Sporting an album sleeve showing Catholic altars dotted with pre-hispanic South American icons, Meridian Brothers’ album concocts new, exciting hybrids: influenced by US-inspired ‘70s Latin rock, it sees Andean rhythms melded with splendorous, tropicalia-styled strings.
On ¿Dónde estás María?, the Meridian Brothers swing their shape shifting musical enterprise in a new direction. Led by composer Eblis Alvarez (who writes and records the studio albums, bringing the band together for live performances), it’s the Colombian group’s fourth record on Soundway Records, a vital outpost for tropical, globally minded music. Their most wide-open, accessible album so far, the madcap sound of Meridian Brothers again confounds with reconfigurations of Latin music, this time laying down a string ensemble upon the group’s electronic experiments.
The photo on the sleeve reflects Eblis’ fascination with the imagery of altars, while referencing the hybrid that often occurs in Colombia, between traditional Catholic imagery and indigenous icons. The video of the debut single and title track of the album is homage to these sacred statues of Maria.
A long-standing part of the independent Bogotá scene, this is Alvarez’s seventh album under his Meridian Brothers moniker. Where his previous outing, Los Suicidas, delved deep into the sound of the Hammond organ, this one takes in a wider scope of trans-continental influences.
Taking cues from the fuzz-filtered guitars of Colombian Latin rock bands like Banda Nueva, and the string arrangements of Brazilian tropicalia acts like Gal Costa and Novos Baianos, it sees those iconic Latin American influences re-imagined through a different lense.
Learning and practising the cello for over 20 years, this album – with cello arrangements written and played by Alvarez – marks the first time that he has used it in his music. A paradoxical, complicated relationship, he’s always felt conflicted about the sound of the classical instrument; while he regularly seeks out Bach suites and baroque music to play at home, he’s always struggled with a feeling that they’re tired-sounding and overly recognisable. On this album, he wanted to reconcile himself with this conflict: “I have this strange concept that I want to live with things I hate,” he explains. “And usually, that gets you to another level or another result that you never expect.”
There’s a newfound poeticism that reflects a change in tack, too. Rather than ritualistic, repeated refrains as before, nueva canción – a Latin American folk style, from countries like Argentina and Uruguay – has informed a more lyrical approach. In his style of singing, as well as the content, there’s a focus on finding deeper meaning and a softer musical style. In the title track (which translates as, “Where are you, Maria?”), the narrator pens an ode to a mysterious, unattainable poetess. And in “Yo Soy Tu Padre, Yo Te Fabriqué”, the boogaloo-styled track tells a strange, grotesque story of a record label boss and the Colombian singer he’s aggressively propelling to stardom.