searchsearch
Salsa, Surrealism & Atomic Anxiety: Meridian Brothers Push Boundaries On New Album
The Meridian Brothers

Photo: Mariana Reyes

feature

Salsa, Surrealism & Atomic Anxiety: Meridian Brothers Push Boundaries On New Album

The Meridian Brothers' experimental, irreverent new album "is not about being commercial but about getting to the heart, to the roots of Latin music."

GRAMMYs/Aug 3, 2022 - 03:45 pm

"I am a music fetishist, I have a great obsession for sound," says composer and multi-instrumentalist Eblis Á​​lvarez, founder of the Colombian neo-tropicalista group Meridian Brothers. The group, which performs as a five-piece band, has been steadily producing innovative cumbia records since 1998 and spoke to GRAMMY.com from Bogotá ahead of a performance.

Á​​lvarez’s obsession is so deep and imagination so expansive that he devised El Grupo Renacimiento: a made-up band of salsero misfits who, in Á​​lvarez’s world, are returning to claim their righteous place within popular music. Alvarez explains how this fixation on exploring a different sound led to the making of their new album, Meridian Brothers & El Grupo Renacimiento

According to Álvarez, the record has been taking shape over the last decade, while he considered playing salsa more seriously. "Ten years ago, we released Desesperanza, a record that had salsa elements but still carried some psychedelia, some electronica," he explains. "So this time, it was the other way around, I wanted to take the traditional sound, its lyrics, and fundamental expression, and bring them to modernity." 

Unlike Desesperanza, which hit the listener with alien oscillations, bouncy percussion, and warped, echoing melodies, the songs in Meridian Brothers & El Grupo Renacimiento, released Aug. 5, are neat, favoring clean piano vamps and polished percussion arrangements. 

"The music that I used to make was of an experimental tone, which a small niche of people got but for others, it was harder to understand," Á​​lvarez meditates. "This [new album] is not about being commercial but about getting to the heart, to the roots of Latin music that I've been digging at," he says. "It took me a while to get there." 

Á​​lvarez's meticulous search, along with his dedication to exploring traditional sounds, like Puerto Rican bomba, Son cubano, and his love for larger-than-life ensembles such as Fania All Stars, landed Á​​lvarez a place in the catalog of legendary New York label Ansonia Records. Meridian Brothers & El Grupo Renacimiento is the label's first album in 32 years.

"This is a special release not only because it's our first in three decades, but also because it's a nostalgic endeavor that is very firmly rooted in the present, much like how we envision the label moving forward," say Ansonia Records' Liza Richardson and Souraya Al-Alaoui. "Meridian Brothers, in all their music, never sound like anything else, yet they are constantly drawing from the existing and rich wells of not only Colombian music but Latin music overall." 

Aligning with the label’s rich musical history, the songs in Meridian Brothers & El Grupo Renacimiento echo trailblazers such as Puerto Rican pianist Noro Morales and Afro-Puerto Rican conga player Rafael Cortijo — both part of Ansonia’s catalog. "This record being released by Ansonia reaffirms the nature of it as a traditional album that comes from salsa, from Latin American and Caribbean roots, because Ansonia was part of that ethos," Á​​lvarez tells GRAMMY.com. 

This reverence for traditional rhythms, paired with Meridian Brothers' irreverent, at times surreal lyrics, shines through in the track "Metamorfosis." Borrowing from Franz Kafka’s novella "The Metamorphosis," Alvarez narrates the story of a man that wakes up as a robot. Tumbling between a guaracha and son montuno, reminiscent of El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, Á​​lvarez takes a soft stance against technology and meditates on the dangers of over-integrating it into our daily life. 

The standout track "Bomba Atómica," with its doubled vocals and piano accents that touch on nuclear anxiety, echoing Sun Ra’s "Nuclear War." While the chorus is a bit derivative of the Afrofuturist legend, the song is "an extrapolation of the ‘70s New York salsa movement, which was Puerto Rican and Cuban kids stuck in a ghetto, singing about the same concerns that American society had, [including] the fear of an atomic bomb," says Á​​lvarez, adding that the song is a double entendre. "It's a wordplay between the two, the song is a homage to classic bomba and New York salsa… with a guy singing about the atom bomb."

