Photo: Mariana Reyes
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."
"I am a music fetishist, I have a great obsession for sound," says composer and multi-instrumentalist Eblis Álvarez, 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.
Álvarez’s obsession is so deep and imagination so expansive that he devised El Grupo Renacimiento: a made-up band of salsero misfits who, in Álvarez’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," Álvarez 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."
Álvarez'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 Álvarez 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," Álvarez 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, Álvarez 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 Álvarez, 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 Álvarez’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, Álvarez 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.
Photo: Mariana Reyes
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.'
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.
Photo: Dane Clark
It Goes to 11: Noah Reid's Favorite Instrument Is A Custom-Made Wedding Gift With A Family Connection
Noah Reid shares the story behind his one-of-a-kind acoustic guitar, which was made expressly with him in mind.
Musician and actor Noah Reid's favorite instrument is an acoustic guitar that was custom-built by renowned luthier Linda Manzer, who's worked on guitars for the likes of Carlos Santana, Pat Metheny and Paul Simon. But the instrument's pedigree isn't the biggest thing that makes it special — it's also an important part of Reid's family history.
In this episode of It Goes to 11, Reid shares the deeply personal story behind his guitar, which was a wedding gift from his parents. Every detail behind the instrument was crafted with him in mind, beginning with the fact that it was made in 1987 — the year he was born.
"It's personalized on the headstock with a drawing by my dad," Reid explains, adding that Manzer also worked on the instrument with him and his playing style in mind. "She included a letter that said, 'I've heard you play in person, and I've tuned this, and the action is such that I think it will suit your playing style."
Reid's parents gave him the guitar as a gift the night before his wedding ceremony in 2020, along with a detailed case for the instrument. Having it before the wedding itself allowed the musician to make a special memory with his new guitar right away: performing for his new wife in front of their loved ones.
"Playing this guitar on my wedding day was just a crazy confluence of music and emotion and belonging and family," the singer — who Schitt's Creek fans may remember from his heart-melting performances as Patrick — says. "It was really everything. There's a sense of belonging with this instrument that feels unique and special. It's not just for an everyday occasion."
Press play on the video above to get to know Reid's special acoustic guitar for yourself, and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more episodes of It Goes to 11.
How Youth-Run Label Syryn Records Supports Up-And-Coming Artists, Music Industry Hopefuls
Born out of the pandemic, Syryn Records offers young future music professionals real-world experience in the industry — and what they've done with it is impressive.
The COVID-19 lockdown forced many people to get creative with how they connected with each other and interacted with the world. The leaders of Girls Rock Santa Barbara were no different, but they also had a pressing decision to make: Skip their annual sleep-away summer camp for school-aged girls and gender expansive kids, or adapt their programming for the newly all-remote world.
This is how Syryn Records — a youth-run record label dedicated to supporting young female-identifying and gender expansive artists as they grow their careers in music — was born.
The label's teen interns built Syryn from scratch, running the label's day-to-day operations while also collaborating on the development of branding, website and social media.
While the first cohort of Syryn interns released singles from seven artists and contributed to creative assets for those releases, second session interns are signing artists. Twenty-one-year-old Heaven Lee is Syryn's first signed artist, and will release her debut single on the label later this year. The Syryn squad also kept busy creating an online publication called GRL Mag, and doing TikTok reports from concerts.
Now firmly on the other side of lockdown, the spring 2022 cohort of 39 interns hosted the first IRL Syryn event in April: a showcase concert featuring Heaven and other young up-and-coming artists at The Rattle in Los Angeles. The next cohort is to continue to support Heaven, sign another artist or two, and release another compilation album to support even more young artists.
In addition to supporting young artists, Syryn nurtures its interns — some of whom are aspiring artists themselves, while others are into visual art or see themselves on the business side of the industry. The internship offers them real world experience, as well as industry connections through weekly mentorship meetings with female musicians and music industry professionals. The 24 mentors for the spring session included Kate Nash, Megan Mitchell, LATASHÁ and myself, representing music journalism.
GRAMMY.com spoke with three interns — one who is graduating high school, a college student, and a recent college grad — and one adult leader. They share the impact of their experience at Syryn, their visions for themselves as young women in music, and how their hard work has helped the label evolve.
To start, it'd be great if everyone could introduce themselves and tell me your role at Syryn, and why you signed up to be a part of it.
Blaire Michael: I'm the program mentor and lead at Syryn Records. I help run all of the departments and manage the program, and make sure that everybody feels like they're getting the most out of it… and also just feels seen, and understood and supported.
Marissa McShepard: I am in the art department, and I've really been enjoying working with the team of artists. I chose to apply because I'm a visual artist and I'm into music as well. And I felt "Why not try to get some experience in that field?" since all I've been doing is my major in college, which is business and I don't really enjoy it that much.
Isabella Diaz: I joined Syryn because it's actually what led me to Girls Rock about two years ago. I saw it on Instagram and I was like, "Oh my God, that's so cool." I guess I didn't have the confidence to put in an application. So this year, I was like, "No, I'm going to do it." It's great because it's kind of an entry into the music industry. I'm going into college and will be majoring in entertainment management. I'm on the marketing team.
