Eljuri w/Solawa, El Jones, Diyet Friday, Sept 23, 7pm The Company House, 2202 Gottingen Street $10
Eljuri Saturday, Sept 24, 11:30am Paul O'Regan Hall, Halifax Central Library, 5419 Spring Garden Road free
Prismatic Finale Concert w/Cris Derksen, El Jones, Reeny Smith, Rebecca Thomas, Maarja Nuut, Diyet, Eljuri Sunday, Sept 25, 7pm Kenneth C. Rowe Hall, Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, 1055 Marginal Road $16
Prismatic Arts Festival Wednesday, Sept 21-Sunday, Sept 25 See prismaticfestival.com for schedule
Cecilia Villar Eljuri makes music that is unapologetic in both its sound and its message. She sings in English and Spanish alongside Latin beats and sparks of ingenuity on the electric guitar, switching as easily between a punchy growl and a sultry lilt as she does between the two languages. In conversation, she's warm and whip-smart, eager to talk about her politics but just as quick to dive into details of her records' production. Eljuri, who takes just her last name as her artistic moniker, traces the roots of this strong musical personality to her experience as an Ecuadorian immigrant living amidst the rock'n'roll world of New York City.
"It all began with my mother, who's a composer and pianist, and my father, who's an actor and radio personality," says Eljuri. "I was always surrounded by the arts, so it felt natural to make original music. By five years old I was writing my own melodies on piano, and I later switched to guitar. It was very natural."
"The mix is very organic," she says of her eclectic sound. "I grew up in a Latino household even though I was an immigrant—I came to New York when I was 18 months old. At home, my parents were listening to old Afro-Caribbean music and Afro-Latin music and Latin music, that was their culture since they grew up in Ecuador."
While Eljuri's music displays influence from her Ecuadorian roots and artistic parents, it wasn't until she came of age in New York City that she began to uncover hints of the sound she's spent years refining. She mixes Latin rhythms and Spanish songwriting with a brazen voice and lightning bolts of electric guitar that she connects with her musical discoveries on Manhattan's Lower East Side.
"I grew up in the scene on the Lower East Side—CBGBs, that whole scene" she says. "I grew up as a musician in that way too, and before I even got to play in those clubs I was listening to the Clash and the Ramones and everybody. It was like a really natural blend that surfaced in my veins that comes out in my music. That's my genuine sound."
Eljuri's third album, La Lucha, to be released this October, is perhaps her boldest yet. Its songs feature a bright, clear sound and dance fluidly between lyrics in both English and Spanish. She says that she felt a lot of personal and creative growth during the creation of La Lucha—the first time she has produced her own record—but it retains the same mix of styles.
"I feel like I've found my sound, but I still continue to evolve as an artist," she says. "This new album, La Lucha, is still my sound—these are my songs, my voice, my love of the guitar. But I tried to stretch myself sonically and deeper into my lyrics. I wanted this album to be more cinematic and broad-reaching, but it's still my sound."
That distinct sound and energetic performance style captivated Shahin Sayadi, artistic director of Halifax's Prismatic Festival, when he saw her at the Mundial festival in Montreal last year. "Mundial is an international festival, and going to places like that is one of the ways that I go to see works and pick the ones that I like," Sayadi says.
Eljuri will be performing alongside a range of other artists at Prismatic, including poets, filmmakers and performance artists. Sayadi says that the festival has always made an effort to present racialized and indigenous artists. This year the festival is presenting only women artists or woman-fronted groups. Sayadi dismisses criticisms of tokenism and instead focuses on the exciting quality of work that he sees from both new and established artists.
"By the time that we had gotten to the time to finalize the programming, we realized that everything we had on the table was women," he says. "We decided to keep it that way; we didn't say at the end of last year that we wanted to hit this equity mark and have the festival be all women. It didn't happen that way at all. It just speaks to the great body of work that is coming from indigenous women and women of colour artists across the country."
Prismatic, which has been presenting music, film and performance since 2008, will host Eljuri three times during the festival: Friday at the Company House, Saturday at Paul O'Reagan Hall in the Central Library and Sunday at the festival's final night Pier 21. Eljuri says that she connects with the festival's broader mandate and vision, but for her the final show holds a particular weight.
"I understand that one of the venues I'll be performing at is the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, where the festival's grand finale is," she says. "The significance of that for me is particularly special—I'm an immigrant, and I understand that that's where a lot of immigrants to Canada came through. For me, it'll be a celebration not only of immigrants but also those who open their arms to immigrants."
It's a fitting venue for an artist whose body of works encourages and celebrates gestures of compassion. Promotional materials for La Lucha feature the lyric "con mi guitarra, y la palabra, canto para la lucha," which translates to "with my guitar and my words, I sing for the fight." That fight is one of acceptance and empathy, and it sits at the heart of what Eljuri does as a musician.
"The message is really that we should not tolerate the status quo, and that we should rise above by using our voices and uniting towards a better world," she says. "My fight and your fight might not align completely, but we might mostly share that the world is, to some extent, not going in the right direction.
"To the extent that I can do what I can with my guitar, my voice and my songs to help inspire people to shift the direction away from the negative and towards the positive, that's what the fight is all about. Use your voice to fight for your rights, fight for representation, to not allow injustices and to celebrate tolerance."