Picking up on the pastiche that inhabited other Meridian Brothers records such as 2021’s Paz En La Tierra, songs like "Triste Son" show Á​​lvarez’s superb talent for creating melancholic, washed-up characters. "Classic salsa records always had their bolero, but since it hasn’t fully materialized, we did a bolero that sounds like a cha cha cha, and references the Lebrón Brothers, in it: I sing like Jose Lebrón." Less ornamental than the Lebrón Brothers' scorching romantic hits, "Triste Son" sounds like a sped-up bolero with hand claps and bright cowbell accents. "Triste Son has a different energy than the rest of the songs on the album. It's this weirdly melancholic song that has a sticky quality to it," Richardson and Al-Alaoui note. 

Reflecting on what goes into composing a record like Meridian Brothers & El Grupo Renacimiento, Á​​lvarez says: "I’m a person that works a lot in seclusion and it is there where I get inspired, and my friends also inspire me. The strength of my work relies upon metaphysics and imagination, more so than tangible things, I’m a person that works in that space, the human psyche." 

With its street poetry, mystifying tales of resentful musicians, and a compulsory track about heartbreak, Meridian Brothers & El Grupo Renacimiento becomes another excellent chapter in Alvarez’s quest for new ways of approaching Latin American traditional music. 

1972 Was The Most Badass Year In Latin Music: 11 Essential Albums From Willie Colón, Celia Cruz, Juan Gabriel & Others

Get notified of exciting GRAMMY Award news and upcoming events!
Be the first to find out about GRAMMY nominees, winners, important news, and events
Global Spin: Colombian Group Meridian Brothers Weave A Mix Of Latin Styles For A Reimagining Of A Kafka Classic In Their Performance Of "Metamorfosis"
Meridian Brothers

Photo: Mariana Reyes

video

Global Spin: Colombian Group Meridian Brothers Weave A Mix Of Latin Styles For A Reimagining Of A Kafka Classic In Their Performance Of "Metamorfosis"

Led by founder Eblis Álvarez, Meridian Brothers careen their way through a diverse mix of Latin musical styles in this imaginative, fast-paced performance of "Metamorfosis," the lead single off their new album, 'Meridian Brothers & El Grupo Renacimiento.'

GRAMMYs/Jul 19, 2022 - 06:42 pm

Since 1998, composer and multi-instrumentalist Eblis Álvarez has been at the center of his musical outfit Meridian Brothers, a kaleidoscopic and imaginative Colombia-based group that explores a variety of diverse Latin American sounds.

In their performance for Global Spin, the group delivers a dizzying, fast-paced performance of "Metamorfosis," a tapestry of salsa dura, guaracha, and classic Cuban rhythm montuno that offers a lively percussion line and a mesmerizing, danceable beat.

The music is a backdrop for an equally immersive story. "'Metamorfosis' explores transhumanism through its main character who imagines waking up in Kafka-esque fashion to find himself turned into a robot," Alvarez said of the song's themes in a press release.

Meridian Brothers perform as a five-piece band in this iteration of "Metamorfosis," wearing matching outfits — patterned orange-and-white shirts and blue pants — as they careen their way through their uptempo performance of the song, which pairs a piano line against pulsing rhythm guitar and sharp percussion. At the center of it all is Alvarez' charismatic vocal delivery, with its focus on magnetic storytelling, which invites listeners to dive into the world the band is creating in song.

"Metamorfosis," which the group released earlier this spring, is the lead single off the band's forthcoming album, Meridian Brothers & El Grupo Renacimiento, out Aug. 5. As the song reflects, the album will be filled with the same amalgam of musical styles and evocative, mythical storytelling. New York City-based label Ansonia Records, which focuses on promoting Latin music in the Latin diaspora as well as across Latin America and the Caribbean, is returning from a 32-year hiatus to release this new Meridian Brothers project.

Watch Meridian Brothers' hypnotic performance of "Metamorfosis" above, and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Global Spin.

1972 Was The Most Badass Year In Latin Music: 11 Essential Albums From Willie Colón, Celia Cruz, Juan Gabriel & Others

ReImagined: Judy Whitmore Dazzles With A Classic Interpretation Of Frank Sinatra And Count Basie's "The Best Is Yet To Come"
Judy Whitmore

Photo: Courtesy of Judy Whitmore

video

ReImagined: Judy Whitmore Dazzles With A Classic Interpretation Of Frank Sinatra And Count Basie's "The Best Is Yet To Come"

Judy Whitmore introduces fans to the music she grew up with in this jazzy full-orchestra performance of "The Best is Yet to Come" — a song that was made famous by Frank Sinatra and Count Basie, and won a GRAMMY thanks to Ella Fitzgerald.

