Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Arts Innovator: Mati Zundel, Argentina

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Electrofolksy: Argentine musician Mati Zundel blends urban and rural sounds. Photo: Marc van der Aa

Reading Time: 2 minutes

When Mati Zundel visited Buenos Aires as a child growing up in rural Argentina, “even the music on the radio was a shock,” he recalls. Today, Zundel makes music that can challenge even the most jaded urban sophisticate. The 29-year-old musician, who trained as a recording engineer at the Universidad Nacional de Lanús, blends Indigenous and traditional influences with modern rock and electronica to make folk music more appealing to younger generations.

His new album, Amazonico Gravitante (2012), is an eclectic mix of electronica, popular cumbia beats and traditional folklore from across Latin America. Shaman chants and charango guitar loops form the skeleton of the songs, and percussion and bass fill in the beats. Although he’s earned a following across the region, he has stuck close to his rural roots. Zundel continues to teach music to primary schoolchildren in his hometown of Dolores and has made it a personal goal to inspire passion for music and folklore among Argentine youth. “Many times, folklore becomes out of sync with society, but it should instead be evolving as society progresses,” he says.

Zundel started playing bass in local bands at the age of 14 in Dolores, about 125 miles (200 kilometers) south of Buenos Aires, and then moved on to jazz and folk. He soon became indispensable to a variety of musicians, including cumbia and folk bands, and the exposure further enriched his music. But when Zundel began backpacking to other countries in the region, the exposure to other traditional music—sometimes, he admits, with the help of psychotropic experiences with peyote and ayahuasca—made a profound impression. Today, listeners can find influences from across Latin America in his work, ranging from the folk ballads of Mercedes Sosa to the Quechua sounds of Norte Potosí.

Zundel’s first album, Neo Bailongo (2010), released under the pseudonym “Lagartijeando” (“acting like a lizard”), consisted mainly of computer-generated instrumental tracks meant for the dance floor. While traveling, though, Zundel realized that Neo Bailongo’s sound had little resonance in Latin America beyond Argentina, or even beyond Buenos Aires; so he set out to create a more accessible album.

Amazonico Gravitante takes listeners on a journey through the musical traditions of Latin America, from Argentine charango and Andean wind instruments to Amazonian chants. It incorporates artists such as Miss Bolivia, Boogat, Vanessa Menéndez, and Marina Gasolina. For the first time, Zundel includes lyrics in his music. His song “La Montaña en el Medio del Mundo” highlights the experience of escaping the city for the tropics, and “El Alto de La Paz,” with references to “white flags” and “guerrilleros,” evokes the history of La Paz and the region’s struggles for independence.

Zundel’s target audience includes people like him, who have moved from rural areas to major cities to make a living. He hopes to help urban dwellers “reevaluate” their lifestyle and reconnect with nature and with Latin America’s rich folk heritage. “Our future,” he says, “will be to look at the past.”

Watch the music video for “Señor Montecostes,” Mati’s first single off his new album “Amazonico Gravitante:”


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