09/08/2016, Fonoteca National, Estado De Mexico, MX

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The Rock & World of Eljuri

Born in Guayaquil, Ecuador and raised in New York City, Cecilia Villar Eljuri is a compulsive genre-fuser writing songs that mirror the experiences of her life. Touted as one of the top Latina guitar players in the world, she blends the sounds and rhythms ...

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Ron Kadish

Rebel with a Craft: Eljuri’s Gritty Licks, Electric Tres, and Introspective Defiance Push the Latin Rocker Forward on La Lucha

A compulsive genre fuser, Eljuri would disappear for days at a time, ducking into her home studio and losing herself in arrangements. “No one could find me,” she laughs. “I would spend hours adding horns or strings. I was trying to push myself, to add texture and to make my sound bigger and more cinematic.”

For an electric guitarist in love with the Cuban tres, for a Latina raised in Manhattan in a tight-knit family of artists, it was a logical next move. From raw-edged rock through alt-Latin exploration, Eljuri has found ever tighter songs, with an increasingly expansive feel and perspective that burst through on La Lucha (release: October 14, 2016).

“Musically, it was incredible, the different influences, from my parents, who brought us to New York City from Ecuador, and from my friends on the street,” reflects Eljuri. “I always liked the rawness of styles like punk, but I also wanted that musicality that respected the artform.”

That respect blossoms into songs that are both hooky and nuanced, including a reimagined version of a tango her mother released on 78 (“Indiferencia”) and a collaboration with reggae icons Sly & Robbie (“Quiero Saber”). Eljuri’s guitar work, so strong critics have dubbed her “Carlita” with a hat tip to Santana, stretches out, finding a balance of melodic and rhythmic moments, for a sound that’s potent yet reflective.

“I wanted to get more into my Lebanese roots,” inherited from her mother, “and to let the Latin side rip more,” Eljuri says.

{full story below}

As a girl, Eljuri studied piano and got into the mandolin. Then she discovered electric guitar. She fell in love, began writing her own songs, started rock bands, and was playing CBGBs by her teens.

Yet her roots kept speaking to her, in ways filtered through her own experience. Her mother was a musician with a recording career in Ecuador. Her family was close and creative. Outside their home was New York City, a scene burgeoning with defiant sounds, from hip hop to punk. The energy blended with her parents’ total commitment to their craft. “My mom would work on a song, and you’d see her at it,” Eljuri recalls. “My actor father would work hard to prepare for an upcoming speech or performance. They really cultivated their skills as artists.”

Eljuri followed in their footsteps, honing her songwriting, vocal, and guitar skills over the years. Inspired by everything from Nancy Wilson and Jimmy Page to BB King and Bonnie Raitt, from the scratchy drop of the guitar on a Marley song to the ripple of the Cuban tres, she refined her guitar sound. “I’m not a shredder,” she says. “I loved all the muted, licky stuff you get in reggae. There’s a whole different sound coming out of the guitar that’s less squealy. When I listened to music as a kid, my ear would gravitate to hooky guitar lines, to soaring harmonic solos, or to the heavy rhythmic strums you’d hear from a flamenco player.”

These inspirations run through all of Eljuri’s solo work, though she has explored them more deeply over the years. Eljuri’s Latin and family roots resonate through “Indiferencia,” a traditional-style tango with a haunting melody penned by her mother, but completely reframed by Eljuri. “I was melting as I sang and learned it,” she laughs. “I didn’t make it a tango, because I heard it heading in more of a hip-hop meets bolero with castanets direction.”

La Lucha also features her third collaboration with reggae greats Sly & Robbie, whose laidback studio presence lent a distinctively blissful vibe to “Quiero Saber”: “They are so deep and rich in their sound,” she says.”They’ve done a ton of upbeat tracks, but I love working with them in a mellower way. The song has these present Latin elements, that they like to pair a very loose, , is front and center on songs like “El Viento,” which chronicles the complexities of a lover who traditional reggae approach with.”

Eljuri’s signature musical approach, her feel for layering piano montunos with guitar riffsblows in and out of your life like the breeze.Musically, I was trying to fuse the Latin instruments and rhythms but not in a straight-up traditional way,” explains Eljuri. “I have an electric tres that I dreamed up and convinced my guitar tech to build for me. I’m not a tresero, I just enjoy discovering new sounds and some of that exploration became the solo.”  

Experimentation runs throughout La Lucha. “‘Luz Roja’ is a very different song and arrangement for me,” muses Eljuri. “I wanted it to have a different pulse than other songs I’ve written in the past, more four on the floor, with with pulsating keyboards and caja vallenata. Yet the guitar is very exploratory and loose, more free flowing.” In the adventuresome “Nunca Volveré” (which Eljuri calls ‘an immigrant’s tale’), she digs deeper into her Lebanese roots with driving dumbek, finger cymbals, and Arabic infused chants, entwined with Zeppelin-style electric guitar and rock drums.

There’s been a shift in Eljuri’s point of view, as well, an inward look at how the world shapes and challenges us. The rocker’s hard-edged rebellion has been tempered, though she still tells it like it is on the stirring call to address gun violence, “BangBang.” Much of the fight on La Lucha is internal: Many songs urge listeners to start inside first, then move outward and shake up the world.

“Injusticia,” for example, imagines a conversation between friends that catches fire and takes them outside, to the streets, flowing into a movement. “It’s very introspective. It’s simmering at the beginning, a circle of friends, in an intimate surrounding,” Eljuri notes. “Then it breaks out with the solo, a dark, rich, fat solo, then you feel the chants, the movement at the end. That’s the way I feel: That’s what we have to do.” On the title track, with the funky, latin groove of “La Lucha”, Eljuri appeals to the listener to raise their voice to fight for a better world.

Sometimes defiance starts inside, in affirming your will to live life to its fullest, when others try to knock you down with violence and hatred. “‘Sed’ captures a very introspective moment. It’s saying you cannot take my love of life away from me. You can try fear, but I’m on to you,” states Eljuri. “You’re not going to stop me from having the thirst to live. It comes from an angry place, but goes somewhere beautiful.”

Dispatch Details

Venue Link:
Venue Zip:
Venue City, State:
Mexico City CDMX
Venue St. Address:
Francisco Sosa 383
Fonoteca National
Concert Start Time:
7:00 PM
Doors Open:
6:30 PM