A lot of the great new sounds we’ve been sending your way lately have come, not surprisingly, from Thievery Corporation’s label, the outstanding ESL Records. Always rich and diverse in sounds, one of their standout acts over the last few years has been the Ocote Soul Sounds and Adrian Quesda, who have been filling dancefloors and shaking hips with their unique blend of exotic funk music and “worldwise” rhythms. We had the opportunity to speak with Martin Perna, who along with production partner Adrian Quesda, have recently released their exquisite third album, Coconut Rock.
“From the first song to the last song, it seems like there’s a narrative between all the albums from one to the next,” Martin said. “It’s really caring and it’s really rewarding and we feel fortunate that ESL is never like, ‘Oh this song, you gotta take it off the album or why don’t you do something like this.’ There’s never any of that sort of thing or arguing or stress with the label.”
That immense backing and trust that label heads, Rob Garza and Eric Hilton have instilled Martin and Adrian with is clearly evident on Coconut Rock. Their third album sees the duo clearly honing the skills culled from countless tours with not only Ocote Soul Sounds but also their other bands, Antibalas and Grupo Fantasma.
“The next phase is mastery and figuring out what you want to say and how you want to say it,” Martin explained. “I feel like you can listen to us and hear echoes of our musical teachers. That’s what we’re shooting for. Each album is another chance to refine that. Coconut Rock is our third try in that sense and it feels like our own creative voice is becoming clearer to us and to other people too.”
Being on an elite, hand-picked roster, the Ocote Soul Sounds are everything that’s right about the ESL label. They never sound solely like an electronic act because each song is infused with live instrumentation, but every cut also feels like it could be played out in any DJ set from say, Thievery Corporation.
“We’re coming from a background that’s not electronic dance music/DJ orientated at all,” Martin said. “Even doing a DJ gig, it’s like ‘Wow, it feels weird to be up here without our instruments.’ That’s one of the things that sets us apart from some of the other ESL artists who have one foot in the electronica world and then bringing it live. We’re coming from all live and now we’re just getting our foot in the electronic world.”
Also serving as a founding member of acclaimed acts Antibalas, along with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Martin feels he’s found a true ‘soulmate in sound’ in the form of Adrian Quesda.
Adrian and I are definitely kindred spirits, and once we’re together it’s very easy to work together…ridiculously easy actually.
Martin then added, “The hardest part is scheduling.”
Now residing in Texas, Martin was living in New York for a number of years and is still clearly affected by the events and aftermath of September 11th, which he captured on the new song, “Vampires.”
“It’s a really serious song,” Martin shared. “September 11th hit me hard, I was in the building 24 hours before and had a really bad feeling that something horrible was going to happen. It really impacted me by both the tragedy itself and the way that a lot of elements of society, government and military, took a moment of healing, learning and evolving one way and brought us several years back with these barbarian military concepts. The city kept changing for the worse after that. It was taking steps in the right direction those first few days and then it was just ‘Get out the bombs.’”
On Coconut Rock, Martin and Adrian have crafted a cohesive album that plays to their strengths but also is bold enough to break new ground as well.
“It’s contemporary music that straddles the borders between folk lore and the future because we don’t want to be stuck in the past nor do we want to be grounded in the future,” Martin explained. “But everything always has that funky element throughout.”
There’s no doubt that our good friends over at ESL Records have more than a few funky treats prepared for us in the up-coming decade but for now, we’re still happy to have some more Coconut Rock.