GRAMMYs/Dec 6, 2022 - 06:00 pm

An American standard originally composed in 1959, "The Best is Yet to Come" has been recorded by an array of vocal greats, including Tony Bennett, Michael Bublé, Bob Dylan, and Ella Fitzgerald — the latter of whom won a GRAMMY for her rendition in 1984. But it's most closely associated with Frank Sinatra, who recorded it with jazz pianist Count Basie for their 1964 album, It Might As Well Be Swing. In fact, the song was so important to Sinatra that its titular lyric is carved into his tombstone.

In this episode of ReImagined, vocalist and cabaret-style performer Judy Whitmore delivers a faithful, buoyant rendition of "The Best is Yet to Come." A full orchestra performs behind her, including horns, jazzy drums, a sweeping string section, and a grand piano — creating a swinging performance that does Sinatra proud.

Whitmore's cover choice is no coincidence, as the singer has been inspired by American classics literally since birth — her namesake is legendary actor and musical performer Judy Garland. Like Garland before her, Whitmore has taken on a diverse and multifaceted career. She's a bonafide Renaissance woman, whose resume includes accomplishments as a theater producer, best-selling author and pilot, who also happens to have a Master's degree in clinical psychology.

Singing has been a lifelong passion for Whitmore, and she has several albums to show for it, including 2020's Can't We Be Friends. That project, which includes her spin on standards like "'s Wonderful," "It Had to Be You" and "Love is Here to Stay," is Whitmore's "love letter to The Great American Songbook," her website explains

"This is the music I grew up with, and I don't want people to forget it," she details. "I think it's one of the most extraordinary bodies of work ever created."

Press play on the video above to watch Whitmore bring her love of American classics to her version of "The Best is Yet to Come," and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more episodes of ReImagined. 

Living Legends: Nancy Sinatra Reflects On Creating "Power And Magic" In Studio, Developing A Legacy Beyond "Boots" & The Pop Stars She Wants To Work With

5 Takeaways From RM's New Solo Album 'Indigo'
RM performing at the 2022 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

list

5 Takeaways From RM's New Solo Album 'Indigo'

BTS leader RM makes his official solo debut with his first studio album, 'Indigo,' which showcases a new level of artistry from the rapper.

GRAMMYs/Dec 5, 2022 - 08:03 pm

Like many of his BTS cohorts, RM has shown off his solo musical talents long before this year. His first mixtape RM came out in 2015, capturing the rapper's raw hip-hop roots. His second mixtape Mono was released to critical acclaim in 2018, when BTS were just scratching the surface of their worldwide domination. But this year took RM's solo efforts to the next level with his first-ever studio album, Indigo. 

Across 10 tracks, RM's official solo debut documents the multilingual rapper, producer and singer/songwriter's journey through his twenties. Meshing Korean and English, his reflections about life under the public eye weave through genres and moods organically. And with diverse collaborations — from R&B legend Erykah Badu to fellow South Korean star parkjiyoon — to boot, RM uses Indigo to bring fans deeper into his expansive musical universe.

Now that the highly anticipated project has finally arrived, take a look at five key takeaways from RM's debut studio album, Indigo.

It's Connected To The Art He Loves

RM is known for being a lover of nature and fine art, and that is reflected within Indigo. Promotional photos for the album featured Yun Hyong-Keun's painting "Blue"; RM is known to be a supporter of the late South Korean artist, so the rapper's inclusion of the work shows the intentionality behind his debut — musically and beyond. 

He isn't afraid to mesh artistic mediums, and the sonic and stylistic choices made reflect this. From then sampling Korean Hyong-Keun's reflection on Plato's humanity in the opening track "Yun" to even titling a song "Still Life," the inspiration is present. RM may have refined taste, but he makes it easily digestible through his music.

It's A Reflection Of His Life Up To Now

According to RM himself, Indigo serves as a diary of the last three years of his life. Even so, the album's messages can be a blueprint for anyone going through a transitional period in life, thanks to RM's honest, open-minded and unfiltered lyrics. 

