Album of the Day: Mateo Kingman, “Astro”

Ecuadorian artist Mateo Kingman has spent a considerable amount of time living in the Amazonian town Macas, which is located on the eastern Andean cordillera and is home to the Shuar indigenous communities. But he would be the first to speak of the vast difference between the way he uses traditional music in his productions, and what it means to be a traditional musician. Indigenous rhythms are often associated with a particular event and a specific geographic region. By contrast, Kingman and his fellow artists from ZZK Records’ AYA imprint—including Nicola Cruz, Quixosis, EVHA, and Rio Mira—have tasked themselves with translating these site-specific sounds for global commercial audiences. That process requires swapping hyper-specific musicological contexts for more general psychosomatic “feelings” or universal existential truths. On his sophomore album Astro, Kingman tackles one of these; the breakdown in separation between the human mind and the universe that surrounds it.

Where Kingman differentiates himself from his AYA peers is in his rapping, developed in the Quito hip-hop scene that inspired him as a teen. (He’s collaborated on multiple occasions with MC Guanaco of reggae-hip-hop collective Sudakaya, whose oeuvre incorporates “criollismo,” or working class folklorism, in the makeup of his flow.) On Astro, Kingman employs rap productions featuring notes of traditional music to consider humankind’s relationship to the universe; his bars nod, perhaps, to the African griot tradition, subtly suggesting hip-hop’s status as modern-day chant. Tracks like “Religar” deploy delicate percussion that conjures the Shuar beats with which Kingman previously surrounded himself, dramatically recontextualized in a trap-inspired astral musing. Witness the straightforward folk of “Último Aliento” and the synthetic aria of the LP’s title track for further proof of his reverence for such fusion. By employing this mix of contemporary and ancestral sounds, Kingman draws a straight line between the knowledge of ancestors and today’s existential trip.

-Caitlin Donohue

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