Front is media partner of Rewire – from 7 to 10 April 2022 in The Hague. In addition to Mabe Fratti, Alabaster dePlume and Oceanic will play, among others. More information can be found at Rewire's website.
Collaboration and communication is key to most musicians, but the Guatemalan cellist and composer Mabe Fratti is set on also making music about those processes. She did so on her startling 2021 solo album Será que ahora podremos entendernos, as well as through her playing with Gudrun Gut, Concepción Huerta, and the birds outside her window.
Written by: Ruben van Dijk
Don’t get her mistaken: Mabe Fratti loves small talk. She’s just not sure she’s very good at it. “I have all these thoughts and then, when I say stuff, something very wrong comes out,” she tells me over Zoom from her home in Mexico City. “I’ll say something and think: did I say it in the wrong order? Why did I say it like this?”
In recent years, the way she, or people in general, verbally communicate has become one of the central themes to her work, starting with her 2021 album Será que ahora podremos entendernos, literally translated: Will we be able to understand each other now? An extraordinary album that not only deals with her communicatory struggles lyrically, but is in itself constructed as a scatter-brained tête-à-tête.
Fratti grew up in a conservative, evangelical environment in Guatemala City, but traded it for Mexico City six years ago, when a residency at the local Goethe-Institut opened her eyes to the city’s vibrant experimental scene. Having only ever been there once as a child, her second visit was enough to convince her to relocate from one metropolis to another. “In Guatemala, there’s no government infrastructure for culture. Even though Mexico has corruption – because of course it has – there is a lot of infrastructure for culture. I think Mexico City is the city with the most museums in the world.” The dynamic and spacious nature of the city, in particular, appealed to Fratti. “Guatemala City is architecturally developed to be very closed. You don’t normally walk on the streets and if you do, you’re afraid someone might rob you.”
But in the spring of 2020, Mexico City, too, became suffocating. The country’s recently introduced ‘traffic light’ system had the capital on red alert, with only essential activities operating, and so when a friend told her she was going to visit some friends in the country, Fratti joined without a moment’s hesitation. She spent the next month in La Orduña, an old factory turned squat house somewhere between Veracruz state capital Xalapa and the volcanic rainforests of Cofre de Perote (one of the most biodiverse places in the western hemisphere). Because of a job she needed to finish, she brought her cello and other equipment, but otherwise she had little to no intention to record.
That changed quickly, when the full potential of La Orduña revealed itself. Here, a convergence existed of the wild and domesticated. Chickens roamed around freely, and so did the deadly violin spider. “First of all, it was very hot and humid, I was with very good friends, and it was mango season. And I love mango! Being in such a peaceful environment, you can’t help but react to the nature around you. And even though nature can be scary sometimes, there was a very soft energy, there was warmth from close friends. I don’t know… It just gave me a sense of ease.”
Like many others, Fratti had emerged from the worst of the first lockdown hyper sensitive to social interaction. During a conversation on her first day in La Orduña, she came to think of the mind as a funnel of words and how we are only ever able to successfully convey a fraction of what we’re thinking or feeling. It became the lens through which she started to perceive life, as slowly the songs on what would become Será que ahora podremos entendernos began to take shape.
The songs on the album are loose ruminations, sometimes entirely instrumental, more often accompanied by instinctively written mantras. Fratti describes the process behind the album as ‘diagramation’: the act of configuring the many ways one can go from point a to point b in any given space. Practically, this meant that the songs on Será que ahora podremos entendernos all had their starting point, and a general notion of the direction in which to go from there. Whatever happened largely became a process of improvisation, including free-rein contributions by members of drone rock band Tajak (with whom Fratti was staying at La Orduña), experimental composer Claire Rousay, and local musicians Sebastián Rojas and Hugo Quezada.
The results often mimic conversation. ‘Aire’, reminiscent of Warren Ellis’ soundtracks for Mustang and Wind River, feels like a monologue with the common thread predetermined, although it finds itself occasionally side-tracked. ‘Un Día Cualquiera’ forgoes consistency entirely, like a group chat where every single contribution gets lost in translation. It turns Será que ahora podremos entendernos into an occasionally disorienting listen, where moments of miscommunication are often alternated by sudden synergy.
Opening track ‘Nadie Sabe’ displays a rare moment of collective agreement. Here, the fauna of Veracruz sings loudest and in full accordance with Fratti’s cello parts. “I opened the windows, because in front of me was this big, natural space and so the sound of birds would come in. In a song called ‘Hacia el Vacío’, as I was playing this part, a bird responded to me. Or maybe it wasn’t responding to me at all, but we were in a rhythm. I was like: this is great!”
Since Será que ahora podremos entendernos, Fratti has further explored the intricacies and limitations of (human) interaction on her collaborative album with veteran experimentalist Gudrun Gut, Let’s Talk About The Weather. The two had met and even collaborated before, during her 2016 residency at the Goethe-Institut, so when both of them, mid-pandemic, found themselves in excess of time, the connection was easily made. They applied for a ‘virtual residency’, won it, and only then started properly talking… about the weather.
“We had a meeting and we started talking about how it was snowing in Germany at a very weird time of the year, while here it was hot. It was very hot. And then we started talking about how talking about the weather can be small talk, but can also be this very deep, important thing.” And so, Let’s Talk About The Weather underscores the importance of discussing the weather; not only as a way to bridge a gap in conversation, but as something that, as weather extremes are becoming more and more frequent, is of an all-encompassing significance to our everyday lives.
‘Air Condition’, halfway through the album, sees the hazy warmth of Mexico City and the deep winter cold of Gut’s hometown of Uckermark collide, as field recordings from both places are juxtaposed. The more ambient minded second half features countless snippets of private conversations, sound sculptures, and weather forecasts. Like an alien approach to human interaction, or wiretapping at an intercontinental level.
Fratti is about to set forth on a European tour – starting with Rewire festival in The Hague – that will see her performing another recent album, Estática, a collaboration with long-time friend Concepción Huerta, as well songs from Será que ahora podremos entendernos. Or at least, as they currently exist. Because her live performances are as much a part of the continuous, open-ended conversation Fratti finds herself in. “I feel totally fine if it doesn’t sound like the album. I have no problem with that. Especially when I practice with other musicians, it is an open-ended process. It involves everyone and it has changed a lot, because of all these new people putting their voice into it.”
Mabe Fratti’s European tour will start with a performance at Rewire, The Hague on Sunday 10 April. You can buy Séra que ahora podremos entendernos here.