El Guincho

Sound Contradictions

Apr 01, 2008 Spring 2008 - Flight of the Conchords
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Part musician, part ethnomusicologist, Pablo Díaz-Reixa isn’t your average sample-obsessed laptop artist. Growing up in the Canary Islands, an African archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean where the language is Spanish and the music is joyful, he noticed an apparent contradiction. Why were songs that were often recounting tales of devastation and oppression so happy? He looked at other island music, from the Caribbean to Hawaii, and he found the same thing. By the end of his investigation, he had Alegranza, his full-length debut, as his musical dissertation.

Taking his name from a near-extinct bird that lives on an island named Alegranza (“happiness” in Spanish), El Guincho spent the spring of 2007 piecing together samples drawn from his study of island music and African pop around his love of J. Dilla’s Donuts album. Growing up listening to his hippie dad’s Latin music and Krautrock and learning music theory from his opera singer grandmother, he would study classical percussion at music school and teach himself guitar in his free time. By age 14, he was writing his own songs and singing them into his computer. But as he learned the fundamentals of songwriting, the incongruence of the traditional music of the Canary Islands became more obvious.

“There are sad stories about how the Spaniards killed [the indigenous people], but all the music is so joyful,” Díaz-Reixa explains. “And it’s hard to understand why, when they suffered so much pain. Everything is built on major scales. We relate major scales to happiness and joy and all that, and it makes me think that maybe it’s not a natural thing that major scales are related to happiness. Maybe it’s something from our culture. For example, you take Japanese music, where if they’re talking about sad things, they don’t use a minor scale. You find it in American music, too, in jazz music. You take Ma Rainey, the blues singer, or ragtime—it’s upbeat music. But ragtime music was written by people who were suffering in the South in America.”

As he was studying in Barcelona, where he took up residence in popular local band Coconut, Díaz-Reixa was finding love and friendship in his transplanted home just as his band was disintegrating over creative differences. Like the music he was sampling, his songs would use celebratory sounds to mask a deep sadness. By the winter of 2008, the rest of the world started to notice, but most couldn’t keep themselves from comparing Alegranza to Animal Collective and Panda Bear’s comparably meditative Person Pitch.

“I think they’re great, but I’m interested in other things,” he admits. “So it’s kind of sad for me, because you make a record thinking that you’re doing your own thing, and then you’ve got all these people telling you you’ve made a record that sounds like Panda Bear. I’ve read all the comparisons, and I see there’s a similar method and approach, but I play Panda Bear’s record and mine, and I can’t see the similarity. I can see the method but not the sound,” he says carefully. “But I’d rather be compared to them than Rammstein.”


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