Embedded in the evolving South American movement, Nicola Cruz delivers music that honors the traditions and cultures of his homeland Ecuador.
There’s a richness to the instrumental choices utilized by the artist, it’s a bold crossover of old and new. Such intended connection between ancestral influences and modern approaches aids Cruz’s mission in existing beyond the fold. While yes, this vein exists in cumbia, the music runs a deep and personal course that when traced together is telling of Cruz’s identity.
Born in Limoges, France to Ecuadorian parents, Cruz was immersed in an enriching musical education. When he eventually convinced his parents to purchase him a drum set at the age of 12, Cruz would begin his exploratory phase through an array of genres. While the work he produces doesn’t come close to the musical category of metal, Cruz began his music career by learning and playing Megadeth covers.
Before casting the cumbia fingerprint onto Cruz’s body of work, one must first look to the shifting and emerging changes occuring in South America’s music scene — the surging nightlife trends and happenings.
“It’s easy to fall into this classification since Cumbia is something that’s so broad, it’s not just music but a complete tradition of dance, history, poetry, geography if you will, that is included in this movement that started in Columbia and spread throughout Latin America,” says Cruz. “I think when people from outside the common Latin American perimeter refer to this music as cumbia, is for lack of a better name, which in a way is acceptable because understanding this context is proper of living in places like this. I would say that what I compose these days leans toward contemporary electronic music, where defying music rules is always present, but that’s always been a part of me — experimentation.”
With Nicola Cruz DJing on an international scale, one need not look far to recognize the ease in which his music translates to non-Spanish speaking audiences.
The success of this kind of international recognition came about from his 2015 release of Prender el Alma, listeners finding diversity and range throughout the album. The electronic downtempo drew together a fanbase eager to see how Cruz would continue developing the Andean musical elements through a modernistic spin. An integral part of Cruz’s signature style is rooted in technology and his embracing of Western influences, it’s proof that honoring the past can simultaneously accompany new invention.
With Cruz experimenting through his music’s compositions, the folkloric sounds merely are one of the many vibrant threads woven into the Ecuadorian artists musical stylings. In “La Cosecha”, Cruz incorporates classic sounds of the acoustic guitar with a drum machine, the complete work sounds like a bright and joyful tribute to something truly profound and sacred.
Looking to Andean cosmology, ‘Cosecha’ refers to a time of harvesting, a period of recognition on what can been extracted from the earth and in turn, a deep appreciation for everything that’s been collected. This sort of homage speaks volumes about Cruz’s intentions to remain rooted in heritage, honoring the history of his ancestors’ stories. And yet, such sincerity and deep reflection doesn’t inflict a barrier. One underlying reason? Cruz knows how to produce compelling music that translates for and beyond the dancefloor.
“I've never felt stuck in a genre or category, it's always about how I feel everyday,” says Cruz. “For instance, I woke up today with “Moon” by Björk in my head so I revisited that. I constantly find myself discovering new songs from the Beatles, those dudes recorded a lot of music back in the day. The Division Bell by Floyd has been another comeback, or the amazing STROOM records from Belgium if I feel for something more sci fi — and don't get me started on modular techno. It's endless really, and so I consider my musical aspirations to be.”
With “Colibria” — the feminine Spanish word for colibrio, an instrument used to record the song — the story unfolds by honoring the concept of mankind’s origins. There’s reference to mother nature, discovering and celebrating the natural elements of this world. Rhythmically Latin through and through, there’s clear conjunction of cutting-edge electronic tempo and indigenous sounds. Songs such as this tie Cruz’s creative creations to this roots while still remaining wildly universally understood.
Cruz is currently working with ZZK Records to produce his new upcoming album. This new body of work is said to emulate a wider perspective of music and a projection of ideas Cruz has been carrying with him since Prender el Alma.
Residing in the Pacific Northwest, Oatmello’s mellow instrumental beats mirror the city’s lowkey demeanor and climate — laid back, relaxed, with a sort of cozy, chill atmosphere. With roots in Portland, Oregon, Oatmello mixes instrumental beats in layers that sometimes feel texturally unexpected but always engaging.
The moniker Oatmello came to be when the artist and his wife were strolling across Mississippi Avenue in Portland one morning. With no particular context and almost out of the blue, his wife encouraged him to call his new music project to be “Oatmello.” Being an impactful supporter to his musical career, he still looks to her for offering constructive criticism on the work he produces.
