Latina Rockera Eljuri is making big waves in the US, South America and Mexico with her blend of Latin Rock, Reggae and World Rhythyms. Eljuri, whose full name is Cecilia Villar Eljuri (her mother named her after Cecilia, the Saint of Music), is busy touring with her band promoting her new album “Fuerte” which means “strong” in English, and just introduced her new music video “Derecho” which can be seen below. Her mother must have known what an inspiration Eljuri was going to be for naming her after the Saint of Music as she sings of being strong in the face of adversity on her new album.
Eljuri is endorsed by Gibson Guitars and just recently released her new album “Fuerte” with Grammy winner producer Gustavo Borner which was produced at Manoville Studios in NYC. Eljuri talks with us about her musical beginnings and the inspiration behind her music.
GGM: With heavy musical and entertainment influence from your parents as your father was in radio, television and music, and particularly your mother who was a composer, how did they influence your entry into music?
Eljuri: My mother was a tremendous influence on my interest in becoming a musician and composer – instilling the art of the melody and the craft of writing lyrics as well as the desire to have a command over my voice and my instruments – first piano, then guitar. My father, through his actions and experience, taught me what it was to be a performer, an entertainer and how to turn on the charm. I am doubly blessed for them.
Eljuri: My family moved to NYC when I was a baby, so I grew up in a Latino household speaking Spanish with my family, but raised in NYC as an immigrant, speaking English with friends. My parents decided to move primarily to offer us a better and broader education and to open our horizons to opportunities beyond what would have been available to us in Ecuador.
GGM: How did you chose the guitar over other instruments and what age were you when you started playing guitar? Was it only being in NYC as you have said, or where there other influences?
Eljuri: My start in music was playing piano, writing my own melodies and singing at age 5. There was always performance going on in my house, my mother playing the piano, or my father helping us to make a movie at home. I was also greatly influenced by my older siblings and the music they were listening to — rock, punk, funk, etc. I tried drums for a bit, then gravitated to guitar at about 12 so I could write songs and then sing and play solo. The music scene in New York was amazing because all the great bands from around the world came to play so that was a huge influence on my love for guitar as well. I started my own bands at 14 and was playing CBGBs and the Bitter End by the time I was 17.
GGM: Eljuri, it’s so inspiring to know that you’re all about empowering individuals. You’re driven by the notion that you can empower people to rise up and be all that they can be and we here at GGM feel a certain connection with that mission in that we would like to empower females to do the same thing through their music. What do you feel drives you to this calling?
Eljuri: Since I was a little girl, I always felt the yearning to move forward and not be held back by others perceptions or limitations especially being a female in a still more male-dominated society. Being a creative person and finding music was a fortunate way to communicate that and hopefully inspire others. Music helps remove the fear factor and allows you to open up to allow for such independence . . . the first single from my new album “Fuerte” is called “Un Fósforo”. The message of the song is if each person strikes and lights one single match, together we can illuminate and expose the truth. Recently, I’ve been touring and playing concerts at Colleges and Universities and working as a member of VotoLatino’s Artist Coalition— all this to help to encourage everyone, especially young people, to find and use their voices.
GGM: You have described your music as rock and reggae, infused with punk and funk. How did you become so diverse and is there any one style that you feel inspires you the most?
Eljuri: My music and sound is a reflection of threads that reflect my background and experience — my mother is Lebanese, my father a Spaniard and my upbringing was in the melting pot of NYC. I grew up listening to latin and middle eastern music like Afro-Cuban son, flamenco, tangos, pasillos, etc., and then rock, reggae, punk and funk. For me, the glue is the driving rock base — electric guitars, bass guitar and rock drums and the other influences — latin, reggae, punk, etc. — are fused into that rock base but with driving heavy rhythmic grooves.
GGM: Who were your early musical influences and who do you think you align with most?