Sasha-Courtney Hofisi: I am an intern in the art department and I get to work alongside Marisa and some other really dope artists on the art and the aesthetic behind Syryn Records. We're working closely with some of the artists on their upcoming projects, which is dope. I saw [Syryn] on Instagram and am a music industry major and a multidisciplinary artist, primarily a musician. I really wanted the opportunity to explore my job options after college; I think that being in the program has given me a better idea of what my career options can be.
I would love to hear more about how Syryn came together in summer 2020, and the journey from there.
Michael: The last session started in 2020 and it was a pivot, because COVID was happening and everyone was trying to figure out how to stay engaged and supported and part of the community. And so [the staff at Girls Rock Santa Barbara] came up with a couple of different programs, one focused on journalism and another focused on promoting young artists and giving young folks an opportunity to explore the different things you can do to support an artist as a music professional.
The label is now formalized this year, but previously, it was a lot of artists that were just part of the Girls Rock community that brought in a single and the interns came together to help do the art for it and to help with some of the publicity. They created a Syryn Instagram and website.
We loved how it went and we were like, "Why don't we actually sign artists?" We have all of our interns supporting actual signed artists to the Syryn Record label, and we're exploring a lot of different ways that we can keep building it out.
How do you decide what music to release on the label?
Michael: We had a ton of artist applications. We had to narrow it down to those we felt were self-sufficient enough in that they knew how to produce, they knew a little bit about engineering, they already had written some songs and the songs had a really good structure to them. [Essentially], we felt like they were ready to push their music out, so they were at the right part in their journey to link with Syryn Records.
The whole team at Girls Rock Santa Barbara talked about every single intern and every single artist, and chose the folks that we wanted to join us. We have two artists that we're working with right now. We're super excited to work with them.
What does Syryn offer in support of its artists?
Michael: We have four departments: A&R, publicity, marketing and the art department. And they're all kind of working together but separately, building the different pieces. Marketing is talking to the artists about getting an aesthetic together and the brand guidelines, so when they're posting there's consistency. The art department is making art, helping with covers, canvases, all those kinds of things, and also has been helping with our website. The publicity department is putting together press releases, getting ready for when we launch and also reaching out and talking to people about our artists and our program.
McShepard: The art department first started with, again, the aesthetic of Syryn… but we also moved on to looking at the aesthetics of the artists, starting with Heaven and then on to Zoey. [We worked] with other departments, making sure that our collaboration is smooth. We just finished working with the marketing department to make a good cover for Heaven's single, which was really fun.
Hofisi: We actually got the chance to be put into pairs to collaborate on Heaven's single covers. We've been able to combine our two departments' skills together to be able to create a cohesive project and pitch for the signed artist, so they can have options for their covers and such.
Another really cool feature that all the interns get is that we have a guest mentor come speak to us on Mondays. It's a great way to make connections, but also it's been the easiest way for me to be able to ask as many questions as I want about different careers, and see people across a plethora of… fields within the industry.
Diaz: Like Sasha and Marissa mentioned, we just finished a collaboration between the two departments. I really liked how every single group had a totally different perspective on it, and the ideas that were thrown out there were really cool.
In marketing, we've also been working on getting our social media going. I've been doing a lot of TikToks, like concerts of the week, record of the week, guest mentor of the week, a lot of weekly stuff. We're trying to continue our posting schedule. We were working on some color palettes as well. We want to get a cohesive idea for the artists for when we do start all the releases, so everything can be ready and looking pretty.
I really like Syryn's collage / DIY-style art! Who makes the decisions around the visual elements of the label?
Michael: The art department really does represent the artists interests, but we've had meetings where Heaven comes in. Heaven's met with the marketing department and talked about color schemes and the fonts we're choosing, and we handed those over to the art department. They made so many different versions because then we get to all present them to Heaven.
I think the important part of our record label… has always been that the artist has a ton of creative control. And we want to make sure that we're supporting their vision.
McShepard: Outside of artists' work and artists' aesthetic, we all have some say in what's finalized. For example, we still have to vote on a banner for the website. I think that's great that we all get to have a say because we all put in the work and we all help each idea come to fruition.
Diaz: In marketing, we have these mood boards going and we all get to add to them and see our perspective on it, and then as we keep doing that it becomes more cohesive. When we get the artists in, then we get more ideas and that's [when] we finalize everything. It's a team effort and we really value everyone's opinion. I really like that.
What can you tell me about the label's aesthetic, and how you came to that decision?
Hofisi: At least for our banner and our website upgrade, a huge thing that we talked about is trying to kind of play with, in an age-appropriate way, the Syryn Records title and the mythology and association with siren. So, we wanted to play into a mystical vibe. We were thinking about fairies, and flying cats and a very foresty vibe, like mushrooms and plants, to liven it up and add a little bit more of a magical vibe to it.
