The New York-based guitarist, singer and songwriter Cecilia Villar Eljuri, who performs under the name Eljuri, compulsively fuses genres in a way that’s not entirely unusual for a Latino musician. She is, however, rather unusually a Latina rocker and electric guitarist, going back to her roots in various Latin styles after starting out as a rocker.
On La Lucha she shows off her love of the Cuban tres – a small guitar with six strings arranged in three pairs of two – using a custom-made electric model that she designed herself. She also delves into ballads, reggae and a bit of Santana-influenced rock en español. The title means “the fight” or “the struggle,” a phase that has been used to refer to the civil rights battle for Latinos. It’s also part of “lucha libre,” the Mexican-based pro wrestling style that is wildly popular throughout the Spanish-speaking Americas – the album’s cover art reflects lucha libre‘s style and colors.
She was born in Ecuador and moved to New York with her family as a child. Her parents are both artists – her mother Olga Villar Eljuri a singer of Lebanese descent and her father an actor. Quite a heady stew to bring to an artistic career of one’s own. Her exploration of that background finds its key expression here on the song “Indiferencia,” written by her mother in Ecuador as a tango, reimagined here as a slow-burning rock ballad, with Eljuri playing lead on her electric tres. “I didn’t make it a tango, because I heard it heading in more of a hip-hop meets bolero with castanets direction,” she says on the one-sheet accompanying the album.
Other standout tracks are the title song, which opens the disc, a percussive Latin rocker with influences from reggae to hip-hop to rock, and a lovely melodic solo on a husky, distorted guitar; “Quiero Saber” (“I want to know”), her collaboration with reggae greats Sly & Robbie, which incorporates reggae into her sound but isn’t dominated by it; and the soaring Cuban-style rocker “Viento” (“The wind”). You can see her play an inspiring solo on that tres on this video:
“Luz Roja” is another interesting track, with deep pulsing bass (from Tracy Wormworth, one of two bassists on the album), slow verses and loping choruses and all kinds of percussion going on. “Nunca Volveré” is way off the map, incorporating some Middle-Eastern sounds including a dumbek (that hourglass-shaped hand drum used everywhere from the Mid-East to India), finger cymbals, pentatonic backing chants, hard-rock drums and a guitar solo that wouldn’t be out of place on a Led Zeppelin record. The lyrics are about the immigrant experience, to complete the Zep connection.
La Lucha is largely a studio creation of Eljuri on her own, playing a whole battery of instruments including synths and programmed drums in addition to those guitars, so it sometimes sounds claustrophobic and overstuffed. Maybe that’s why her collaboration with the more-restrained Sly & Robbie is a bit of a breath of fresh air. But she’s an artist in mid-career fairly bursting with inspiration, and it comes across on this record, which is for the most part delightfully entertaining. Recommended for lovers of alt-Latino music of all kinds.