When it comes to Barcelona-based musician Pablo Diaz Reixa and his one-man band, El Guincho, your limbs may react before your brain does. His newly released breakthrough album, Alegranza, is a sampledelic, Spanish-language valentine to island rhythms, underground hip-hop, Afrobeat, and fractured pop. Reflecting Reixa's years growing up in the Canary Islands, studying in France, and settling in Spain, the record is breezy and busy, repetitious and randy, with influences from every corner of the globe.
"I've always listened to music from all over because my dad was really into buying records [by] a lot of English and Spanish singers," he explains, "and Cuban and Latin music was very popular in the Canary Islands." Of course, he couldn't stay confined to his father's tastes: The musician's French studies led to a taste for French hip-hop and broadened his interest in music made in various languages.
Reixa has seen enough songwriters transcend language barriers to shrug off the challenge of reaching listeners who don't speak Spanish. After all, artists who sing in French (Stereolab) and Swedish (Dungen) have broken into the indie circuit before him, not to mention the impact American musicians have had overseas. "A lot of [non-English–speaking] people like English music and are very passionate" about it, he explains. "My mom was really into Simon and Garfunkel, and she doesn't speak any English. If it makes you feel good, it works. It doesn't matter the language."
Reixa certainly makes a strong case for that idea with Alegranza. Jittery and vibrant, the disc fuses sampled steel drums and other infectious rhythms with colorful jumbles of globetrotting sounds, topped off with his lively singing. In crafting the nine dense tracks, he mined the elements uniting the island music that excited him most. "I did a little bit of research on island music around the world," he says, "and tried to compare why there were so many coincidences between music from different places, like the Canary Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, Jamaica, etc."
It wasn't until Reixa moved to Barcelona to pursue writing an ultimately failed novel that he jumped fully into music. He started a band called Coconut and began playing alone as well, with a sampler in one hand and drums in the other. Named for a bird native to the Canary Islands, the ultrabouncy El Guincho was born from those solo experiments.
The handful of songs he's written since recording Alegranza last year are colder and less bustling, with a focus on hearing each sound clearly. That doesn't mean people won't react physically when Reixa hits the States for his first proper tour here, playing synth and rhythm machine to a collaborator's electronic bass. In fact, he says his old days of helming a sampler live were all about getting people to dance. "When I used to do it with my sampler, it was kind of like a DJ set," he recalls. "It was 130 BPM, so it felt like dance music."
Funny thing is, as much as Alegranza swerves and swoons like madcap pop, it feels like dance music, too. It's just smarter and way more exotic.