Nicaraguan resistance history weaves its way through Mascaras, the infinitely fascinating album by the Nicaraguan-Canadian artist Mas Aya. On the first track, “Momento Presente”, a voice escapes from a meandering flute melody and urges people to stand up against oppression. Audio was taken from video footage of a mass that the priest, poet and liberation theologian Ernesto Cardenal celebrated for the guerrillas opposed to the Somoza dictatorship in the late 1970s. The samples on the syncopating clipping “18 De Abril” are much more recent but just as urgent, drawn from the protests against the government of President Daniel Ortega which escalation in 2018 and resulted in the deaths of around 30 people. A person cries on the verge of tears: âMom, forgive me, I came out to defend my country. “
The subject is intense, entangled in trauma and linked to a complex political history. Yet even tackling such important themes, Mas Aya’s music never feels pedantic, strained or overwhelming. He creates extended and elongated soundscapes, inspired by meditative music. Throughout the project, released last month, he deflects attention of rebellions and resurrections from the context of rulers and oppressors and centers his music directly on the people who are fighting to be heard. “I wanted to shed light on the people’s struggle – that it is actually from the people, that it is a unified popular movement against oppression,” he said in a recent appeal. Zoom in from his home in Toronto. He adds: âI wanted the project to have this contemplative quality, but at the same time, I wanted to compare and contrast [the music] with these more aggressive samples.
The artist, real name Brandon Valdivia, has played percussion and other instruments for groups in Toronto for years. He is perhaps best known for his work with his partner, Colombian-Canadian artist Lido Pimienta, whom he met on the city’s experimental stage. (âThat was one of the things we were able to tap into – just saying, ‘Wow, everyone here is white and some kind of college-educated,’ he recalls.) But Valdivia has always made music for himself, and a few years ago he started working on some compositions for a residency at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto: âlong jams,â he says, âwhere the music was 10 minutes, nine minutes. âWhen the pandemic ended his tour with Pimienta, he revisited the songs he had written for the Aga Khan Project and began to think about the way of reworking them into what eventually became Mascaras.
The album is deeply rooted in Valdivia’s connection to Nicaragua. Her stage name, Mas Aya, is a play about the town of Masaya, in the west of the country, where her grandmother is from, and the expression “mas allÃ¡”, which roughly translates to ” further away “. The title of the album means âmasksâ, a reference to the region’s traditional religious festivals and rituals. The word took on a double meaning when Valdivia began to think of masks in the context of political movements and protests: Sandinista revolutionaries in Nicaragua wore traditional masks in the 1970s and 1980s, while protesters in more recent protests. have worn all types of face coverings to hide their identity and protect themselves. âIt’s an emblem of tradition, but they are used in this military action, and I thought the contradiction was really powerful,â says Valdivia.
These ideas of obscuration and disguise are found directly in the compositions and arrangements. On songs such as the stop “Quiscence”, led by the flute, the sounds gently bend into each other – light chimes appear and then disappear, a sudden synth bloom emerges and fades as quickly as it does. came. The music is simple yet complex, and the sonic intricacies act as a mirror of Nicaraguan political and economic quagmires that can be so difficult to disentangle. Valdivia first visited the country years ago; he remembers seeing incredible disparities in wealth, but also incredible solidarity work. In 2018, a few members of his family were jailed for participating in protests against Ortega, who was once a brilliant figure in the Sandinista revolution that helped overthrow the Somoza dictatorship. âAll of those kinds of things messed up my brain,â he says.
He deals with such complexities by encouraging listeners to find their own answers through contemplation and by staying present. The titles of the songs on the album often refer to staying in the moment: “Tiempo Ahora” or “Time Now”, for example, is a breathtaking track guided by the guest voice of Pimienta, representative of the spontaneous spirit. of the project. âIt’s literally a take – the lyrics, the melody, how it gets in and out – so it’s nice and representative of this thing in the moment, where she’s basically improvising. It was just perfect, âsays Valdivia. âWe improvise a lot together, and it’s been an integral part of our process and our gigs, so I like the way that’s what the record ended up being: improvisation. This is a testament to Lido’s abilities and his talent for being in the moment.
It also speaks to the broader ethics behind Valdivia’s approach to music creation. âThere is one aspect I thought related to how everything is so eternal. I know it’s going into a kind of transcendental discourse, but I really believe there is an eternity in every moment, and that’s why living in the moment and living in the present is so important, âsays -he. Maybe that’s what makes Mascaras such a striking project: it constantly reflects, in Valdivia’s words, “the immensity of every moment and how much there is to fight for”.