On Tuesday, October 11th, 2016, I had the pleasure of speaking with Eljuri for a phone interview to discuss her newest album, "La Lucha", and to learn more about her diverse musical background.
photo source: Rock Paper Scissors
Christine: Your new album “La Lucha”, meaning “The Fight”, features the overarching theme of stopping injustice. Which subjects do the songs focus on?
Eljuri: “Bang Bang” is about the gun violence, “Injusticia” is about injustice. “La Lucha”, the name of the album and the first song on the album, really is about trying to encourage people to use their voice for “The Fight”. And “The Fight” could mean any struggle that you have. It could be personal struggle, it could be a group struggle. In my case, it’s about trying to have more acceptance of people, about having more tolerance, and about people celebrating diversity from different countries and things. And so, “La Lucha”, that song in particular, speaks about using your voice. Everybody has one: in my case, I have a voice as a singer and a guitarist, so that’s the chorus: “Con mi guitarra, y mi palabra, canto para la lucha”.
Christine: How would you compare and contrast “La Lucha” to your other two albums?
Eljuri: My first [solo] album is “En Paz”. “En Paz” really talks about how we live in a dangerous world and is more connecting to the energy of a peaceful future, hence the name “En Paz”. And [the song “Jaula” is about] how we might feel like we’re caged up sometimes. And so, “En Paz” is really more about seeking peace, and being able to put your head down and relax when you sleep. “Fuerte” is much more about “pump your fist in the air, fight for your rights”, it’s more of a rock record, and I have a song “Derecho” in “Fuerte”, and the word “fuerte” means "strong”. “La Lucha” is third in my socially-conscious habit of lyrics and “La Lucha” is much more introspective, where I want everybody to look inside and really understand where negative energy comes from, or to try and understand why people disagree with each other, and try to then get more empowered towards change. So that’s more what “La Lucha” is about.
Christine: For Americans who are not directly part of Spanish-speaking communities, Spanish and Latin American music are not always easy to come by. And for many, it’s probably even more difficult to learn about or to discover Lebanese music. Can you describe some characteristics of Lebanese roots, and how can we identify them in your music?
Eljuri: In this record in particular, you could hear more of the traditional elements you hear in Lebanese music. I’ve used the choices of scales and voicings, and percussion instruments like doumbek and finger cymbals and that kind of stuff. My music is always a fusion, it’s never straightforward, but my Lebanese roots surfaced on this record more in instrumentation and choices on arrangement. In “Nunca Volveré” and “Luz Roja” are where you hear those elements.
Christine: And I understand that your lyrics come to you naturally in Spanish. Why might that be?
Eljuri: I grew up in a Spanish-speaking household with my parents. I was born in Ecuador, but I was raised in New York. So with my parents, we spoke Spanish. With my brothers and sisters, who are all older than me, I spoke English. And my friends: English. So, my first language was Spanish, and when I was first with bands and stuff in New York and always writing my own material as a teenager, it was always in English, English, English, because that was what I was into, you know? The Clash, The Stones, Bob Marley, people like that. But then, there was a point where I kind of got deeper into my Latino roots and started changing the arrangements and adding more Afro-Cuban percussion and everything to my songs. And then the lyrics started coming out in Spanish, so then I got deeper into singing in Spanish and found it beautiful to sing in Spanish. It’s touching me in my soul. I like the way Spanish sounds melodically, I think it’s just a beautiful language.
Christine: Do you find there are certain words that exist in Spanish that don’t have a direct translation in English that really catch you?
Eljuri: It’s not so much the words as maybe the phrasing that I find interesting in Spanish. Just like I like phrasing in English, though. Generally, as a songwriter, I’m really into phrasing. I like the way things rhyme, and you shape the phrase that you’re singing in its own special way. And the big open vowels... Spanish has more open vowels than English.
Christine: I can only imagine that being multi-lingual, especially when it comes to rhyming, gives you so much flexibility.
Eljuri: Yeah, exactly! And some of these songs came out bilingual, “Sálvame” and “Bang Bang” are bilingual naturally, as well as “Sed”. And right back, I just felt it completely in English. And so I was like, “Okay, I’m gonna rock it and bring me back to my East Village roots”.
Christine: How did you become connected with Alexandra Gatje at Manovill Records?
Eljuri: It’s interesting. Paula Romano was the president of Manovill, and she hired Alex to do all the graphic material because she’s a graphic artist. And so she did all the art, she did all the promotional work, pictures, you know, everything. And so then Paula got married, had a little baby boy, and was like “I can’t travel all the time to these countries and tours.” And then Alex picked up the mantle because she was managing art projects, and when she started managing more projects for the label, for me as the artist, then she said that managing an illustrator, a photographer, and a copywriter is not that different from a drummer, bass player, and you know [laughs]. So, her psyche and her work ethic translated, and she got deeper and deeper, and then my solo career took off and she went with us. I’m very grateful. And she still does the beautiful art!
Christine: In reading about “Eljuri on Guitars/Eljuri en las Guitarras”, what have you learned or observed from your bilingual workshops for aspiring guitarists and musicians?
Eljuri: “You know, one of the main things I learned was that people are still surprised to see women play guitar like I do, even for kids. So that made me happy to turn on the idea that that women playing the guitar isn’t so unusual. But, what I learned from them was that… I had a lot of questions like “How can I be an original artist and follow my career?” Many of them weren’t necessarily guitar players or singers, they were all instruments, and my message to them translated differently than originally planned, which was more geared towards “How do you find your voice as a guitar player or as a singer?”, and it translated to finding your voice on ANY instrument. So they taught me it’s not that different to find your own original voice deep down inside and draw that out. Like, you know, however you want to express yourself, but make sure you express yourself as yourself. And I didn’t originally set out with that in mind, the kids taught me that.
Christine: And [as a child], you learned to play the mandolin, is that correct?
Eljuri: Yeah, and you know, my first instrument was the piano, because my mother is a brilliant composer and pianist, and had a bunch of albums out in Ecuador. All I knew was original music when I was three and four and five, listening to her play at home. So the piano was my first love, of course. And then I had drums for like a year or ten minutes, whatever [laughs], and then the little mandolin got me introduced to stringed instruments, and then it was acoustic guitar, and then it was all over.
The piano in the house, I think, is a really great thing. For families, for kids to learn, for adults to learn. I admire the way my mother plays, she still plays, and she’s written some beautiful music. Actually, one of the songs on the record is hers: "Indiferencia”. She wrote it as a tango and never recorded it. So, I’ve heard it my whole life as a tango, but I rearranged it as a bolero trip-hop thing [laughs]. That’s why the lyrics are really old-school cool. The word “indiferencia”means “indifference” and it’s kind of a love song about being indifferent, and that’s crazy cool. I wouldn’t have thought of those lyrics, she did.
Christine: When in the upcoming future will audiences be able to hear “La Lucha”, the album itself, performed live?
Eljuri: Tomorrow [October 12th, 2016] at the record release party in New York! I did do some songs off the album in Mexico and Canada, but tomorrow’s the official record release party in New York, Friday the record’s out, and next Thursday in L.A. I’m going to have a record release party too. But we’re playing every song tomorrow night, which I’m really excited about. And it’ll be streaming live [at www.livamp.com/drom], so hopefully you can peek in!
Many thanks to Eljuri for her time and powerful new music!