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“Music for adults”: Guti gets intimate about ‘El Nuevo Sonido Latino’

Amira Waworuntu sits down with the Argentinian musician at Morabito Art Villa, taking a deeper look into his music & new label

  • Words: Amira Waworuntu | Images: Abdiel Graandos
  • 30 January 2024

Many have fallen to the magnetism of Indonesia’s Island of Gods, and Argentinian producer, multi-instrumentalist, and live act Guti is one of them. Having apparently retreated from the outside world in the island haven that is Bali, he graced the guests of Morabito Art Villa with a special performance on Friday, January 12, only to surprise us yet again with a label launch several days after.

Born Gabriel Podliszewski Gutiérrez, the world now knows him as the ever-inventive artist that is Guti, who now adds another title to his belt: label head.

On January 17, the stunning Morabito Art Villa, adorned with quirky art pieces and handcrafted delights perfectly scattered amongst its grounds, played host to the exclusive, invite-only launch of El Nuevo Sonido Latino aka “the new Latin sound”.

A floral DJ booth equipped with a fitting VOID soundsystem on the lawn by the shore would host none other than Guti himself that night, but not before I got to pick his brain on how El Nuevo Sonido Latino came to be.

What was meant to be a brief 15-minute sit-down amidst a hectic schedule turned into a one-hour discourse where Guti zealously explains his personal views and opinions on “the new Latin sound”…and other topics that shall not be disclosed.

As Guti said himself: “All my good stories cannot be told in public. I can tell you many good DJ stories, but they cannot be for public. C’mon…”

Let’s just say his “On the record, off the record” game was on point.

This year marks exactly 25 years of him being in the music industry. Coming from a family he describes as a “proper dynasty of musicians” that are very structured, he thanks his clash of genes from both parents that blessed him with “a clash of proper talent and dedication”…but Guti had other plans.

“When I was a kid, I couldn’t read the sheet music — the notes were all jumping all over the place! I quickly realised this is not for me,” he shares.

After a few decades of continuously pushing out music for top labels such as Universal Music, Crosstown Rebels, Cadenza, Desolat, Defected Records, Cuttin' Headz and more, Guti once again forges his own path and launches his own — ‘El Nuevo Sonido Latino’. But…why only now?

While some may think it may have been a moment of rediscovering his Latin roots, Guti mentions otherwise.

“During the pandemic, I stopped playing for the first time in 20 years. Between performing with my band(s) and performing as Guti for my live act, I played almost non-stop for two decades! I started hosting jams and thinking about music more in depth. For one and a half years, I was surrounded by incredible musicians, meaning I had an influx of genius music. I mean…I had Sarkis Ricci, one of the best jazz pianists in the world, living with me!” explains Guti excitedly.

Though he did do one livestream during lockdown, seems like it was mostly his jam sessions with top-tier musicians that kept him sane.

“So, it’s not like I rediscovered my roots, but I started getting serious with my craft again. For me, it was the first time I was not in contact with all the other music out there.”

Speaking of his craft, another kind of roots he did go back to was the piano. Being a pianist first and foremost he says gives him a mechanical advantage — being a percussive instrument, mastering the piano allowed him to also conquer percussions.

“As long as I understand the mechanics of an instrument, I can play it. I’m kind of a sick solo conga player as opposed to being in a band, because I’m not that good at keeping a groove…but I can jam it out myself!”

Do not mistake his self-confidence for boastfulness, though; he still acknowledges genius in others.

“Would I call myself a percussionist? Definitely no, because I know who Giovanni Hidalgo is! I know the conga greats. I would definitely not call myself a conga player in front of them,” he mentions in an unexpected moment of modesty. “However, I have a piano album, so I can say I’m a pianist.”

Inspired by his talented posse of artists which he luckily was stuck with, Guti started producing numerous records. Not just then; now also.

“I’m gonna put out three, four, five songs a month…forever! Just the past year I did 780 songs, before this trip. Now I’m onto 800 something, because I have a lot of ideas and I want to share them. Maybe it will only sell two records, but I think it’s necessary. Maybe in ten years someone might pick it up… or maybe it will die in oblivion.”

When it comes to quality music, Guti has been known to speak his mind. Story after story he tells me (which, once again, cannot and shall not be disclosed) mentions him passionately and proudly arguing with either other artists or himself on the topic of “does the world really need this composition?” — a question from his mentor that stuck with him until this very day.

