“Canada’s emerging Latin music queen” 680 NEWS, Toronto
Musical class on an international level meets driving Caribbean rhythms and first class Latin” HAMBURG MORNING DAILY
A major international talent that’s on its way” THE TORONTO STAR
Espejo is “an eclectic mix of styles performed with artistry and heart.” WHOLENOTE MAGAZINE
Through years of touring around the world, across Canada, and collaborating with Juno Award-winning performers, Eliana Cuevas has grown into an accomplished singer-songwriter and bandleader with unlimited colours in her compositional and lyrical palette. Among her honours are the National Jazz Award for Latin Jazz Artist of the Year (2009), a nomination for Best World Music Solo Artist at the Canadian Folk Music Awards (2008), a Toronto Independent Music Award for Best World Music Artist (2007), a nomination for Best Latin Song (‘Llegó from ESPEJO) at the Independent Music Awards (2014) and, most recently, an Independent Music Award for Best Latin Album for ESPEJO (2014) and a Toronto Independent Music Award for Best World Music Artist (2014).
Born to a musical family in Venezuela, Cuevas grew up to the sounds of salsa, pop and Brazilian music, writing her first song by the age of 9. After moving to Toronto, she boldly began using a fake ID to play the city’s top jazz clubs despite being underage. Singing for Brazilian, flamenco and jazz ensembles influenced her eclectic sound on her debut EP Cohesión (2001) and first two albums, Ventura (2004) and Vidas (2007). Her engaging voice and songwriting on topics from adventure to forgiveness wowed the local music scene, hailing Cuevas as “Canada’s emerging Latin music queen” (680 News).
Acclaim spread internationally as Cuevas played festivals and theatres in countries from Venezuela to Germany. Following her second album Vidas (2007), Minor Music Records released in Europe an anthology of her music: Luna Llena (2009). She has performed with Juno-winning Latin artists Alex Cuba, Jesse Cook and Jane Bunnett. Cuevas also continues to collaborate with diverse ensembles including Caribbean Jazz powerhouse CaneFire, the Jorge Miguel Flamenco Ensemble, and Juno-nominated jazz composer Darren Sigesmund, touring venues as far as Australia and Japan.
Golpes y Flores
The award-winning singer/songwriter has been based in Toronto since 1997, but she drew inspiration from her homeland for this, her fifth record (to be released on ALMA Records in September). Eliana explains that “Venezuelan music is very rich and I wanted to showcase some of what my country has to offer musically speaking. I was keen to feature traditional Afro-Venezuelan rhythms and mix those in with what I do here in Canada.”
Cuevas was able to discover and record some of the finest percussionists in that country, and their contributions mesh seamlessly with those of her A-list Canadian accompanists. Their work is framed within her eloquent original compositions, while Eliana’s fluent and pure vocals complete a sound that is both timeless and freshly contemporary.
Golpes y Flores was arranged and produced in Toronto by noted composer and keyboardist Jeremy Ledbetter, and recorded and mixed by award-winning engineer John “Beetle” Bailey (Serena Ryder, Molly Johnson).
The sessions featured Cuevas’ regular band of Ledbetter, drummer Mark Kelso (Holly Cole), bassist George Koller (Loreena McKennitt), and percussionist Daniel Stone (Nelly Furtado), plus guests Rich Brown, Aquiles Báez, Adolfo Herrera, Gustavo Márquez, Aleksandar Gajic, Peter Cosbey, Aysel Taghi, Vedran Curic, Jonathan Tortolano, Marcus Ali, Alexis Baró, Luis Deniz, Marito Marques, Yonathan “Morocho” Gavidia, Javier Suárez & Juan Carlos. Many of these players contributed to Eliana’s previous album, 2014’s Espejo, and their musical empathy is on vivid display here.
Three of the compositions on Golpes y Flores, “Alegria,” “No Se Puede,” and “Mi Linda Maíta,” were co-written by Eliana and Jeremy, with the remaining seven being Cuevas originals.
Eliana has never been constrained by genre boxes in her songwriting, drawing freely from jazz, Latin, folk and world music elements. Cuevas’ stylistic diversity is reflected in the fact she has won a Toronto Independent Music Award (in 2007), a National Jazz Award as Latin Jazz artist of the Year (2009), and for Best Latin Album at the 2014 Independent Music Awards in the US, for Espejo.
That variety is again evident on Golpes y Flores, as songs range from the sparse and tender ballad “Mi Linda Maíta” to the dramatic and strings-driven “Nunca Jamas,” the horns-embellished “Despierta” and breezy “Poderosa,” and the full-blooded Latin jazz feel of “Seré Libre.”
Afro-Venezuelan rhythms are a consistent thread on the album, and Cuevas is thrilled at their presence. “Once I found these percussionists to record with, we adapted some of the songs I’d already written, as well as writing some new songs around those rhythms.”
Eliana credits Venezuelan musician Aquiles Báez with facilitating the collaboration. “He performed in Toronto last year, so we took the opportunity to record a couple of my songs with Aquiles and his trio here. He then connected me with the percussionist Yonathan “Morocho’ Gavidia, who put me in touch with the other players.”
Cuevas draws upon personal experiences in her very poetic songwriting. For example, “A Tear On The Ground” was inspired by her family’s visit to India. “It was a very spiritual experience, I spent a few days doing yoga at an ashram that was right by a lake that had a sign warning people to be careful of the crocodiles. It was a beautiful quiet place where I could go to to meditate and it inspired me to write… ”
Another song with special resonance is “Mi Linda Maita,” dedicated to Eliana’s grandmother. “She passed away a couple of years ago, and I wanted to honour her,” Cuevas explains. “’Poderosa’ is about the strength women have and their ability to make life. I wrote it as I was pregnant with my second daughter.”
The album title also possesses a deep meaning, Eliana states. “’Golpes’ means hit, often referring to rhythms, while ‘flores’ means flowers. To me, the title suggests a combination of the sophistication, beauty and gentleness of flowers and the strength and force of the Afro-Venezuelan rhythms.”
Golpes y Flores is dedicated to Eliana’s two daughters and to Venezuela. “It is not a secret there are problems there right now, but not enough people know how rich Venezuelan music truly is and I’d like to show the world some of the beauty my country still has to offer despite all of the problems it is currently facing” she says.
She has certainly done that here, crafting a lovely work that is highly worthy of your attention.
Her album Espejo, released on the highly-regarded ALMA Records label in 2014, is a true testament to Cuevas’ growth as an artist. Shaped by her international performances, work with acclaimed artists and newfound motherhood, Espejo seamlessly blends genres from blues to pop with Cuevas’ signature soaring vocals and Latin jazz sound. Ingenious producer and composer Jeremy Ledbetter played a key role in encouraging Cuevas to push her creative boundaries on the album, resulting in an eclectic and captivating musical journey.
“Llegó,” Cuevas’ funkiest number, describes the excitement of starting a new journey with a driving bass as strong as her voice and an irresistible drum beat. “El Tucusito” demonstrates her full vocal range amidst a blend of jazz and the fast-paced traditional Venezuelan rhythm of “joropo:” Ledbetter composed the track specifically to showcase Cuevas’ vocal range and skills. The lead single “Melancolía” is a moving story of the hardships of immigration told with delicate vocals and piano. With songs describing everything from her daughter Leila to life after death, Espejo is truly Cuevas’ most dynamic work. Whether you hear Cuevas online, on a recording or in person, you’re sure to be spirited away by the versatile powers of her sound, words and soul.