Quantic and Nidia Góngora: Almas Conectadas review – Colombian gold-panners go orchestral

Hailing from Timbiquí, a small gold-panning community on the Pacific coast of Colombia, folk singer Nidia Góngora’s music is intimately connected with the natural world. Traditionally, women who sift soil on the riverside accompany their work with songs of a centuries-old oral tradition; when this music is recorded, the instrumentation tends to mirror the surrounding sounds – drums for crashing waves, marimba for lapping water and shaker for the rain.

Combining Góngora’s artful, acoustic compositions with the arrangements of electronic producer Will Holland, AKA Quantic, might seem a strange proposition. Yet, after hearing Góngora’s music while living in the Colombian city of Cali, Holland approached the singer and produced a dancefloor-focused reworking of her music on the 2017 album Curao. The pair’s latest offering, Almas Conectadas (Connected Souls), takes a softer approach, highlighting Góngora’s full-throated timbre with orchestral embellishments.

Where Curao sought a frenetic, marimba-heavy high tempo, Almas Conectadas creates a more holistic and self-assured sound from Holland’s keening string arrangements and an undulating clave groove. Opener Doncella sets the tone with its sweeping strings melody and dramatic bassline, before Góngora’s tenor takes the lead on the salsa-referencing El Chiclan. She then shows exactly why she has the honorific musical title of cantora – a term illustrating her musical lineage, since her mother and grandmother were singers – on the album’s standout title track, interweaving vocal runs through an intricate, high-register guitar melody and singing of the album’s central themes of the interconnectedness of humans and the energies of the natural world.

Gallery: The absolute best albums of the 2010s (Espresso)

Throughout, Holland’s gentle production layers polyrhythms, bowed strings and plucked melody, always providing ample space for Góngora’s voice to soar atop the musical foundations without being weighed down by their intricacies. It is a challenging interplay, but one the pair both pull off with effortless aplomb, giving these tales of lost souls at sea, drunken revelry and forlorn romances an ornamental polish without losing their sense of tradition and rooted authenticity.

Also out this month

The jazz fusion quartet comprising Iranian-American vocalist Katayoun Goudarzi, sitar player Shujaat Khan, ney flautist Shaho Andalibi and tabla player Shariq Mustafa present This Pale (Lycopod Records), an emotive recontextualisation of poems by Rumi. Turkish composer Berk Icli releases a remarkably engrossing collection of orchestral suites, field recordings and sampled electronics on Glimpses of an Eternal Bloom (Zel Zele). Indonesian duo Raja Kirik put an industrial spin on Javan shamanic trance music with their debut Rampokan (Yes No Wave Music), a cleansing cacophony of sound.

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