I have been sitting with Eljuri’s new album Resiste for a couple of weeks, listening to it over and over. There is so much here – so many layers of music and meaning, so satisfying and yet so intriguing. Built around Eljuri’s guitar mastery and hypnotic voice and subtitled La Colección Reggae de ELJURI, the album blends reggae, heart, joy, at times otherworldliness, and irrepressible dance rhythms. It is simply spectacular.
“Reggae music unites us… it takes away your troubles and makes you feel good” Cecilia Villar Eljuri says, pointing to the global love for the music of Jamaica and its ability to get people on their feet together regardless of their antagonisms. But this is who she is: born in Guayaquil Ecuador and raised in New York City, she moves naturally among cultures, languages, and genres, pulling together people in her wake. She spins out songs that that mirror the experiences of her life and, increasingly, of so many others. One of the top Latinx guitar players in the world, she merges the sounds and rhythms she heard from her mother’s piano, her father’s vinyl records, her siblings’ CDs and Manhattan’s lower east side club scene.
All of that is distilled into seven perfectly crafted songs on Resiste, each a stand-alone work of art in itself and together one of the year’s best albums in any language.
The album opens with the title song, “Resiste” forcefully decrying immorality and greed in national leaders that can only be stopped by dogged resistance to the fear and the corruption. The Jamaican-centered “El Aire”, produced with Gustavo Borner, Guillaume Bougard, and the irrepressible Jamaican rhythm masters Sly and Robbie, blends into the melodic “Una Ola”, produced with the Jewish Israeli bassist and producer, Yossi Fine.
My favorite song on the album follows next, “Quiero Saber”, is also produced with Sly and Robbie. It drops down a percussion octave and moves along with the energy of an Eastside club street on a weeknight in New York City – quick, but somehow subdued and shadowy, shot through with the piercing colors of her electric guitar.
Eljuri tells us that “ I want to spread the wisdom and rhythms of reggae across borders of culture, language, and nationality and give my voice to a force that can help create positive change,” perfectly encapsulates the message of the next song, Eljuri’s classic “Bang Bang”. In it, she chronicles the horror of gun violence around the world and implores us to stop it – at the same time moving our bodies with a mesmerizing beat. She follows with “Empuja” also with Sly and Robbie, her voice taking on its most famine tone, a soft-surfaced undertone with a touch of the mystery of “Quiero Saber” but with a direction and a purposefulness that pushes you along into her world.
She wraps up with “Una Ola Club Mix”, in which her vocals come in the waves implied in the title as layer upon layer of percussion and strums build a fast-moving dance-enforcing sonic environment. The mix hits its stride and then Eljuri’s electric guitar accents add sharp yellow flashes. Truly music to lose your mind to.
Eljuri recorded Resiste with her regular band members Alex Alexander and Johnny Pisano, plus Tracy Wormworth on “Bang Bang” and Yossi Fine and Nir Z, on “Una Ola”. Recording took place in New York City, Burbank, CA, and Kingston, Jamaica. The mix of talent and recording locations accounts for the album’s flowing fusion of driving funk, one-drop reggae drum beat, wah-wah guitar and dub elements scaffolding Eljuri’s many-sided voices. It is music we know – reggae, dub, rock, Cuban — conjured into an adventure in sonic environments we don’t know. Hypnotic, mysterious, joyful, purposeful – the best thing Eljuri had done in a career full of amazing music.
by Patrick O’Heffernan.