Music of The Youthful Elders: An Interview with Uji

Earlier this year Argentine electronic producer Uji released his solo debut, Alborada. The album sways through musical enchantment and dance floor rhythms that captivate after every listen of the project.  Music and rhythm since ancient times have been used to bridge listeners and practitioners to spiritually heightened experiences. Uji layers his form of electronic shamanism with a drum machine, chants, flutes, and other instruments that attune the body, mind, and spirit. Every time I play Alborada I am able to extract a new experience from the album. Uji is just one of many emerging Latin American producers who are making waves in the electronic music realm. I was able to send Uji some questions while he was on tour in support of his album hoping to get further insight on his process and approach to making Alborada.
I have been listening to this album on and off since it was released. Did you have the intention to create something that can be listened to occasionally, and be just as immersive as it was the first time?
Definitely. The music that has made the deepest impression on me is music that reveals more and more with each subsequent listen. So as a composer I have put a lot of thought in how to create music that is layered and can be listened to multiple times. It’s kind of like composing in 3D; you have to think of what role each sound has, what sound will catch the listener at each moment, what lies in the background and in the foreground. It’s like narrating a multi-layered story. Each layer is its own story but also adds to the main story.
Music is a tool for people to connect their feelings to something they may have experienced physically or spiritually. What are your drives to bring music to life that people will be able to make connections with? Especially for this album.
I’ve spent a big portion of my life traveling throughout South America and delving into traditional music and rituals. I feel quite connected to the indigenous vision and rituals of my land and feel like there is a lot to learn from these ancient cultures. I have had the opportunity of sitting in ceremony with many cultures not only sharing music and dance but also working together, co-creating and envisioning a future. It’s so important for culture to continue to reinvent itself without losing sight of what is essential. We live in a world where it is easy to get caught up in the superficial. But deep down there is a true yearning (and I think this is natural to all of us) for something powerful, for something honest and true, for deep connection and healthy relationships. When we don’t find it in our day to day life, we need to shake ourselves up, through dance, through ceremony, through intense experiences. Music has the power to bridge worlds, to move hearts and open doors, so for me, it’s the perfect medium to be a part of this experience of simply remembering how to be.
For this album, the plan at first was simply to create music that was folkloric at its roots but that used electronic elements and modern aesthetics. And this is the first driving force that I see that crosses the entire album. There is also a feeling of travel in ALBORADA, one minute you are up in the high plains of Bolivia, the next in a warehouse in Berlin, the next you are in the Caribbean coast of Colombia. I really enjoy creating these sonic sceneries and taking the listener on a journey, because it reflects my own life experience.
The second thing that I hear in the album but didn’t happen intentionally reflects the moment I was living through as an artist. The word Alborada refers to the time of day before the sunrise, when the night sky starts to lighten up. It is still not daytime but the night is ending. This is a truly magical time of day as the darkness of the night, with all it’s mystery and transformation slowly gives way to the hope that comes with the new day. This is a metaphor for what I was going through, I feel that after years of going into the depths of the spirit, looking for answers, looking for some ultimate truth and going through multiple deaths, something happened where I no longer need this intensity and realize that the truth lies in the simplicity of daylight.

What are your thoughts on how people interpret music? Do you find that music can be used to elevate the listener’s mind state naturally?
Music is the best drug I know. It’s been used since the beginning of mankind as a bridge to different states of being, and as a way give meaning to the human experience.
I have thought about this a lot, why are we moved by music? Why does music affect us? Sound is a vibration that travels through us whether we are willing or not. Unlike visuals that can be cutoff by closing one’s eyes, we cannot close our ears nor our skin to the sympathetic nature of vibrations. And the molecules of our ears, our skin, our hearts, our intestines are all directly moved by the sound traveling through us. As the body vibrates to different frequencies it will make us feel in harmony or tension, it will remind us of something or light up a memory, it will allow us to develop ideas, or maybe simply we just let the vibration relax the body.
If we make music with this in mind, we can definitely say that music can be used to elevate the mind and to create certain physical reactions in the listener, who then interprets them into their own personal experience and point of view.
How has this current tour been? How has the reception from the crowds been? Do you find that the people are becoming more open to this type of spiritual music experience you offer?
The tours have been excellent, and I have been getting a real kick from people’s response. One of the things that happens during my shows is that at some point people start screaming and hollering in animalistic ways, and when they do, I know the music is working. I think most of the times people don’t even know why they are feeling what they are feeling. They just get carried away by music that is real, that has something to say, and that is able to say it through melody, rhythm, and sound. I feel like people are thirsty for deep human experiences, but we live in such a superficial world that many people don’t know how to access that experience. That is why there is such a surge in new age spirituality, and wellness. There is a void in our society that people want to fill and don’t really know how. Unconsciously when they listen to music that is talking directly to their spirit, they feel it, and drawn to it. And so whether people call it spiritual or not, they feel something, and they are into it, it fills a void, it uplifts and gives meaning.

What artists have inspired you to do what you do? Any medium is applicable.
Hazrat Inayat Khan / James Turrell / Richard Youngs / Mucho Indio / John Cage / Pauline Oliveros / Fred Frith / Juana Molina / Autechre / Gaby Kerpel / Radiohead / Nicola Cruz ….
but actually more so have been all the anonymous traditional singers and musicians in Latin America who still make music as they were taught by their parents and grandparents, those who use their drums to talk to spirits and flutes to thank the heavens.
If you could send a message to the people who have not listened to your music how would you describe it to them?
My music attempts to reinvent Latin America folkloric and indigenous music by combining it with electronic music’s aesthetics and sounds. My music is uplifting and extremely danceable, it is full of melodies and even includes guest vocalists.
What is next for you after the tour?
It’s been almost 6 months of touring this year, so I am actually looking forward to stopping a bit and spend some time back in the studio. I feel quite inspired, I can’t wait to get all these sounds bouncing around in my head out in the open. I have some shows coming up in Argentina during November and will probably be back on tour in March maybe even before then.
Photos: Andres Knob