Eljuri: My early influences ranged from the Rolling Stones to Black Uhuru to Led Zeppelin to Heart to The Pretenders to Gang of Four, but at the same time I was listening to Tito Puente, Orquesta Aragón, Celia Cruz and Paco De Lucia.
As a guitarist, my rhythm guitar is influenced by Steven Stills, Nile Rodgers and Ernie Isley. As for creating guitar licks, I admire Joe Perry, Slash and Tom Morello. Finally my solo techniques reflect the great guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana and more recently Derek Trucks. I like to make my solos sing and these legends taught me how to make every note count.
As a singer-songwriter, I align greatly with Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye and the Clash who all write and sing songs with deep messages.
I feel like all these musicians and their distinct sounds contributed to my socially conscious lyrics, fused sound and musical style. You can hear the influence in my songs, my lyrics, my voice and definitely in my guitar style which reflects the heavy rhythm of rumba flamenco and reggae drops, montuno-type guitar licks as well as the importance of melodic and powerful rock solos.
GGM: Obviously, we are a magazine that focuses on female guitarists, and we are trying to help girls step into the spotlight and lead the next generation of females to rocking on stage. What suggestions do you have for females just starting out or in fact are working hard on their careers today?
Eljuri: I think the key is to be yourself and develop your own sound from within. Also, don’t be afraid to lead your own bands with guys and girls in them. Of course a girl can play the lead guitar and rock hard! It’s really important to play with others to develop the skills in an instrument and hone in your own tone. Play, play, play.
GGM: What inspires you when you write and what are the themes of the messages you are trying to get across?
Eljuri: People and the honest human experience are my greatest inspiration as a songwriter — telling the story from deep down inside . . . the truer you are, the better . . . it’s always a thrill when someone understands your message (what it means to them) or is touched by your lyrics and that’s what helps me continue to write more songs.
GGM: You have been touring throughout the US, South America and Mexico. It looks like you are reaching a multi-generational and multi-national audience. Have you faced any challenges from the different cultures that you have encountered or is there a general acceptance of a Latina artist irrespective of the country of origin?
Eljuri: Great question. I started my career writing and singing songs in English in the US. As I dug deeper into my Latina roots and started composing in Spanish, things changed. My experience traveling throughout the US and singing in Spanish has brought a much wider response. While many understand the lyrics, I am often performing where the majority of the crowd is just enjoying the music and not connecting with the lyricist. Touring in South America and Mexico does expand the direct response to my message which is invigorating. Playing live is all about connecting with an audience and taking them on a journey. In one of my concerts here in the states last year, I saw a fan dancing and smiling throughout my whole show only to learn after the show that she was completely deaf and enjoying the show through the vibrations she felt off the stage and from the crowd. That’s when I really understood how incredibly lucky and blessed I was to play music live . . . That’s what it’s all about!
GGM: Can you tell us a little about your band, who plays with you on your tour, are they studio/touring musicians or are they “the band”?
Eljuri: I have had the great fortune of being surrounded and supported by amazing musicians that believe in and understand my vision. The musicians that recorded on my last two CDs include the great Jamaican reggae riddim section Sly Dunbar & Robbie Shakespeare (Black Uhuru, Bunny Wailer, Grace Jones, Gregory Isaacs, No Doubt, Sinead O’Connor, Serge Gainsbourg, Peter Tosh), Johnette Napolitano (Concrete Blonde) who joined me for the first single “Jaula” from my last album, the amazing bass player Yossi Fine (David Bowie, Lou Reed, Brian Eno), the incredible drummer Nir Z (Genesis, Chris Cornell, Joss Stone), as well as the great Alex Alexander (Dido, Eminem, Bebel Gilberto) on drums and Keith Golden (Dido, Youssou N’Dour) on bass. My touring band in the US & South America is Alex Alexander and Keith Golden. I have recently been performing quite extensively in Mexico so I have a great rhythm section there now — Coca Cortes on bass (Los De Abajo) and Javo Sosa (Maldita Vecindad). I am very fortunate to have such great musicians around me who come from as diverse backgrounds as me and really get the fused sound my songs call for.