On "Lonely," he candidly exudes his frustrations over a tropical beat. "I'm f—king lonely/ I'm alone on this island," he raps. He later sings, "So many memories are on the floor/ And now I hate the cities I don't belong/ Just wanna go back home." 

The contrast between the song's upbeat melody and longing lyrics provide a dichotomy that perfectly captures the highs and lows of fame. That's a theme that carries throughout the album, further showcasing why RM has become so admired by his fans and peers alike.

The Features Tell A Lot About His Artistry

Eight of the 10 tracks on Indigo are collaborations, all of which display RM's love of diverse genres and musical eras. They also reflect the caliber of artistry RM has reached — he got Erykah Badu! — as well as his ability to bridge the gap across borders. Along with Badu, he teamed up with two other R&B stars, Anderson .Paak and Mahalia, along with several Korean artists: Paul Blanco, Tablo, Kim Sawol, Colde, youjeen, and parkjiyoon. 

There's A Song For Everyone

Many praise RM for his ability to touch people with his leadership qualities and words, and this album may just be the strongest example of that. The project is noticeably more upbeat than Mono, but RM still takes time to break his emotions down lyrically. 

His first verse on the opening track "Yun" declares "F-k the trendsetter, I'ma turn back the time," setting the tone for how RM feels artistically. Then, the high-energy track "Still Life" with Anderson .Paak expresses joy and resilience, proving that one can still stand tall despite difficulty. As he says to .Paak on the track, "S— happens in life, but what happens is what happens."  

Overall, Indigo shows off RM's versatility in a much more impactful way than his previous mixtapes. This album is about the art of music, not breaking records or following trends. It feels like an exploratory culmination of various emotions, moods, and experiences, which helps each track feel relatable in a different way. 

There's A Lot To Look Forward To

RM displayed an immense maturity in his artistic expression through Indigo. He explores emotions both good and bad, but what remains throughout the entire project is a lingering feeling of hope for a better future. 

RM has always been a symbol of hope and grace as he has served as the spokesperson for his fellow members, both musically and in the public eye. But now, RM is getting to express himself for himself — and if Indigo is any indication, this is just the beginning of his journey inspiring the masses as a soloist.

K-Pop Icon B.I Isn't Afraid To Explore Growth And Freedom On 'Love Or Loved Pt. 1'

Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Juls' Must-Have Tour Item Is An African Instrument That Doubles As A Stress Reliever
Juls

Photo: Mahaneela Choudhury-Reid

video

Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Juls' Must-Have Tour Item Is An African Instrument That Doubles As A Stress Reliever

The producer and DJ introduces fans to his kosh kash — a pocket-sized, egg-shaped instrument that is so versatile, he carries it with him everywhere when he's on the road.

GRAMMYs/Dec 5, 2022 - 06:59 pm

Juls — also known as Juls Baby, and born Julian Nicco-Annan — is perhaps known best for his work as a producer, helping create hits for acts like Burna Boy, Mr. Eazi and GoldLink. But the Ghanian-British producer and DJ is also a touring act who plays sets around the world — and he makes sure he has his trusty kosh kash with him.

In this episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas, Juls introduces viewers to the egg-shaped African percussion instrument, which is also known as a Kashaka. The pocket-sized instrument is made up of two small gourds bound together by a string, and makes a rhythmic, rattling noise when shaken. It serves a lot of purposes, Juls explains.

"It's kind of like a shaker. It's kind of like a stress reliever when I'm preparing tours. It also helps me to make music," he says. "So any time I have an idea, I just record it on my phone in Voice Memos. I carry this everywhere I go when I travel."

Another mainstay of Juls' tour rider is "one of the best drinks in the world: Supermalt," the artist continues. "It's like a malt drink, made of wheat, with other things like added sugar and starch."

The non-alcoholic and caffeine-free malt beverage first originated in the early 1970s and served as a cheap energy source for the Nigerian Army. To this day, it's still an Afro-Caribbean staple — and now, a road necessity for Juls. "Definitely need to have that on the rider," he adds.

Press play on the video above to learn more about Juls' road essentials — plus how he prepares for his shows every night — and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Herbal Tea & White Sofas. 

Press Play: AkayCentric Delivers A Tender, Stripped-Down Performance Of "Body And Soul"