Mas Aya's 'Máscaras' Is a Rewarding Sonic Revolution

BY Tom BeedhamPublished Sep 21, 2021

How do you touch the present? That might have been the single question guiding Brandon Valdivia's newest Mas Aya record, Máscaras ("Masks") — or perhaps more finely: how do you touch another country's present, when there's nearly six thousand kilometres between? A dialogue of sorts with Valdivia's homeland of Nicaragua, Máscaras answers that question with deep, active listening.

In its first seconds, opening track "Momento Presente," ("Present Moment") features a meandering tin whistle, a skittering beat, the chime of a bell, and other percussion elements trickling, rattling, revealing themselves for a moment to be reckoned with, then retreating, leaving it up to the listener to follow them into the fray, pick up on another element, repeat. "Right now, the oppressors and the oppressed are being separated," an unnamed Nicaraguan Sandinista guerilla declares in Spanish. "We're not going to wait 2000 years for the good ones to be on one side and the bad ones to be on another. We are living in that moment now."

The speech is sampled from a late 1979 guerrilla gathering around liberation theologist Ernesto Cardenal, and Máscaras returns to the subject of Nicaraguan revolution throughout. On "18 de Abril" the repeated short, but united blasts of a chorus of flutes resemble a people's siren. The track title refers to the first day of the 2018-2021 Nicaraguan protests, when demonstrators in several cities throughout the country protested president Daniel Ortega's introduction of social security reforms that increased taxes while decreasing benefits. 

Of course, effective political movements cannot simply be reactive, so Valdivia fills these compositions with textural complexities, infinitely rewarding active listening and meditation, and anchoring scenes of revolution to a secular spirituality that could move mountains.

"Key" spouts short, warm synthesizer phrases while wind sounds distort, loop, pile on each other and a loose drum patter ambles along, departing from the rush of the opening track's busy immediacy — maintaining their autonomy, together: in collaboration, different sounds can overwhelm, but also heal. As Valdivia builds stillness to a beat on "Villanueva," calm winds, speckles of electronics, and a distorted kick at first distinct enough to follow both simultaneously, then coming together, building something new.

Featuring a guest appearance from Lido Pimienta in a quieter mode than her solo work, "Tiempo Ahora" ("Time Now") feels like a reaffirmation of these themes, urging listeners to make time for change; the future depends on it. Enchanting the listener to absorb it in different focused contexts is itself a pied piper political gesture, leading listeners away from capitalism's constant toil, beckoning them to retune their own perspectives in the space of its cycles.

This music is meditative in its truest sense, and Valdivia's juxtaposition of revolutionary politics and a lateral spirituality (one directed inward and horizontally rather than in deference to a grand hierarchy) is a revelation the left the world over could learn from, maybe even fuel a counter hegemony with.

At the same time, the record's psychedelic take on traditional sounds avoids folky pastiche, lighting a new path forward through rich environments of activity, imagining new futures for traditions that are being aggressively gentrified.
(Telephone Explosion)

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