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Let's take a musical moment with singer Luciana Souza about 'Cantar'



And finally today, that's the jazzy sound of the group Dafnis Prieto. The band named after its drummer, a MacArthur Genius fellow, is breaking new ground with its latest release, "Cantar." The title, which means to sing in Spanish, is a statement in itself. The band normally sticks to instrumental music. "Cantar" features singer Luciana Souza, who blends her voice with the band's melodies in three languages on the album - Spanish, English and Portuguese.


LUCIANA SOUZA: (Singing in non-English language).

I think the goal for both of us was to create really the most beautiful music and for me was to respect that this music was his and that his voice as a composer had to come through. So even though I'm the voice you hear on the record, it's really his music.

MARTIN: The collaboration came together when, like so many of us, the musicians were stuck at home.

SOUZA: So early on in the pandemic, when Dafnis sent me an email saying, you know, I'd like to maybe do a project with you, he was, I think, tentative because we had never met in person, and that's unusual for me. Usually, I do projects with people who, you know, I've at least seen them live and, you know, or they've seen me sing live. There's something about seeing somebody perform live as a jazz musician where you sort of get their energy and get who they are on stage and how they how they are in the music relating to others interacting. And with Dafnis we had none of that. It was really just, you know, in email. And then we did a Zoom together. And in that Zoom, there was a lot of laughter. There was a lot of me attempting to speak in Spanish.

MARTIN: Souza says she hoped to impress the Cuban-born drummer and the rest of the band by finessing her Spanish for a few songs set up for the album.

SOUZA: I've sung a lot in Spanish, although, you know, I have a very thick accent in Spanish, as I do in English. That didn't seem to bother him too much, but the idea was to communicate this music, which is primarily Cuban, which is Dafnis's, you know, his music, his compositions.


SOUZA: (Singing in non-English language).

This song, "Guajira en Sol," really brings out the Cuban side of Dafnis. But you know, he's not literal with it. He is - while guajira is usually in three or in six, which means there are three beats or six beats per measure, and in this piece, he does it in five. So he kind of limps you. You know, he kind of tricks you into thinking, OK, you're going to be OK. And then all of a sudden there's, like, these added beats to it. So rhythmically, you just create something so interesting and exciting.


SOUZA: (Singing in non-English language).

All the ideas for all the lyrics are his. And I'm really just sort of interpreting or helping or guiding or shaping it in a way that feels better. For example, there's a song that comes to mind, which is the muse. On "The Muse," Dafnis wrote a lyric in English, and it sounded like Spanish to me. Really, it sounded like it was still phrased in Spanish because the music is in Spanish. (Vocalizing).


SOUZA: (Singing) Just like an open letter unveiling what is possible to be unsaid (ph) before arrival. When she comes in, I draw her close to me, just like a breath. I need you...

MARTIN: Souza, who was born in Brazil and grew up a native Portuguese speaker, says the album gave her the opportunity to put her true self in the music.

SOUZA: And in Portuguese, of course, because it's my native language, it is so immediate to me. It's just - there's no phase, no nothing, no steps that I need to take. It's just when I say the word, (speaking Portuguese) - to wake up together - it's just as if I'm speaking to my father or my mother or my son. You know, it's just - it's so close and intimate.


SOUZA: (Singing in non-English language).

MARTIN: Souza is the first featured artist on a Dafnis Prieto album.

SOUZA: It seems that "Cantar," as a title for this record, suits it perfectly because it is to sing. It is the first time that Dafnis is dealing with vocal music in this way. And he is singing himself on the record sometimes as well. And I think he just wants to say that - for me, what I get from it is this feeling that we all sing. We can all sing, that cantar is this universal thing that reaches everyone.


SOUZA: (Singing in non-English language).

MARTIN: That was Luciana Souza, who can be heard featured on the newly released Dafnis Prieto album, "Cantar." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.