“She has a great sense of humor and gives me all sorts of great ideas for things; I always consult her on new songs,” says Oatmello. “She’s brutally honest and dislikes 90% of what I make, but when she likes something, it's a really good sign.”
Of the moniker coined that day, the artist notes how the name resonates with his creative endeavors and his work, capturing the vibes and mood of his music — there's a sense of irreverence and something that feels hearty while remaining classic.
Even before the name “Oatmello” was realized, the artist knew he’d pursue music at a very young age, recalling his first albums being Magical Mystery Tour and Raffi’s singable songs. As a child he became enamored with the small Fisher-Price portable record player that his parents gifted him, hauling the gadget around from place to place. Growing up, he became a fan of hip-hop in the ‘90s, listening to the likes of Wu Tang and G Funk — he would later draw inspiration from such pioneering artists using their work as a benchmark for the hip-hop infused beats he would create as Oatmello.
While classically trained in piano, it was an activity Oatmello secretly hated practicing. It was a telltale sign to continue searching for his niche in music, to find and secure the creative channel that resonated with his creative mission.
“I wanted to jam and make my own music, not just learn how to recite others works perfectly. It really frustrated me. When I was a teenager I discovered beat making and became captured by it. I remember the moment in that first year of making beats where I thought to myself, ‘this is something I could be happy doing for the rest of my life’.”
Oatmello’s listeners will identify the genre as instrumental hip-hop, a genre he’s proud to categorize his music and influences under. “A lot of producers conceptualize their music as something new which doesn't conform to any genre,” says Oatmello. “Personally, I take a lot of comfort and inspiration seeing my music as part of a lineage of music and recognizing the giants whose shoulders I’m standing on.”
Like many can expect to face in the music industry, there’s a resounding pressure to invent the newest latest hit. It’s something Oatmello side steps gracefully, wanting to explore within the sound in novel and interesting ways. With his song “Push Up,” he opts to use unconventional sound samples to construct the layers, using the sounds of writing on a chalkboard for the high hat pattern.
When it comes to composing, Oatmello mulls over the beat in his head, visualizing or hearing the sound even before sitting down to work on the song. Once conceptualized, he experiments in his studio to begin constructing the preimagined piece; the key to his creative process is avoiding overly edited by polishing every song he creates, but instead focusing on the initial creation and experimenting with the moving variables.
“I watched a documentary on Sumi-e once, which is a form of Japanese brush painting. The idea is that the brush stroke is quick to make but it takes hundreds, sometimes thousands, of tries to get the right stroke. That somehow stuck with me, and I have a similar attitude about making music.”
While the creative process prior leading up to that experimental stage can take time to unfold, it’s Oatmello’s approach and techniques that contribute to his music feeling fresh and forward thinking. While the artist believes in making music for the right reasons, striving beyond external validation from society, he hopes his work strikes a positive impact on those who listen.
“I would just hope that when listening [to my music], it gives people a feeling of peace, introspection, comfort, and perhaps freedom.”
With close to half a million monthly listeners on Spotify, Oatmello’s lofi hip-hop songs are available for license at Marmoset and available for streaming on Apple Music, Bandcamp, and SoundCloud. Want to read more artist spotlights? Check our our list below.
The Another Listen series features music that while wasn't released this year, due to its unforgettable qualities, is music we believe should be revisited. And what better time than now? In this edition, we'll be looking back at 2017 released album, HAJK by HAJK.
The self-titled record is like a nesting doll — on the surface, it’s happy and smiling, but the deeper you dig the more layers you’ll find. A strong, attention-grabbing debut from the five-piece Oslo-based band HAJK immediately wraps you up in warm, intertwining male/female vocals, bright guitar riffs and positive piano melodies — but the indie pop packs a surprising, underlying punch, touching on themes of heartbreak, nostalgia, and the reluctance of letting go of broken relationships.
The newcomers, helmed by Sigrid Aase and Preben Andersen have cited influences ranging from Dirty Projectors, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Father John Misty since they caught abuzz after landing their first show at Norway’s biggest music festival Øyafestivalen in 2016. They’ve charmed audiences across the globe with their intimate vocals and dynamic textures ever since, landing attention from Vice’s “Noisey” and actress Chloe Grace Moretz and others.
From the first hazy opening notes of “Magazine,” the song wraps listeners in the musical equivalent of a bear hug, complete with a steady, shuffling beat, reflective and relaxed female vocals and gentle waves of electric guitar.
The lyrics hold the band’s signature melancholy underside, exploring feelings of frustration and distrust in a relationship, saying “I’m stuck in a bad dream, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to believe.”
