One aspect of Washington I, along with so many others, sorely missed at the height of the quarantine was live music. Thankfully the arrival of autumn brings the return of a truly magnificent sight: venue calendars full of the artists we explored and binged during the pandemic, who’ve reemeregd from their respective lyrical corners to hit the tour circuit.
One artist I discovered early on during the pandemic was Nicola Cruz. At the time, I was the distilled spirits director for a specialty bottle shop in Northwest D.C., and with command of the daily playlist, I took a deep dive into his work.
Born in France to Ecuadorian parents, Nicola Cruz moved to South America at a young age. Growing up in Ecuador, he was heavily influenced by the indigenous rhythms and folk styles of his new home. Drawing on traditional South American folk styles and instruments (such as the pan flute, various percussions and classical strings like guitars) Cruz belongs to a cadre of musicians who draw on “musical hybridism” — the blending of different styles, often older or traditional styles with modern ones like ambient or electronica — in order to bring to life his creative force.
The track I first heard was “Cumbia del Olvido,” off Cruz’s 2015 album “Prender el Alma” (ZZK Records) followed by “Turn on the Soul.” I was immediately intrigued, drawn in by the combination of percussion, reedy guitar and bass. I was already a fan of El Buho and Populous, and this seemed to fit well into that genre. Think Calidoso’s “History of Colour.” Xique-Xique, or El Buho’s “Cenotes” — but with more guitar. Each track was its own story, told through sound and rhythm more so than words.
I also thought, it’s very possible this melodic meandering through the high deserts and deep jungles may not translate into a live dance-club scene. There was only one way to find out.
Cruz performed at Flash DC’s Green Room on Wednesday, October 20, rescheduled from an original performance date of May 2020.
He kicked off his set by co-mixing a few tracks with the opener before taking me on an unexpected musical journey. This was the biggest surprise. I was expecting a live mix to transport me to the Andes Mountains. Instead I remained here at Flash, albeit enjoying a solid liveset. One could certainly see his trademark influences woven throughout the high-energy dance vibe, and the South American influence peeked through specifically in those tracks that relied on percussion to set the tone, marrying scrubby synths with deep drum notes.
A fellow concertgoer noted to me that she had followed Cruz for some time, and that his style had changed significantly in the recent years. After all, “Prender el Alma” was released over six years ago, and a lot can change stylistically in that time. I admit I was curious to see how Cruz would blend his recorded style with a live one, and I think he did an admirable job. Although I would have preferred him to perform on the Flash rooftop, taking advantage of the crisp fall evening, the Green Room worked just as well: the flashbulbs scattered behind the stage made for an inventive backdrop, each bass drop punctuated by a burst from the wall of incandescents, and he was able to translate some of what was in his recorded music to the live performance while introducing us to a new, and interesting side of him. All artists evolve over time, and I’m curious to see what’s next.
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