Insólito UniVerso ‘La Candela del Río’ LP/CD (Olindo) 5/5

Not too long ago a healer reminded me that I am the sum of all the women who came before me. Their stories are my stories and they have all conspired to get here, to this moment. My ancestors live on through me. Her words hit deeply but in a way that I wasn’t able to fully conceptualize until I spent time with the debut album, La Candela del Río, from French-Venezuelan quartet Insólito UniVerso.

Within the first few notes of the first song ‘Transmutada’, I was ready to cry. In fact, the song, which translates to “transmuted”, prepares you for the entire experience; your metamorphosis. La Candela del Río, which is co-produced by The Heliocentrics’ Malcolm Catto, is 45 minutes of slow, wandering, sometimes danceable and euphoric, sounds that accompany you on your journey through that well-worn path of your history. History is, after all, what Insólito UniVerso uses as their own guide. The group seeks to provide a meeting point for the traditional music from their native country of Venezuela and the experimentalism of contemporary instruments. They base their experimentation on Venezuelan psychedelic music of the ‘60s and ‘70s and add touches of more contemporary electronica.

La Candela del Río is an exploration of cultural history that gives you, the listener, space to do some of your own exploration. The album is two distinct sides of the same coin, offering us a full expression of humanity and emotion. One side of that coin is melancholy, mysterious and devout; songs that are slow and beautiful, making you feel like you’re floating in water. You’re not really sure what to expect but when it hits you’re welcomed by Maria Fernanda Ruette’s jazzy, ancient voice over a heavy bassline, making you want to fully submerge.

It’s almost hard to believe that this is not in fact music made in 1970. The inspiration is so clear. Ruette has a voice that is not of this time. It’s haunting, like your grandmother’s voice when she tells the story of your family. Your origin story. This album is that origin story. A story that you only know because it guided you on the ayahuasca trip that helped you discover it. I’ve never done ayahuasca but I know La Candela del Río is what I’d want to hear when I do. Until then I’ll just lay back in my river, listen to this and feel the sweet weight of my histories.

Every time a new song came on I just kept saying to myself “god this is such a good song”, as I swayed back and forth too afraid to close my eyes because I felt like I’d just melt out of my chair, through the floor and into the apartment below me. ‘Machurucutu’ made me feel like my cells could reorganize and become something completely new because what is the physical anyway. Who needs a body when I have these sounds to float away on? The instrumentals are long and entrancing, allowing you to really get inside yourself. Then, Ruette’s voice comes in urging you to become ashes and allow your body to go where she takes you, to give up all resistance. Insólito UniVerso lets you find that space on your own but ever so sweetly they reach out to guide you right at the moment you need it.

The second side of the coin Insólito UniVerso presents us with is joyous and begging to dance. This intermingling of sorrow and joy is a simple retelling of an ancient story. There is joy to living even as it exists next to immense sadness. They remind us the point of life is to experience, to feel and be curious about those feelings. Because even feeling sad means you are alive.

‘Lloviendo en Guatire’ is one of those songs made for dancing. What’s the Venezuelan version of the maypole? It’s this song. The delicate strings take me to a place I imagine my great grandmothers to have been. Flowers in their hair as they laughed, danced, and sang. Equal parts hippie free love and witchy energetic conjuring, the song makes you want to take your shoes off and feel the earth as you kiss your beautiful lover on the nose and talk about the stories your great-grandchildren will tell about you.

‘Tonada del Guante’ brings the album full circle. This is music you feel in your heart; you just can’t help it. The heavy bass shakes you open to all your ancestral memories. It is the best of the psychedelic experience, where you just turn on the music and let your body feel it, getting so lost in the forest of that sound that you wind up finding yourself. And we’re meant to. The path has already been laid out for us from generations of people walking through that same forest, preparing us for ourselves. The song is heavy but joyous because though the journey may be arduous, you can finally say “YES! Yes I have arrived and I am ready. Take me”. The music is the loving hand-held out to guide you on that journey.

In this day of curated playlists where we only get a snippet of the story, La Candela del Río reiterates the importance of the entire project. This album is a story and without the whole thing, we only get one chapter, good, but out of context. We need the full experience to get the full lesson. By building on the foundation of the past, Insólito UniVerso enables us to delight in our stories and our resiliency. That is the legacy we are building for our children, so in 20 years when a healer tells my son that he is the distillation of all those who came before him, he’ll already know.

Molly Gallegos