Gepe, Chilean pop’s resident mad scientist, released his new album Folclor Imaginario early Friday, honoring the late Chilean singer-songwriter Margot Loyola Palacios on the eve of what would have been her 100th birthday. For the album, Gepe recruited his fellow countrymen — Miguel Molina, Claudio Constanzo and Claudia Mena — to cook up a genre-spanning compilation of original songs and covers sourced from Palacios’ vibrant catalog.
“The album started [as] an idea that Pablo Flores and I had 18 years ago,” Gepe told Rolling Stone via email. “We invited underground bands from Santiago to concerts we called ‘Folclor Imaginario,’ and these bands would play [folk] songs in an intuitive and innovative way. Among the bands that were invited were Alcayota, El Indio, Taller Dejao, Papa Frita and Javiera Mena.”
Improvised alongside Chilean trap singer Gianluca, Gepe has also shared a new lyric video for the “Amoríos Pasajeros.” Gepe and Gianluca’s faraway vocals lend the unconventional campesino song an otherworldly romanticism — with gentle, sighing asides from Gonzalo Gómez’s upright bass.
“Much of what ended up being in the album,” writes Gepe, “are boleros, habaneras, tonadas and everything in between … Rhythms that are not purely Chilean manifestations, [but which also appear] in Cuba, Colombia and Peru. Music, as understood by Margot Loyola and many others such as Violeta Parra or Gabriela Pizarro, blurs political borders and that is very beautiful.”
In his own words, Gepe details how he crafted each song on Folclor Imaginario — and delivers a crash course of the nuances of Latin folk music itself. Folclor Imaginario is out now via Quemasucabeza.
Gepe’s Folclor Imaginario: a Track-By-Track Guide
“Que Sacarán Con Quererme” is the song that opens the album and bares the democracy behind all the songs. Two distinct groups of people participated in the recording: the first group (Constanzo, Molina, Goméz and Mena) included people [who] knew folklore music, its rules and necessary quantity of bars. They are the guardians of local folklore. On the other end were the curious ones (Gepe, Héctor Castillo, Cristián Heynne). This prompted a big discussion before the recording of the album: “Why does a cueca [song] sound like this? How many bars must a have? Why do they play like this or that?” With all this new information, I decided to deconstruct “Que Sacarán Con Quererme” and record the song in different layers. For instance, we used a different type of strumming, so it ended up being a reconstructed cueca, and one of my favorite songs on the album.
“El Volcán” was one of the songs that made me see the feasibility of the album in a more concrete way. Of the songs I selected to make my future album about Margot Loyola, this was the first one I could play on guitar. I thought it had [the right] percentage of pop that made it possible for me to use, which is why it became the first single.
“Hasta Cuando Vida Mía” is also one of my favorite songs, because it summarizes the spirit of the musical arrangements of the album. The upright bass played by Gonzalo Gómez is the instrument that holds the song and the album. All songs were recorded with no rhythmic guidance and that is the pulse of the album, giving it an harmonic and rhythmic characteristic. This song is where you can notice this way of working the most. It started as a “cueca” but we turned it into something a little bit more lonely in sound, and it ended up being a more discrete, sensual, with a touch of Afro-Peruana.
Just like “El Volcán”, “Tu Nombre” is originally a habanera-style song that appears in Palacios’ Casa de Canto album, from which we chose most of the songs: others include “Hasta Cuando Vida Mía”, “Tu Nombre” and “Olvídame.” What we did with this song was take an Afro-Cuban waltz and “bolero-ize” it, building a more pop structure by adding verses and a chorus. In this one, you can notice the guitar played by Miguel Molina and the percussions of Martin Cegarra, a Peruvian artist we invited to collaborate on this song.
“Cacharpaya” is an Andean song that appears in the album Geografía Musical del Chile. It is one of the first songs I heard from Margot Loyola and it is very similar to what I have done in previous albums. I added more harmonies and general arrangement to this song, along with Miguel Molina and Marcelo Cornejo, who did a great job playing the Charango (lute) and the Quena (woodwind). It’s a song that was built in one take — then we later added little adjustments in the style of Andean folk groups like Inti Illimani, Quilapayún or Illapu.
The sound of “La Vertiente” was inspired by Atahualpa Yupanqui, an Argentinian song. This was the only song Margot Loyola recorded that she did not write. This song was written by her friend Nene Aguirre, the playwright of Pérgola de las Flores, who offered the song to Margot Loyola as a gift.
“Verte no Verte” is the first improvisation of the album. It was one of the first improvisation exercises that Gonzalo, Claudio and Miguel and I did. A total of 10 exercises were recorded, and only two were selected for the final album. In this one, we invited Claudia Mena, who included a “décima” — a ten-line stanza of poetry — that was rescued from Lianera, the town were Margot Loyola was born. So Mena recited and sang it, topping it off with a piece of one of Margot Loyola’s favorite songs, “Cansados Tengo Los Ojos.”
“Canto de Amanecida Cuculí” is a sister song of “Cacharpaya”, and has a little bit of Aymará (Andean language) in the lyrics. It’s an Andean arrangement that we took and made it more ambient. It has a very particular upright bass arrangement in the lower frequencies that makes it feel haunted.
“Las Hojas de los Naranjos” shows that Gonzalo’s upright bass is the harmonic and rhythmic keeper of the album. It is a cueca sung twice. The first time with not so many arrangements — almost just bass and vocals — and the second time with more vocals added by Claudia and Cristian, plus experimental percussions. It’s a very intuitive song with a free arrangement.
“Olvídame” is also another song from the album “Casa de Canto”. It is a habanera kept true to its form. Claudio Constanzo’s harp takes the spotlight in this song. It’s very emotive, very Chilean and Latin American — it concerns subjects like nostalgia, missing someone and resignation, typical of songs from this region.
“La Niña Que Está Bailando” is a classic “cueca” and we respected it just like we heard it from Margot Loyola. We did this with all “cueca campesina” songs, were there are 52 bars. It was sung by Claudio, Miguel and I. We didn’t do anything to the song, and we sang it just like we heard Margot sing it.
“Amoríos Pasajeros” is other improvisation of Miguel, Gonzalo and Claudio, that we later gave to Gianluca. He made a melody with lyrics and a couple of verses — which he unknowingly ended up doing in the campesino style. This has to do with the freedom of singing anything and in his own style.
“Joane” is the last song on the album, inspired by Joanne Frolbi. She was a Haitian woman that died last year in a confusing situation in jail due to a misunderstanding and the Chilean government’s lack of will to help foreign people. It shows the cultural clash and difficulties that immigrants have to adapt to a country like Chile and other countries in the world. Things such as war, lack of work and material things, difficulty to survive can lead a person to move to another country. In Chile, the most vulnerable ones have been the Haitians, and this is one of the most representative cases of this issue.