He tells me an unfortunate experience of coming across a remix of a song by Brazilian composer and singer, Caetano Veloso.

“You have to understand, he is a bigger figure than Sting. In this song, he is singing with four of his kids. In one part of the song, his kid is on the piano, saying ‘every man needs a mother’. It’s so beautiful. Then I suddenly hear a remix of this song, and it’s obviously not a good one! Nobody who can do a good remix will ever dare to remix a song such as this. It’s a travesty of an idea!”

Another time he came across someone’s attempt to remix his good friend the late Paul Johnson’s classic ‘Get Get Down’. “How can someone think he can make a better song than that?!”

So, is Guti gatekeeping good music? In fact, he’s doing the opposite.

“I always travel with ten records with me — Weather Report, Jaco Pastorius’ as a solo artist, Electric Man…all life-changing records. Then when after I talk with someone, I tell them to go home and listen these records…and see if you can listen to any other stuff out there anymore.”

We pivot back to talking about his new label, and he states something that takes me by surprise.

“The new Latin sound is the old Latin sound…but it’s also what a musical guy like me should be making right now because if I want to be considered seriously. At the end of the day, it was a great experience for me as a musician in making music just as a 25+ year musician should!”

He mentions classical pianist and composer Francesco Tristano (who used to play in the band of the late Ryuichi Sakamoto); “He’s one of my best friends; a genius. He tells me with a finger to my face: ‘If you want to name your label El Nuevo Sonido Latino, you better be new all the time, or else it will be El Viejo Sonido Latino (the old Latin sound)!’. Of course, I took as a fantastic challenge.”

The result? “This is me! This is El Nuevo Sonido Latino, you better jump on it now. This is the music a guy my age should be doing; this is music for adults.”

I sought to ask about his new style of play; how it differs now from before with a supposed switch of keyboards, to which he answers, “I play depending how I feel. If I brought a keyboard along with me on this trip, I would be more focused into playing keys, whereas now I’m more focused on the message of the music.”

He did open up a bit on his new controller, though.

“I just switched controllers. What I have now is one that gives me more control of what I’m trying to say and makes me play in a way I couldn’t before. I was having so much fun playing with it in the studio and live, and it made me able to express myself more. This all has nothing to do with a keyboard, because I also make music on the fly.”

And the plan for the label launch that evening? “I have no idea. I’ll just be doing the most abstract, artsy thing I can do. I’m gonna hit them with crazy music; music that makes them feel so uncomfortable!”

Ending our one-on-one, Guti adds “A lot of people call me a genius, for real. And I’m like, thank you, but please if you can listen to Brad Mehldau, Francesco Tristano… now that’s genius! Whereas Gabi aka Guti? He has a great mind.”

“Also a great cook, but I will never decide to do a cooking show…” he adds, reminding us of just how unpredictably humble (at the same time cheeky) he can be.

After the extended interview and countless glasses of double Mezcal on the rocks with water and a slice of lemon shared between us both, Guti heads off to prepare for his gig, and I was left wondering just how “uncomfortably avant-garde” the night’s music will be.

Soundtracking the famous Bali sunset was Morabito regular Nacho Corominas kicking off the evening with his soulful, rhythmic deep house tunes that serenaded the swaying palm trees, sloshing waves, and, of course, the growing number of invitees enjoying the relaxing vibe of the beachside affair.

Not long after sunset, the man of the hour took over the decks and attendees were spoilt by Guti’s top-notch selection of groove-filled tracks.

His two-hour set was inviting, if anything, pulling in dancers dishing out their best salsa and tango moves accompanying his jazz-influenced style of sound with its rhythmic complexity and scattered syncopation. If this was what he meant by uncomfortable, those at Morabito that night surely took masochistic delight to his sonic “unpleasantness”.

Among the many aural delights he delivered that night was an exclusive remix of one of Guti’s latest tracks he personally dubs as “a futuristic love letter” — ‘Your Love Makes Me So High (Guti Lost in Morabito Mix)’.

The composition fuses celestial, otherworldly pads and resonant synth melodies with a rhythmic foundation that leans into jazz, underscored by dynamic bass tones that constantly shift and evolve.

Stay updated with upcoming releases from Guti’s new label El Nuevo Sonido Latino by following its SoundCloud here.

[Images by Abdiel Graandos]

Amira Waworuntu is Mixmag Asia’s Managing Editor, follow her on Instagram.

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