Ahead of her visit, Grammy nominee Magos Herrera talks music and why Pondicherry is on her itinerary
Magos Herrera was studying fashion designing in Florence, when she chanced upon a jazz festival while out walking. “I saw an incredible singer improvising and, in that moment, I knew that was what I had to pursue,” says the 2009 Grammy nominee who dropped out of school and moved to LA to study at the Musicians Institute. Today, the New York-based singer-songwriter, renowned for her rhythmic scatting, has seven solo albums to her name and has performed across the globe. Admitting that she listens to a lot of Indian devotional songs and has “met ‘killing’ traditional musicians” who have inspired her journey”, the 40-something—soon arriving in town to head Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music’s seven-week residential summer course—speaks to us about her inspirations and what she wants to do in India.
Your inspirations in jazz.
I’ve always loved Brazilian and Cuban singer-songwriters like Pablo Milanés and Silvio Rodríguez. And living in New York has exposed me to an infinite list of artists like Betty Carter and Miles Davis. For inspiration, I look to things from my daily life—insights, drama and passion. Sometimes, ideas come while I’m travelling in the New York subway.
I have been exposed to many different cultures and aesthetics, which end up being reflected in my music. But mainly I am based in jazz—in the sense that I love the sophistication of the harmony, the acoustic approach, and the interplay and improvisation. And I filter my Latin American and Iberic roots into the mix. I recorded an album a couple of years ago, to celebrate Mexican composers from cinema’s golden era, called Mexico Azul (blue Mexico), in a very New York jazz context. It helped position the jazz from Mexico on the international radar, so that was great.
The Indian music scene.
Much of my exposure to Indian music is through the devotional music I listen to. But the young musicians I have met (I’ve been here seven to eight times) are very enthusiastic and serious about the music. If they continue on this path, it will create a strong scene.
What will you be teaching?
We are looking to create all-rounded musicians who can compose, arrange and perform catchy yet technically-proficient music. I’ll help them develop the bases of a vocal technique, which has helped me survive a hectic profession, and find a door for their personal voice. I’ll also introduce them to vocal improvisation and sight reading, which improves tuning.
We just recorded a DVD for Sony, to support the UN campaign, He for She, with guitarist Javier Limón. And this fall, I will start recording my next solo album.
Other plans while you are here.
I like visiting Amethyst in the city. I also love visiting Pondicherry’s La Masion Rose and discovering new places with beautiful textiles. After the seven weeks at SAM, I’ll go to Rajasthan. Just can’t wait.
On your iPod.
Jazz and world music. Recently, I’ve been listening to Aaron Goldberg, Lionel Loueke, Mônica Salmaso and Avishai Cohen.
Surya Praphulla Kumar