The one rule in successful comedy is timing. So, since timing is also essential to making great music, why can’t a comedian crossover? Eddie Murphy sort of did it with “Party All the Time.” All right, so maybe that’s not the best example, but Juana Molina certainly is. This Argentinean folk singer used to be a comedic actress in her home country, but has since gone on to make three records with Domino. Because of her origins, most people would want to place her in a `world music’ category, and it probably doesn’t change people’s minds when they hear that she sings in Spanish, but Son and the two albums before it are not so much world music as they are just plain great music. Sigur Rós sings in both Icelandic and even a made up language called `Hopelandic.’ Dungen sings in Swedish, but both of these bands defy the classification of `world music.’ Juana Molina’s electronically tinged folk music is just as accessible and accomplished as either of these artists and deserves to be heard by a wider mix of people than simply `world music’ fans.
The opening acoustic guitar strums of Son, on the song “Río Seco” are eerily similar to some of the acoustic renditions of Nirvana’s songs like “Come As You Are.” It’s been a long time since I’ve taken Spanish classes, and I’ve learned German and Italian in the interim, so I can only pick out a few words and lyrics, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Molina’s songs contain elements of her native folk, crossover rock and even hip-hop, as is evidenced in the next song, “Yo No.” There’s a portion of the song that features overlapped sung notes, which sound strikingly like something out of Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.” One can easily hear the influence of such artists as Bebel and Astrud Gilberto as well as Tom Zé, who has also been experimenting with various sounds and hip-hop structures.
Molina uses whatever sounds she thinks might work for the song at hand to great effect. Bird calls and lone horns mix like a Sufjan Stevens trip to the Tiki-Room at Disneyland in the song “La Verdá.” In the overlapping vocals towards the tail of the song, Molina shows her impeccable sense of timing that could come with her comedic background. Voices weave in and out of each other flawlessly; creating a sonic tapestry that crosses all cultures. She can just as easily play the traditional song as the experimental as she exhibits on “No Seas Antipática,” in which she plays a lone acoustic guitar with slight percussion and layered vocals.
What you might find amazing after listening to Son is that the entire album, as intricate and professional as it is, with all of its electronic tinges and dense layering, was recorded in Juana Molina’s home. Each overlap is purely intentional, with each nuance comes a different sound or harmony. Each note, strum, chirp and whistle is purely the whim and magic of Molina, and her timing is impeccable. In most cases, world music means the work is `cultural’ in its origins, Indian ragas, Middle Eastern bellydancing music, or Celtic flute and harp. For Juana Molina and her three album run, ending with Son, world music should gain a new definition, as music that should be heard by the entire world.
Tom Zé – Estudando a Pagode
Savath & Savalas- Folk Songs for Trains, Trees & Honey