Marina Tomás Amado and Maria Cruz Millet are two very busy and creative young artists. But somehow they’ve found the time and inspiration to record this album of music that joyously celebrates youth, love, connections, and the act of creation itself. They make music under the name of Arar, which in Catalán means plowing – turning over the earth to sow. Fans of intimate acoustic music can reap the benefits of their sowing in their self-titled debut album.
Marina, born in Barcelona in 1993, is a composer and musician, dancer, writer, and actor. In Arar she mostly plays acoustic guitar and sings. Maria, born in Girona in 1996, studied jazz saxophone at Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya (ESMUC) in Barcelona. She has already participated in numerous musical projects as a lead and backup singer, saxophonist and keyboard player (including Loose Tubes, one of Catalán jazz pianist Django Bates’s projects – he’s among my favorite living pianists), and she teaches music in Girona. She mostly plays saxophone and backing vocals here, and some keyboards. The two met in someone else’s ensemble and almost immediately decided to work together.
A big thanks to the Catalán online music magazine Enderrock, which published an interview with Marina and Maria in January 2023. Also to Google Translate!
“… an intimate format fusing strings, wind, wood and voices” is how their publicity one-sheet describes what they do, and that’s very poetic and also accurate. The music shares many characteristics with bossa nova, and the Catalán tongue, which has less crisp tonalities than Castilian Spanish, even sounds a bit like Portuguese. The opening couple of songs in particular are perfect for those lazy weekend mornings with a coffee and the paper … or whatever device on which you view your media of choice.
“Tell me what we should do / so that the sky does not fall on us,” the first track “Simulacres” begins in Marina’s achingly intimate voice.
The second song is called “Gamma Velorum,” a reference to an actual nearby star cluster that contains two binary systems – each of which contains one star that’s either invisible or very much smaller than its mate. So, a good metaphor for a relationship. The two sing in harmony words of hope-filled love to a melody that dips and swoops to match the chaotic emotions: ” … there is no house / we make the house / give me your hand / we will be present / if there is no home / we will make it home …” Maria’s feathery saxophone solo emphasizes the ephemeral feelings portrayed.
Then the upbeat tune belying the sad lyrics of “I Dius Adéu (And Say Goodbye),” which seem to run through the entire course of an ill fated relationship in the couple of minutes of the song. It fades out and immediately launches into the episodic instrumental “Resiliència,” as if to lay claim to the ability to weather such emotional storms. The first “side” ends with another sad song, the very pensive “Esta Pausa Larga (This Long Pause).” Maria’s delicate horn lines perfectly echo the feel of Marina’s lyrics.
And it’s here that the album shifts a little and becomes more instrumental and less explicit in the emotions portrayed. The second half consists mostly of instrumentals with wordless vocalizing. “Cucut,” which I assume is the Catalán name for the bird known as the cuckoo, is mostly layered vocals, their voices mimicking various birds and other sounds, with plenty of studio manipulation going on as well. The sunny instrumental “Eclipsi Llunar” in a bouncy five-beat rhythm includes a string section. “Dai Dara Dai” has a strong flamenco element that includes Marina’s percussively plucked guitar and intricate wordless vocal harmonies. Actual lyrics return only briefly in the experimental composition “Cuánto tienen que brillar las cosas para verlas (How Much Do Things Have To Shine To See Them), before the final fascinating tune “Yorá.” This one’s also in five beats and the vocals, with very rich harmonies, consist of three words repeated over a changing sound palette that includes Maria’s deft piano playing and what sounds like the moaning of ghosts.
All in all, Arar’s debut is great fun for the listener, a rich mix of lovely vocals, warm acoustic instruments and creative studio manipulation of sounds. They’re scheduled to present their music in concerts in Barcelona and Girona in March 2023, so if you’re in the neighborhood you should definitely go! They are on Instagram.