Nicolá Cruz on San Juanito, Japan and his Travel Essentials
Ecuadorian music producer Nicola Cruz’s creative process involves an attentive, careful search for the living roots and rituals that are part of South American identity—its Andean and African origins in particular—valuing its rhythms, its oral traditions, its instruments and the energy they transmit.
We caught up with him at Bilbao BBK Live for a candid conversation on his small town upbringing in the mountains, its influence on his music career and being stranded, naked with nothing but a pair of binoculars, a flute and a recorder.
What is life like where you're from?
So I come from a small town in Ecuador called Quito. It is the capital, but it's still a small town. The belief here is that whatever you do is for the growth of the town. It’s been like that forever. So that's that's my background. I'd say everything here has taught me patience.
What inspired you growing up in Quito?
Being from a place like Quito, you are very high up in the mountains where there are springs and volcanoes. You have the jungle which is five hours from the capital and the coast is five hours in the other direction. It's kind of like this midpoint in the world where you have a pretty balanced environment. It has always been very inspiring for me.
What's the scene like there? Are there other artists to come out of your town and on to the international stage.
I'm not sure if it's on the international level. But on a local level, yeah of course there are. I have a techno party back at home with a friend I travel with, who performs the visuals and DJs when I play. The party is called Sagrada - it's a synonym for sacred. The party came from the amount of oppression we felt in Quito from the Church which is a big thing in Latin America. It's deep rooted in tradition and we try to keep independent from that. I also have a mate, who makes really interesting San Juanito which is one of the traditional genres from Ecuador.
What does the traditional genre from Ecuador sound like?
San Juanito is like a drunken snare player that sings! Lots of our music does not follow the traditional band format of a drummer, guitarist etc - that's a Western thing. In South America, we are a bit more minimalistic. For example, when you go to Chile there's a guy that has a kick drum on his back and a cowbell up here [gestures upwards] and has some you know cymbals here [gestures downwards] and he practically does it all as a one man band.
Do you think that's inspired you as an artist, in terms of how you make music and perform?
So I come from a percussive background, drums are my voice, and I feel that Latin America in general has a particular cadence. It leans towards towards a groove, which is quite different from the West. So I try to keep this idea of keeping a rootsy sound from my origins but at the same time, creating something that really is contemporary and modern yet still South American in terms of electronic music.
How is your sound received when you travel out of South America?
I feel music is universal you know, it might sound cliche, but it's a universal language where you don't need to speak English or Japanese or Spanish to communicate. People can identify with the more rootsy sound, something I think has sort of been ‘waking up’ in people all over the world.
Are there are places that like you really enjoy playing out your music?
Yeah of course. Number one is always Japan. I really like to have no bias, no prejudice or stereotypes when I’m playing. When you play in Japan, the guy before you has just played like a four hour noise set so you can go after him and play pretty much whatever you want. I love that freedom. As a performer the nicest thing is to have the freedom to express - it's refreshing.
If you were trippin with nothing but three items (save your passport and absolute essentials) what would they be?
I'd take a pair of binoculars. I think that would be my special piece. There are tons of weird birds around and I just like magnifying stuff!
I’d also pack a quena, a flute common of the Andes. It's nice to sketch ideas with and whenever I travel around or go camping, I always take the quena with me. Lastly, I would take something to document my experiences with. So that would be either a voice recorder or my Yashika fx 7 film camera.
What tracks would you put in a usb we gave you?
That’s a very hard question. Of course something by Matthew Herbert. I might also put a mantra on it, some meditation to keep me sane. Man, I'm gonna be naked with some binoculars, a quena, a recorder and Matthew Herbert!