Mas Aya’s Music Holds Quiet Rebellions

Brandon Valdivia’s “Momento Presente” is sort of a summons. On the arresting monitor from his September album, “Máscaras,” an offbeat, not-quite-footwork rhythm thumps underneath the swirls of a tin whistle. A bell chimes, and earlier than lengthy, the godlike voice of an elder intones a name to motion. “Right now, the oppressors and the oppressed are being separated,” it displays in Spanish. “We’re not going to wait 2,000 years for the good ones to be on one side and the bad ones to be on another. We are living in that moment now.”

This is the type of militant magic that Valdivia, 38, higher often called Mas Aya, invokes in his music. “I’m trying to meld a political take in addition to a very spiritual take,” he mentioned in a video interview from his studio in London, Ontario. “You have to act; you have to be in the moment; you have to be in the world.”

That sense of quiet urgency suffuses “Máscaras” (“Masks”), his first album for the reason that 2017 LP “Nikan.” At occasions, the mission makes direct references to revolutions in Nicaragua, his homeland. (The pattern in “Momento Presente” is lifted from a gathering of guerrillas within the late 1970s led by the liberation theologist Ernesto Cardenal.) But “Máscaras” doesn’t simply depend on specific allusions to energy. It additionally considers the small rebellions embedded in immersive moments of stillness.

Valdivia mentioned the album’s title describes the masks utilized in political marches and Indigenous ceremonies, but in addition his personal compositional follow. “Instruments are hiding themselves within the cloud of textures,” he defined. The album’s songs are like impressionistic sketches, buying and selling focal factors for cool fluidity. The quena and bansuri flutes hover over drum loops. Clatters of claves or maracas evanesce into waves of crisp synths and off-kilter digital beats, shape-shifting into candy flurries of concord.

Valdivia grew up in Chatham, a small Canadian city about an hour’s drive from Detroit. His was one of many first Latino households to reach, and he typically longed for comrades in music, group and artwork.

In Nicaragua, his father was a longhaired hippie who listened to Black Sabbath and cumbia, smoked marijuana and dropped acid. Valdivia fell in love with music at age 12 and realized to play the recorder, then finally the drums. He watched A lotMusic (the MTV of Canada) and listened to Detroit public radio. He learn French poetry and ordered a duplicate of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” on the native report retailer. It took a comically lengthy six months to reach.

“I knew I was a weirdo,” he mentioned of the conservative world that surrounded him. “I wanted to get out as fast as I could.”

He did escape to school, learning composition at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, the place he discovered “people who were creative, who were interested in pushing the envelope,” he mentioned. “Like, weirdos. I use that word a lot.”

Valdivia opted to start out a solo mission after he grew pissed off with the Toronto arts scene. “Nobody was talking politics,” he mentioned.Credit…Brendan Ko for The New York Times

In the years that adopted, Valdivia turned a well-respected multi-instrumentalist and percussionist in Toronto’s experimental and art-rock scene, enjoying in teams like Not the Wind, Not the Flag and I Have Eaten the City. He has additionally collaborated extensively along with his associate, the Grammy-nominated, genre-crushing artist Lido Pimienta, who’s featured on “Máscaras.” In his early 20s, he traveled to Nicaragua, the place he visited household in Managua, Esteli and his grandmother’s hometown Masaya — and studied the nation’s folkloric music traditions. After he returned to Canada, he determined to start out a solo mission impressed partly by his frustration with the Toronto arts scene.

“Nobody was talking politics. Everyone was basically making weird nihilistic experimental music,” he mentioned. Mas Aya attracts its identify from his grandmother’s dwelling in addition to the Spanish phrase “el más allá,” which means “the beyond.”

Valdivia described his follow as “harmelodic,” a time period he borrowed from the jazz musician Ornette Coleman. “This type of music where melody, harmony and rhythm are all at the service of each other,” he defined. It’s a imaginative and prescient that captures Valdivia’s precise musical strategy, however it additionally evokes the non secular tones of the album as a complete.

On the monitor “Quiescence,” Valdivia makes use of the mbira dzavadzimu (a kind of thumb piano) as percussion, despite the fact that it’s an instrument usually plucked on steel keys. Over feather-light flutes and shimmering synths, the sound of mallets hitting the mbira soften right into a peaceable liquid ripple. On “18 de Abril,” he samples audio from a protester at a 2018 college demonstration in Nicaragua, connecting present-day resistance efforts to actions of many years previous, and presenting political wrestle as a continuum. The consequence strikes past mere fusion or ancestral homage. It articulates prismatic, poetic language, demonstrating that political expression isn’t all the time apparent. It can arrive in moments of hushed contemplation and connection, too.