Yet, the group doesn’t leave you to linger in darkness for long, instead allowing the bouncy instrumentation and intimate vocals of the song let the sun shine through, leaving listeners in calm reflection.
While the group is fully capable of laying the sunny, cozy vibes on thick, the lyrical narrative throughout the album is not always a walk in the park. Kicking off with the breezy riffs and the shuffling beat of album single “Magazine," listeners are transported into the inner monologue of someone struggling with their frustrating relationship. While Aase croons, “You’re the one I want / But you’re not what I need," the sentiment carries over to other songs like “Common Sense” and “Nothing Left to Say.” Wrapped up in wobbly synth lines, funky bass and driving rhythms that are as bouncy and positive as the meaning behind it are vulnerable and pained.
Though it would seem easy with all the uncertainty and disconnect to feel down and frustrated, the band deftly steers away from letting listeners sink into despair, instead steeping their instrumentation deeper in infectiously bright indie dream pop. As Line of Best Fit noted: “Andersen has compared “Magazine” to ‘a simple painting that becomes something else when you are standing really close to it — and this is true for the rest of the record.
None of the tracks require much input to enjoy, but when honed in on, a mesh of pleasing textures and dynamics arise.” Whether you’re hoping to connect your own feelings to the relationships described in the album, or looking for some beachy indie pop to bob your head to, Hajk has you covered.
When listening to HAJK, lyrics, sounds, rhythms could all be ebbing and flowing to the font focus of one's mind. This arrival in such awareness means tapping into one's sense of hearing. So why not include the other four senses for a full sensory experience? In our mission to celebrate great music, we've curated a menu that tunes into every functional characteristic of human beings.
So grab a friend, make it a night of music and savor the experience through and through.
Nodding to Hajk’s home country of Norway, this locally made by House SpiritsDistillery in Portland features strong avors of caraway and star anise, beautifully balanced and steeped in a rich tradition. Considered the national drink of Norway, “aquavit” comes from the Latin term aqua vitae meaning “water of life,” and in the 1500s was believed to be a cure for almost anything. While we can’t recommend this spirit as a replacement to water we do suggest pouring yourself a glass of the obscure liquor on the rocks, settling into a cozy spot and allowing Hajk to lull you into gentle reaction. www.housespirits.com
Whether struggling coming to terms with the end of a relationship — as exemplified in the heartbroken lyrics of “Medicine” — or just in need of some skin hydration, this lotion by Barnwell Co. will help soothe your woes. Crafted in Portland in small batches, the lotion features a blend of essentials oils selected to spark imagination and encourage tranquility. This vetiver and lemongrass concoction also includes hydrating aloe vera, rejuvenating camellia oil and green tea extract to give your skin a boost of vitamins and antioxidants. Lather some on, turn the music up, and let the healing effects work their magic. www.madeherepdx.com
Gathered from beehives after being collected and packed by worker bees for their queen, the full wealth of health benefits from bee pollen is still largely unknown, but may include helping with allergies, asthma and weight loss — plus it’s rich in vitamins and nutrients that promote overall well-being. This little vial of sunshine from Bee Local is full of pollen found the northern Willamette Valley, providing a literal taste of the Northwest. Sprinkle these little nuggets of springtime on your next smoothie, turn up the volume to “Flowerdust,” kick your feet up and revel in its satisfying glow. www.beelocal.com
It’s universally known there are few combinations better than potatoes, butter and cream, but Hajk’s album might come close. Constructed of simple guitar melodies and straightforward beats with groovy bass lines, energetic claps and fuzzy synth are sprinkled throughout the album all while maintaining minimal instrumentation with imaginative layers. Similarly lefses — the humble Norwegian bread —might be simple in few ingredients, but the traditional dish is easy to build on with sugar, butter, eggs and more. Use this mix to create a simple lefse dish for a celebration meal or to accompany a thoughtful Sunday morning breakfast. www.ingebretsens.com
Polaroid Instant Digital Camera
Reminiscent of the classic instant cameras popularized in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Polaroid's newest offering is a dual lm and digital camera with a built in, on-the-spot printer. Plus, it’s small enough to fit in a pocket so you can bring it anywhere. Snap a couple of pictures of you and your best friends the next time you’re at show or maybe just a selfie. A blend of nostalgia and reality — not unlike most of lyrics found in Hajk — this camera will help preserve life’s moments even after the sentiment has long faded. www.polaroid.com
Stay tuned for more on this series! Thanks for reading. Enjoy other music highlights and check out these artists below:
Chanti Darling's latest video unveils an intimate look at what the day-to-day looks like for a musical artist, both on and off stage. The music video "ST*RS" opens with Chanti Darling singer, Chanticleer Trü going about his morning routine — the introduction into the actual song is intentionally slow, stretching across the span of close to three minutes. It’s not until this time marker when Trü struts through the scene of Portland's waterfront, revealing his intense closeness to his music.
