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Eljuri Headline an Inspiring, Adrenalizing NYCLU Benefit at Drom

Wednesday night at Drom, power trio Eljuri had been hinting for awhile that they were going to take the music straight into roots reggae. So when frontwoman/guitarist Cecilia Villar Eljuri finally led the band into a couple of bars of Peter Tosh’s Get Up, Stand Up, and from there into Bob Marley’s Exodus, it was an impactful payoff. The emphasis wasn’t on getting out, but a ‘movement of jah people,” which dovetailed with Eljuri’s own fearlessly relevant, sometimes incendiary lyricism. That defiant, populist focus made the band an apt choice to top the bill at this benefit concert for the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Singing mostly in Spanish in a clear, bright voice, Eljuri’s persistent message was one of resistance and solidarity, through a mix of songs taken mostly from her most recent album La Lucha (The Struggle). Last year this blog called her “this era’s David Gilmour of rock en Español,” and she validated that description. The band opened with the album’s title track, setting the stage for the rest of their hour onstage, Eljuri alternating between jangly, funk-tinged lines and aching, screaming, resonant Pink Floyd-style leads. She hit her twelve-string pedal for a glittering, chimey take of Indiferencia, her drummer – fresh off the plane from Venezuela and already making a mark with his unpredictable, counterintuitive fills – adding cumbia-style flair on the turnaounds.

They built brooding, dramatic intensity with the bolero-tinged anthem El Viento and later took the sound further upward to epic art-rock grandeur with a long, searing take of the revolutionary thirst anthem Sed. Then the band took a turn toward cheery new wave with Right Now. The bassist switched between a terse, low-key pulse and serpentine climbs up the scale, especially when the groove moved further toward the Caribbean. One of the best songs of the night was a darkly stately, slowly crescendoing anthem written by Eljuri’s mom.

Ani Cordero played an elegantly impassioned opening set solo on nylon-string guitar, drawing mostly from her latest, fearlessly political album Querido Mundo. Calmly and resolutely, she reminded that crowd that in times like these, we shouldn’t get too escapist: if there was ever a moment to be a presence protesting the daily lunacy wafting from the Oval Office, that time is now. She got the crowd singing along to the insistently bouncy anti-police brutality anthem Me Tumba, then ran through Victor Jara’s bittersweet protest song Deja la Vida Volar, from her 2014 album of classic political songs, Recordar. She closed with a jaunty take of the old Puerto Rican plena hit Ay Choferito.

A lawyer from the NYCLU explained between sets that one new constituency they’ve been helping since the Swamp Cabinet took office is latino immigrants on Long Island, whose children are being detained by police under the pretext of investigating gang involvement. When the cops don’t find any reason to hold the kids any longer, they turn them over to the INS.

Drom continues to be Manhattan’s home to interesting sounds from around the globe: the acts we’ll be seeing at Lincoln Center in the coming years typically make their US debut here. One auspicious upcoming show here is on Sept 30 at 8 with wild accordion-driven Chilean psychedelic band Pascuala Ilabaca y Fauna making their US debut. $15 adv tix are highly recommended.

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Eljuri’s Mighty, Fearless Revolutionary Debut Album: One of 2016’s Best

Eljuri play edgy, minor-key, fearlessly political south-of-the-border rock. Their songs are catchy and as fiery as they are eclectic. Frontwoman Cecilia Villar Eljuri punctuates her clever, metaphorically-charged Spanish-language lyrics with intense, dynamic, often exhilarating  lead guitar work – she’s sort of this era’s David Gilmour of rock en Español. Their debut album La Lucha (“The Struggle”) is streaming at Storyamp. They’re playing the album release show this Wednesday, Oct 12 at 7 PM at Drom; advance tix are $15

The album’s opening title track, a punk-funk number, is disarmingly straightforward: “With my guitar and my lyrics, I speak for the struggle,” the bandleader explains. The production is artful: lingering reverb-toned ambience behind the scratchy rhythm guitar. The band switches to an upbeat reggae groove for the brassy anti-violence anthem Bang Bang, ending with an exhaustive litany of cities which have been the scene of notorious mass shootings and murders by police: it’s long enough to go on for a whole verse and chorus and finally ends with New York City.

Jangly guitars balance against stately piano on the mournful but propulsive bolero El Viento (“The Wind”): musically, it’s one of the album’s strongest tracks, sung with unexpecteldy misty nuance. By contrast, Nunca Volvere (“Never Coming Back”) pounces along with a flurrying, chromatically-fueled, Andalucian-tinged menace, like legendary Mexican art-rockers Jaguares at their most savage.

The band brings back a swaying, funk-tinged drive on Injusticia, then, finally six tracks in, they do a happy tune in a major key: the bouncy, Blondie-esque Right Now. Then they go back to the menace with Indiferencia, a towering, majestic cumbia-flavored lament, resonant twelve-string guitar against lush string synth. Quiero Saber (“I Wanna Know”) takes a turn back into classic-style roots reggae, with a tantalizingly brief, psychedelic wah guitar solo midway through.

Likewise, the artsy psychedelia of Luz Roja (“Red Light”) brings to mind peak-era Bob Marley, until the band picks up the pace with a scampering chorus. Salvame (“Save Me”), with Eljuri’s lyrics switching between English and Spanish, takes a turn back toward straight-up backbeat 70s rock with salsa-tinged piano and Satana-esque guitar. The final cut, Sed (Thirst) slowly builds toward a towering, angst-fueled peak, a defiant, ultimatley hopeful revolutionary anthem. Listening to this album all the way through, it hits you: every single one of these tracks is strong. The lyrics are smart and relevant, Eljuris’s vocals are just as dynamic and the band is killer. Who would have thought that what might be the best rock record of the year would be sung mostly in Spanish. La Reconquista might be closer than we think!