In this climate, titling any artwork Dreamers signals politics. Fittingly, politics is the main undercurrent of the album Magos Herrera released last year with chamber musicians Brooklyn Rider. Their collaboration, Dreamers, draws on musical and literary works from across Ibero-America, and everything sampled is, in some way, connected to themes of state violence and resistance. The musicians—who will perform tomorrow at Williamsburg’s National Sawdust—call these the album’s “connecting thread.”
Dreamers is an amalgam of musical genres and countries of origin. Herrera’s jazz vocals meet the instrumentals of a string quartet; classic Chilean folk songs bump up against brand-new musical compositions, set to the words of Mexican poets and Argentinian political dissidents. Federico García Lorca, the beloved poet and playwright who was executed during the Spanish Civil War, also makes a politically charged appearance on the album.
When she came up with the idea for Dreamers, Herrera knew she wanted to center string instrumentals. In Latin American music, “you always hear guitar, strings,” she said over the phone. “Even traditional Mariachi has strings. So strings had a direct connection to the repertoire.” Brooklyn Rider, which has become known for its cross-genre collaborations, fit the bill.
It was important for Herrera, who grew up in Mexico City and later immigrated to New York, to draw on Latin American works she’s known for many years. The current political climate inspired her to bring them to light anew. “Being frustrated by the new administration triggered my roots,” she explained. “It took me directly to writers and composers I’ve known forever and been singing forever, but their principles—humanity, inclusiveness, plurality, democracy—are at risk these days.” Not all the poems and lyrics sampled on Dreamers speak directly to political issues, but because they are all artworks created under repressive regimes or in otherwise inhospitable environments, their very existence feels political to Herrera. “Beauty is a political act,” she said simply.
Nicole Merritt, programming director of National Sawdust, said that the venue “jumped on the opportunity to invest” in the Herrera-Brooklyn Rider collaboration: “We’re proud to give a platform to topical new works,” she explained. Merritt sees the album’s thematic exploration of Latin American political issues as a good fit for the venue, whose audiences tend to be interested in thought-provoking pieces with contemporary resonances. Herrera was actually first introduced to Brooklyn Rider by National Sawdust’s artistic director Paola Prestini, who is her longtime friend; the musicians’ connection to the venue is deep, and the fit makes sense. Getting to perform there tomorrow will feel, as Herrera put it, “like going home.”
Correction: This post was revised to attribute a quote to Nicole Merritt.