by Fabiola Feyt
Ten cold cloudy days led up to my meeting with Soema Montenegro. But on this particular afternoon, like a perfectly arranged cliché, the sky cleared up for us completely so that we could enjoy our ginger mint tea with honey on the sidewalk outside of a small café in Palermo. It wasn´t easy to find her in the city (she spends most of her time in her home in Haedo, a suburb east of the city), but today was her first rehearsal with the sound sculptures created by the artist Leon Ferrari for the mega exhibition Tecnópolis.
Soema is a singer, composer, guitarist and writer. I´ve heard claims that she is also a marvelous cook. She is a surreal and healing poet, almost shamanistic. Not too long ago she released her second album, Passionaria, produced by Juanito el Cantor, which she will be presenting in September in Buenos Aires and next year in the United States and Canada. The album is a series of songs that are free and full of experimentation, with the voice of Soema moving into every direction while the instruments act as both her followers and her guides.
Unlike her first album – Uno Una Uno – this work incorporates new instrumentation and tones, always leaving space for improvisation, which is the most basic pillar of Passionaria. “That space is very alive inside the song. The truth is, that lack one of control is about being there, you can feel it when it´s finished, where the improvisation has taken you,” Soema explains. Behind us sit some French girls talking loudly with some Germans. “We aren´t afraid of losing control,” she continues, “the whole premise is to be completely out of control, and later on we begin to adjust it little by little”. She cites La Milonga Ensoñada as an example: “The person that sings that song is crazy, it´s a woman on the brink, I imagine her in a tenement house, cooking. She dreams of something that can never be, another place that is completely different, and she falls apart.” Soema allows her to fall apart, she thinks it´s necessary to the song, she lets her cry out at the top of her lungs.
She began her vocal work long ago; as a little girl her father gave her a guitar, and after many broken strings, little by little, she put together everything she had ever learned and found her voice. It feels that only recently that she has realized what it was exactly that she could do. Finding the right professor was the challenge. “I started studying at the Music Conservatory but I thought that lyrical singing wasn´t right for me, it felt really strict. I tried lots of classes but I never felt comfortable, and I thought to myself that singing shouldn´t be that uncomfortable.” She gave up her search until she found professors that worked with the unifying ones voice and creating awareness of what mobilizes song. Slowly she began to see the things that she wanted to learn and share. The idiosyncrasy of the song, as she says, is entirely related to what happens on the inside. “Singing can be very superficial, what moves is where it comes from. It´s about breathing, connecting yourself,” she concludes with a grand meditation.
From a far you can make out the silhouette of Jorge, her partner in life and song, who has just arrived for the rehearsal. He says he´s hungry, and Soema pulls out some Tupperware that contains something delicious looking, obviously homemade (an empanada? Eggplant milanesa?) and we begin to talk about Vincent Moon and his Blogotheque.
By complete coincidence my last interview for WUBA was with Pablo Malaurie who had also worked with the French videographer, and whose collaboration opened the doors to a lot of fun projects. In the case of Soema Montenegro, she welcomed a similar response. “We had already done three or four songs but Vincent told us that he want a sort of documentary. Later on he went to New York City and France and showed it to a lot of different people. Because of that we were invited to Europe and a label in the United States proposed to release Passionaria in North America,” Soema explains, and Jorge adds, “Everything that happened after Vincent I wouldn´t really consider luck. It´s got a lot to do with how hard we work. It´s a mixture of a lot of things. The way that we think musically.”
Sitting next to me is Kevin from WUBA, drinking his hot tea. What interests us the most is figuring out how the hell the two of them compose their songs. Soema tells us, “When I play seriously, it´s the voice that decides where it will go and I follow her to see where it develops. We try out a structure that slowly builds itself with the lyrics that I compose. Jorge transforms it with the instruments into something really rich, and a landscape materializes where the music can live”.
And now it´s almost one o´clock. We head over to the warehouse that guards Leon Ferrari´s sculptures that will played by a diverse lineup of musicians. We´re greeted by Paloma, Ferrari´s granddaughter. Soema takes her time to explore and test the iron pendulum, a tall tree made of wires, and the wood and steal boxes that will be her instruments on Saturday. She plays them, leans against them, blows and sings. Then arrives the bass and a guitar. Soema´s voice fills the room, bouncing off the high walls and ceiling. Everything vibrates. “You´re in your world,” I tell her and she burst into laughter. Her laughter bounces around the room too.