We also really wanted to play into the gender expansiveness as well of Syryn Records — not only the fact that it is focused on women empowerment, but also gender inclusion as well. So we have a lot of androgynous mystical creatures like fairies, or elves, stuff like that. That will be included in this next phase of the Syryn Records brand.
McShepard: The only other thing that she didn't mention was just the color palette, again, making sure those colors are inspiring and supporting the vibe that we're going for. And making sure that it is age-appropriate and all-inclusive when it comes to our females and gender expansive folks. We wanted to have some kind of cohesion on that front while still promoting diversity.
Michael: Yeah, we never wanted anyone to look at our brand and feel like they're not included if they are part of our outreach. So trans, non-binary, racial diversity, gender. We wanted to make sure you look at something from us and say, "Oh, I belong here." So how you build your art, how you build your brand can really signal to people "I belong here" or "I don't belong here." So that's important.
Can you tell me about the Syryn artist showcase that happened recently?
Hofisi: I was very, very, very blessed with the showcase. I met one of my best friends, actually, in this internship, in the art department. Basically, we had the idea of wanting to do a show and get the chance to meet each other for the first time. Her birthday was coming up as well, so the timing was really great. We asked Blaire if she had any ideas for venues and she was generous enough to offer to try to help us collaborate with the record label.
The showcase was really, really great. We got to have Heavenheadline the event. We really wanted the event to highlight dope women that are doing amazing things in music, and wanted to showcase their talents. We had a very intimate acoustic vibe to it. It was Venusian themed, and we wanted to bring the outdoors inside, so we had a little grass patch and flowers. There were five acts. It was very, very exciting.
Michael: It's really cool because it was two interns coming together and producing an event for Syryn Records, which is kind of crazy. And we got to keep it fully in-house, Devin [Davis, the Syryn A&R Mentor Lead] and I did the sound for the event. One of our guest mentors is the director of The Rattle, which is a creative space [in Los Feliz in Los Angeles]. It kind of came full circle and was really, really sick. And we had two interns performing and the two artists signed to our label.
So it's a beautiful example of when you bring all these elements together the synergy that can happen and how it can sort of organically uplift your message or your mission without you having to do too much besides putting the right people in the right rooms together.
At this point in time, what does everyone's "dream job" look and feel like? Are you interested in working in the music industry?
Diaz: For me personally, it feels like a pinball; it just bounces around all the time and is never fully set. But now, working anywhere in management or [as] an agent will be cool. Working with a label and working with a group of people has made me realize that I really do like the collaborative aspect, so working for a label — whether it's one of the big corporate names or one of the smaller local ones — seems to be really, really cool.
I would love to be able to work in something that lets me experience my favorite things, which are concerts and music, on a more intimate level and bring those experiences to people. I grew up on these things, and would love to show it to the next generation to be like look at this great world and eventually they can take over.
McShepard: This is a very real question for me right now as I'm about to graduate from college in a week. And I'm hating it because it keeps changing…. I'm thinking I need to be in this corporate job, like I said, I'm [majoring] in business, specifically my focus is in consulting. I do interviews like this with people all the time, and I always love to connect with people and talk to people and that's my favorite part.
I grew up in the theater, I was a scene artist painting-wise, and I also was a dancer and singer. So at this point it is just like, Marissa, what do you want to do with your life? [Chuckles] I've got all these options. Honestly, at this point, my end goal, sooner rather than later, would be to have an art gallery and art therapy brick and mortar kind of place. Because I would love to still be able to connect with people in that way and also get my bag doing my art.
Photo: Courtesy of William Murphy
Positive Vibes Only: William Murphy Invites You To His Church For A Soaring Performance Of "You've Already Won"
Let William Murphy and a chorus of backing singers move you with an inspiring performance of "You've Already Won," a soaring message of positivity, hope and faith.
Gospel artist and pastor William Murphy has a message of joy and inspiration to share in "You've Already Won," a song that comes off the track list of his seventh album, Worship & Justice, which arrived earlier this year.
In this episode of Positive Vibes Only, Murphy invites fans to join him for a live performance of the song set in church, complete with soaring harmonies from a chorus of backing vocalists and joyous interjections from members of the congregation. This performance of "You've Already Won" was filmed at The dReam Center Church of Atlanta, which Murphy co-founded with his wife, Danielle, in 2006.
It's fitting that this performance of "You've Already Won" was filmed live in Murphy's church — many of Worship & Justice's 20 tracks were recorded as he performed them for a congregation. That recording session took place in December 2021, and Murphy explained to CCM Magazine that the experience was particularly rewarding after two years of COVID-19 related closures.
"We were gathering for the first time in almost two years," the three-time GRAMMY nominee recounted. "We had over a thousand people in the room. People still had masks on, but it was like a wind of fresh air to see the room filled again."
Press play on the video above to experience Murphy's joyful live performance of "You've Already Won" for yourself, and check back to GRAMMY.com every Sunday for new episodes of Positive Vibes Only.