(Marisol and Nirupam of Balam)
The career of a music artist these days is vastly more complicated than in the past. The tried and true method of honing your craft through touring and recording is still beneficial but finding a unique voice, no small feat in today’s market, is perhaps as important. Speaking to an audience who may not be aware that they have been overlooked is an ingredient which can catapult great music onto the world stage. Balam is capable of this and seems poised to achieve it. This power trio consisting of founder, composer, and vocalist Marisol Echegoyen, guitarist Nirupam Pratapgiri, and drummer Ben Lokuta is placing their own modern twist on Mexican folk songs. Particularly unique to this ensemble is Echegoyen’s commitment to singing the music in indigenous languages like Nahuatl. This Latin infused blend of the traditional and modern appeals to a vast and diverse generational audience, particularly in a time when the population of Americans with Latin roots is increasing. The word Balam means “jaguar” in the language of the Mayas in Mexico and translates as “lover” in Hindi. The band’s ability to manifest an equally wide emotional range reflects this duality that is wonderfully inferred with its name.
The genesis of Balam was in Marisol’s desire to approach the younger generation and make traditional music appealing to them in order to identify with their roots and increase curiosity about their culture. Echegoyen contacted Nirupam Pratapgiri (guitarist and composer from Bangalore, India) and Ben Lokuta (renowned drummer from MAMA award winning American band The Cuz) to collaborate on the project. Marisol communicates that the power trio is an ideal lineup for the band as, “Having a small number of people allows a better opportunity to connect when making music and performing on stage. We are in sync with our ideas so it’s easy to be creative and have a good workflow.” One of Balam’s performances was part of the celebrated Bahamas Hurricane Relief Concert in 2019 which was followed by a livestream show when the pandemic lockdown prohibited live performances. The influential band is currently booked for a series of concert events to follow the release of their EP at Mexico’s most reputable locations including El Lunario, The Arena México, Centro de la Imagen, The Zinco Jazz Club, The Blue Nose in Coyoacán, and others.
Yet another unique facet of Balam is that they are a part of the generation of musicians who are creating music from different locations in the world as a result of Covid. Undeterred from their desire to write and record, Balam has been working with famed producer Alex Leiva who is known for working with acclaimed artists such as Grammy Winners Wynton Marsalis and Javier Limon. Leiva’s history with jazz artists reveals the band’s intentions toward genre bending in their music. Their upcoming EP is comprised of influences ranging from classic rock to jazz, pop, blues, and funk; all with vocals in the various languages which was the impetus for Echegoyen conceiving of this band. It’s this vocal approach which profoundly communicates an unmistakable uniqueness and a mystery to the sound of Balam, a characteristic that the group’s vocalist is counting on. Marisol declares, “I think that it is important to preserve culture and educate young people about the magic of their ancestry. The EP has something traditional but modern so that young people can identify with their roots. It will give people a sense of belonging to something majestic and rich like the Mesoamerican culture. The EP is full of creativity that is mysterious but also familiar and with a purpose. Music with purpose.” There is also a hint that this could be part of a new movement in music as the singer adds, “I am also hoping that people from other countries and cultures start getting inquisitive about their own roots and get encouraged to create music that has their own history. It would be a great initiative to preserve culture in the world. Even if you don’t speak the language, music should make you want to move. Music can incite you to learn more about the beauty of your culture and give you identity. You might be surprised that your ancestry was part of something amazing that was forgotten. I hope that Balam can be the initiative and inspiration for other cultures and groups around the world to perform their own traditional music and be creative with their history.”