There’s no one else accompanying the low-key performance, the environments feels freely solitary and serenely quiet, the focus remains on Trü as he organically grabs the viewer's attention. There's an ease and artistic effortlessness about the way Chanti Darling reels the audience in, whether it's on a secluded bridge where no one can bear witness or in front of a crowd.
The polished recorded version of "ST*RS" comes to the foreground as the waterfront’s raw sounds blur into nonexistence, the music video offers intercutting with Chanti Darling performing on stage at a later time, another place.
Such juxtaposition offers a taste into what it must feel like being an artist — the constant complexity of wrestling to transcribe ideas into something more concretely tangible to then deliver through a physical performance.
The fact is Chanti Darling delivers on this front effectively, each performance like a spontaneous party that you happened to stumble upon. This kind of magic is what Chanti Darling aims to deliver, the show's core mission to inspire audiences to dance when the moment feels right.
"ST*RS" and Chanti Darling's debut album, RNB Vol. 1 is live and available for licensing on Marmoset's roster.
With over 200,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, Kamandi’s music is on the rise. Listeners describe the artist’s work as chill with a perfectly timed energetic pulse — it’s music that sounds right at home in an Adidas commercial to vibing perfectly at a yoga retreat type of atmosphere.
New listeners should start with “Icy Heartthrob” for a taste of Kamandi’s mastery in creating electronic soundscapes. The instrumental song showcases how electronic pop can be punch, edgy, and smooth simultaneously. For dance infused beats, turn to Kamandi’s “Clone Phone,” the song’s multiple ascending arcs and rhythmic synth are energetically charged and engaging.
Originally from New Zealand, Kamandi remembers music always being present in his childhood, recalling how the songs he’d hear naturally sticking with him in an emotional manner. Kamandi would carry this emotive influence over to his own music once he began performing in bands, then moving onto produce his own work.
“I really just wanted to make music that gave people a strong feeling,” Kamandi says. “It didn’t even really matter what that feeling was.”
As the beats artist became more comfortable making his music, Kamandi discovered how his work was an impactful channel for communicating with his listeners; it became a bridge for connecting with others while also being able to own a channel in outpouring his own thoughts and creative energy. The significance of his work heightened when the artist discovered his music began helping others through particularly difficult and monumentous life struggles.
“Hearing this showed me I have the potential to make a real impact,” says Kamandi. “And that helps me feel like my music has some worth.”
Despite hearing this type of feedback from his listeners, there’s still a difficulty in viewing one’s work from a disconnected standpoint. It’s something Kamandi notes as challenging, yet something he strives in applying within his musical endeavors — to place himself in his listeners' shoes and hear his work outside the context he knows.
“It’s hard to step outside of myself after hearing a song on repeat, to hear the song from a different perspective — I wish I could do that,” says Kamandi. “But hopefully I’m feeding an appetite that people may not even realize they had. To fill a place in music that’s interesting and maybe hasn’t been filled yet.”
While operating as a solo artist and producer, Kamandi has invited collaboration from the likes of Polo, creating an original spin on electronic instrumental hip hop that was well received by his growing fan base. Later, Kamandi would join forces with a prominent and well-known MC Azizi Gibson — several hits including “Crown Violet” came out of the fruitful collaboration.
With "Red Bull Sound Select Presents: 30 Days in LA,” Kamandi was invited to perform in the United States for the first time; the concert’s bill included a high caliber of artists, including Azizi Gibson and Chance the Rapper.
Intermixing talent brought exciting evolutions to Kamandi’s work, remixes and new approaches being integrated into the artist’s upcoming music, all while retaining his signature style and sound. The collaborations proved that no matter the varying influences, Kamandi could enhance his music without sacrifice to his creative vision.
The beats instrumental artist is currently halfway through releasing his upcoming EP The Four Aves along with recently releasing two singles, “Moorhouse” and “Fitzgerald.” With The Four Aves, Kamandi sets out to paint an audio portrait of a city environment — although he describes the vibe as “cold” and moody, there’s an underlying pulse that propels each song forward. Stay tuned!