Almost exactly a year ago, rvamag.com published an interview I did with Matuto, a thrilling and innovative NYC-based group that takes strands from different forms of traditional music — American bluegrass and Brazilian forró being two — and interweave them via fun songwriting and truly spectacular musicianship. At the time, the group was fresh off a sold-out Lincoln Center show where they debuted a new piece called “Africa Suite.” That suite just hit the interweb in the form of an EP, and it’s excellent.
Immediately enjoyable, varied, full of personality and stylistically surprising — there’s so much about Africa Suite to love, but one of the most fulfilling parts of listening has been considering its origins. It’s a little like the Brooklyn Rider situation I posted about recently, in that context plays a crucial role — each piece has its own backstory and composer. (Only this time it’s flipped — instead of my first listen being unfettered and free of that contextual information, I learned all about the origins of Africa Suite in that interview with Matuto frontman Clay Ross but had to wait more than a year before hearing the piece.)
In case you missed the interview, here’s the part about Africa Suite — you don’t need to know this stuff to enjoy it, but it’s definitely enhanced my experience:
How did the Lincoln Center show go? When we talked in Harrisburg, you mentioned that there was a line around the block.
We had the idea to create this suite before we even left for the tour. We knew it would be really inspiring, and we decided it would be easy to create music based on the trip. Since there were five countries and five musicians on the tour, we decided to [have] each musician contribute a different piece based on a different country. So we drew country names from a hat, and each person in the band was sort of commissioned to compose a piece for the country they selected.
So when we came back from the tour, everyone went to their respective corners and composed. We had the show booked at Lincoln Center, actually, before we even left to go on the tour, and we knew that this was already set in motion. It was a lot of risk. It was a sort of calculated risk, because I know the talent of the group, and I knew everyone would rise to the occasion, but at the same time, we had never done anything like that before. We’d never even really collaboratively composed music before. Most of the time it’s either just myself or [accordion player] Rob [Curto] writing music for the band and we bring it in, but I knew that everyone did write and I knew they were completely capable of it.
And then you never really know what the response is going to be to something like that, but it was really overwhelming, just really exciting to see so many people come out. Like I said, there was a line stretched around the building, and they actually couldn’t even fit everybody in and I had to turn people away. That was exciting.
Click here to read the rest of the interview, here to buy the EP, and listen below the the hard-hitting last track of Africa Suite, “Senegal,” as well as the band’s cover of “Drunk In Love,” which may or may not have caused me to type the words “sweet jumping Jesus” to Mrs. YHT when I learned of its existence.