Alma</em> to <em>El Origen</em>.
/ Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist
Nicola Cruz brings the chromatic production style of his 2015 album Prender el Alma to El Origen.

Nicola Cruz: We didn't even think this was going to be an EP. It all started with a song Rodrigo sent me called "Agua de La Tierra." I remixed it, and I liked the results, and I liked interpreting Rodrigo's work. We never talked about what the final product was going to be — instead, the music really took over as its own language, and became our method of interacting.

Once we had the four songs and four remixes, I thought: "We actually have a well-rounded concept here — why don't we consolidate it?"

Gallardo: That first song, "Agua de la Tierra," is one I composed a few years ago. It's a song that sheds light on the life of our rivers and waters, which every day are contaminated and usurped by multinational companies that devour and devastate our environment.

How would you describe each others' approach to music?

Cruz: Rodrigo has this really particular way of interpreting Chilean folk music. Along the Andes, every South American country has its own personal way of telling the story of these mountains, and I think Rodrigo represents a distinctly Chilean touch, with respect to the instruments he uses, and singing that draws influence from Chilean nueva cancion. He's a really sensitive composer, and really connected to his ideas and the music.

Gallardo: Nicola has such an organic and warm sound, full of unpredictable details that play with the mystery and rituals of folk music and the psychedelia and darkness of electronic music. I thought his remixes showed a totally different vision of my work, but they respected and emphasized everything in the songs that was organic and ritualistic.

How would you describe the interplay on both sides of this EP? What did Nicola bring, and what did Rodrigo bring?

Cruz: I come from a world of percussion. My work is always really rhythmic, whether I want it to be or not, so I think my wok is a rhythm-focused take on what Rodrigo had created.

Gallardo: My side shows my work as it is, without as much post-production, as it's based more in composition and interpretation. Nicola's side highlights his genius in production. As he said, he's always giving things a more percussive approach, but without losing the essence of the music.

What do you think this EP says about the relationship between electronic music and folk traditions?

Gallardo: I think on this project, it feels like there's no gap between these two worlds. Rather, it's music made with different tools, instruments and machines, but with a really unique purpose and spontaneity. I also think the possibilities are endless — just like the ideas anyone comes up with while creating. For me, I don't think about uniting genres, I think about making music. I'm not chasing the idea of mixing things, it's more about using all of the tools available to me.

Cruz: Well, I'm not a folk expert, and the little that I do know I've learned through my admiration and interest in tradition and these genres. I've always been respectful and provide a lot of context in my music. But I think when you unite these two worlds — electronic and folk music — something is refreshed all of a sudden. You get this fusion that brings something fresh to the ears, and moves things out of their comfort zone. At the same time, the blend has to be subtle, and it has to feel like these worlds are coexisting rather than being forced together.

El Origen is out now on Wonderwheel Recordings. This interview was edited and condensed.

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Felix Contreras is co-creator and host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.