Montañera

A Flor de Piel, the new album from singer-songwriter and composer María Mónica Gutiérrez (aka Montañera), is a meditative journey of self-discovery across oceans, time, and the traditional confines of genre.  Originally from Bogota, Colombia, Gutiérrez began the album as a way to explore her identity after a difficult move to London for school left her feeling untethered and alone in a strange new place. The daunting 5,000 mile journey over a seemingly endless ocean, sparked the beginning of a metamorphosis, imparting her with a new understanding of herself as an artist, and as a human being.  Throughout the album Gutiérrez examines the immigrant’s experience through a rich sonic lens inspired by sources as disparate as traditional Colombian and Senegalese music, contemporary ambient and experimental production, and whalesong from the depths of the Atlantic.
The album opens with Gutierrez’s sultry vocals floating alone above a vast expanse for just a moment before a deep, silky synth bass, and the plucks of a koto-like stringed instrument complete our introduction to A Flor de Piel's vibrant and hypnotic sonic world.  The album's title is drawn from a common Colombian phrase that roughly translates to “Flowered Skin.”  In Colombia the phrase is used to convey a sense of intense emotions that seem to blossom from the surface of your body.  It's an overwhelming sense of vulnerability and nakedness, and an almost inescapable honesty with one's self and the world.  “The song is about making my heart a little lighter,” Gutierrez explains, “I know that inside of me I can be as light as mist in heat, I can be fragile as the song of a sparrow. I still need to get born into this...” 
The track “Santa Mar,” is inspired by the musical traditions of afro-pacific women in Colombia, and the crucial role they play as peacebuilders in the region.  It features contributions from the great marimba player Cankita, alongside Las Cantadoras de Yerba Buena, an all-female vocal group that utilizes traditional Afro-Colombian music to preserve their history and promote peace.  Standout track “Como Una Rama” is a futuristic take on bullerengue, a traditional style of music and dance originally developed by Maroon communities on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Deeply affecting, the song combines Gutierrez’s commanding voice with electronics that recall Steve Reich's rhythmic minimalism.  The album concludes with “Cruzar,” a palimpsestic lullaby, both meditative and mighty in its resolve. “The lyrics,” Gutierrez explains, “are a personal reminder of what is important to me: healing, letting go, breathing, evaporating, forgetting, changing, crystallizing.”
Using skillfully restrained synths and electronic textures, A Flor de Piel triumphs by recontextualizing traditional sounds and sentiments into something fresh, urgent, and pulsing with life.  It’s a fitting representation of Montañera’s personal struggles, while also echoing universal truths, as she summons the strength of past generations, to emerge as a phoenix full of hope and potential.   As she describes it, “The album has accompanied me through inner journeys of finding myself in a new territory — of redefining myself, of remembering who I am — in a strange place.”  As we drift towards an increasingly frightening and uncertain future, perhaps Montañera’s A Flor de Piel is exactly what we need: a deep well of strength, to bring us peace, and to accompany our own journey into the unknown.

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