GGM: I understand that you are endorsed by Gibson Guitars. Can you tell us when you were first approached by them and were you playing Gibson instruments at the time?
Eljuri: As a teenager, my first guitars were Ovations and Ibanez until I grew into my first Fender Strat. On acoustic I expanded to a Martin, my next electric guitar was a Gibson Les Paul and then I never turned back. I connected with the Gibson team around 2008 with the launch of my first solo CD “En Paz” where I was already well into playing Gibson and Epiphone electric and acoustic guitars as my primary axes.
GGM: On your new album, you chose producer Gustavo Borner because you said, “He understands the fusion of sensibilities and influences that I have as an artist.” How was it working with him on that album?
Eljuri: In a word — amazing. We clicked from the get go and I am a control freak about the arrangement and sound that I am after for my songs, especially for the new songs I wrote for my new CD “Fuerte”. Gustavo’s broad experience working with such diverse artists as Los Tigres Del Norte to Julieta Venegas, Zoe and Juanes on his many Grammy winning albums really came into play for my fused style. I’ve worked with strictly rock producers in the past who didn’t quite understand my latin side (such as how to properly record latin percussion and where it should sit in the mix) and with latin producers who didn’t get the rock side (such as the different guitar effects pedals, variety of amps and the importance of mic placement and a great room for rock drums to get that kick ass rock backbeat). Gustavo understood both AND my reggae side too!
When working in his LA studio, I was like a kid in a candy shop especially when tracking the guitar parts. There were layers of guitars to support each song’s arrangement — I used my favorite axes (Gibson Les Paul Custom, LP Standard, ES-335s, Peekamoose custom-built guitars, Martins, Epiphones, a mandolin, etc.), a variety of cool pedals: ZVex Fuzz factory, MXR blue box, DigiTech whammy pedal, Dunlop Crybaby wah wah, Voodoo Lab Tremolo pedal, EBow, etc. and killer amps: Bogner, Fender Twin, Orange, Crate, etc.
GGM: You are currently on the second leg of your tour in Mexico and at the end of that tour, you will be giving away your Epiphone guitar that you played in your new video Derecho. What made you come up with that idea as we think it’s great?
Eljuri: I really wanted to demonstrate with actions how music can be empowering so my US label, Manovill Records, and the great people at the Gibson family of brands brainstormed with me on this. My new single “Derecho”, and its brand new music video http://youtu.be/2ZwBucG16Vg are about fighting for your rights and speaking out so it was perfect to have the beautiful white Les Paul Jr. really stand out as a visual in the video. Giving it away is a way to pass on the torch of the song and to help to empower others.
For details on the contest:
YOU COULD WIN Eljuri’s EPIPHONE GUITAR!
1) Watch the Derecho Video! http://youtu.be/2ZwBucG16Vg
2) Follow @Eljuri on Twitter.
3) Retweet: “Hey @Eljuri and @Epiphonelatino I want that Epiphone Les Paul Jr!” to participate in the give away! Winner will be announced at the end of Eljuri’s Derecho Tour!
GGM: You have accomplished so much already, where do you see yourself in the next several years?
Eljuri: I will always write and perform songs and would love to continue to bring my music to different parts of the world including the US, SA and Mexico but hopefully expanding to Europe and Asia too.
GGM: Specifically, what’s next for Eljuri and where can our readers find out more about you and where can we catch a live show?
Eljuri: I am touring and doing promotion in support of my new CD “Fuerte” this year and in 2013 and would love to meet Guitar Girl Magazine fans at my shows. You can join my mailing list at www.eljurimusic.com to get news, updates about shows, tv, radio, videos, etc.
Also, Guitar Girls ROCK!
Please be sure and check out Eljuri and her music to learn more about her and follow her inspirational music at the websites and social networking sites listed here.
Photo credits: Manovill Records