Culture

Ecuador's Nicola Cruz brings traditional Amazonian sounds to U.S. dance floors

Cruz’s tour coincides with a new remix album of his 2015 release Prender el Alma, the 10-track debut of a style he’s dubbed "Andes Step."

It’s not everyday that you hear Andean flutes, ritualistic chants and birdsongs on Miami’s late-night dance floors. During a recent show, Ecuadorian producer Nicola Cruz stood on stage alone, in front of an array of gear, and brought sounds from 5,600-feet high into a dark open-air club in the city’s downtown. With his relaxed, humble demeanor, the 28-year-old producer brought the rowdy Miami crowd down to Earth with his mix of folklore and electronic beats, built layer by layer.

"My music comes from different places [in South America], from the coast, the jungle, the mountains," Cruz told Univision in Spanish before his Miami set. "When you bring these sounds to a city where you don’t usually hear them, you're bringing new stories to people. It can be interesting for someone used to the concrete of the city to hear something more organic."

Cruz’s tour follows the release of a remix of his 2015 album Prender el Alma, a 10-track debut of a style he’s dubbed "Andes Step," a mix of "local indigenous and Afro-cosmologies in a modern setting," leading to electronic folklore ecstasy. For Prender el Alma Remixed, he called upon musicians like History of Colour (El Búho & Barrio Lindo), Chancha Via Circuito and Captain Planet, and the Ecuadorian project EVHA to interpret his creations.

Cruz was born in Limoges, France, to Ecuadorian parents, but grew up in Quito. He began practicing music when he was 12, spurred on by a drum set gifted by his parents. He dug into percussion, and then to a more techno-inspired electronic style. Always drawn to beats and rhythms, he studied audio production and "the physics of sounds," exploring the arts of recording, sound design and instruments. In 2007, he went to Mexico, where he studied music production for five years.

In 2012, Cruz's name hit the map after Chilean DJ Nicolas Jaar heard his music and took him to perform in New York and Los Angeles. He began to shift his focus deeply into the ethereal indigenous and folkloric sounds from his homeland. "I've always been drawn to music from Ecuador and more traditional music from all over South America," he says. "It tells interesting stories. Above all it has a mystical quality. That's what I love to work with."

Over the last decade, record labels like the Buenos Aires-based ZZK have created a home for that type of fusion of electronic sounds and tools with traditional, folkloric ones (i.e. "electrocumbia"). Last year, in the midst of working on an album, Cruz signed with ZZK. In October, he released Prender el Alma. Since then, Cruz has performed across the world, including at big name events like Sonar Barcelona in June. “I’ve worked for so long in the studio,” he says. “I guess now I’m reaping the rewards.”

Cruz is a key part of a new digital folklore revolution in Ecuador, where producers and musicians are using traditional sounds and rhythms from across Ecuador's diverse musical spectrum to build on a rich history.

Among the names emerging is hip-hop artist Mateo Kingman, who grew up in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Along with EVHA and Rio Mira, and Puerto Rican project ÌFÉ, Kingman is part of Aya Records, a new imprint of ZZK.

“It was about time, it was time that people returned to connect, to recognize where we come from,” Cruz says. “The album expresses this idea, of waking up our consciousness, and accepting our past with pride.”

Nicola Cruz upcoming tour dates:

August 9, Monarch, San Francisco, CA
August 10, Meow Wolf, Santa Fe, NM
August 11, The Roxy Theatre, West Hollywood, CA
August 12, Nectar's Lounge, Seattle, WA
August 13, Beloved Music Festival, Tidewater, OR