Music may be a universal language, but words can get in the way sometimes. Following the success of Paul Simon’s Graceland album, which allowed the American pop star to collaborate with musicians from South Africa, record companies and retailers began to use the term “world music” as a means of promoting albums by international artists.
Soon, World Music had its own Grammys category. It also inspired David Byrne to write a New York Times op-ed titled “I Hate World Music,” which the former Talking Heads frontman categorized as “the name of a trash can in the record store meaning things that don’t belong anywhere else in the store.”
But embracing other cultures is not the same as exploiting them – a point that is brought out by Ley Line, a group of four women whose music pays homage to South American, West African and American folk traditions. . “In a time of isolation and turmoil,” wrote The Austin Chronicle in his review of their 2020 album We saw blue, “The sound of Ley Line is calming with a promise of deeper connection.”
Future band mates Emilie Basez, Kate Robberson and twin sisters Lydia and Madeleine Froncek first met in 2013 at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado. Emilie and Kate, who had met in Brazil, were on tour as a folk duo, Madeleine played in a punk band and Lydia had recently returned from Senegal where she was studying West African percussion.
The four musicians would reconnect two years later in Austin, where they began to perform together under the name Ley Line. After releasing a much-loved debut album, they embarked on a three-month, 3000-mile tour of Brazil by van. They also hosted America’s first Sonora Festival, a gathering of Brazilian musicians and composers that has since spread to 17 countries around the world.
Now that the concert halls have reopened, Ley Line is back in the van for a November tour that includes seven dates in Colorado. We recently caught up with Lydia Froncek to talk about the intertwining of musical languages, connecting with nature, and finding your soul mates.
Indy: It’s not often that you hear a band singing in Spanish, English, Portuguese and French, especially in the same song. How fluent are you in each language?
Lydia Froncek: Well, everyone has their specialty. I am French speaking, as I have spent a lot of time in Senegal, where the main language, besides Wolof, is French. Maddie and Emilie are Spanish speakers – both parents of Emilie are Argentines. Then Kate and Emilie are Portuguese speakers because they met in Brazil. It was kind of the start for them to make music together and sing in Portuguese. We all learned Portuguese in Brazil, but if a Brazilian tries to communicate fluently with the group, we will leave it to Emilie or Kate.
Ley Line’s instrumental arrangements are also quite eclectic. Can you talk a bit about how it all comes together?
Yes, we think of our instruments the same way we think of voices. We do a lot like four part harmonies and intertwine the tongues. And I think the instruments kind of play the same role, the way they are in conversation with each other and in conversation with our voices.
So you’ll hear double bass, acoustic guitar, ukulele, and percussion, but there are also a lot of songs where most of us, if not all of us, play percussion. So we’re really relying on this polyrhythmic influence from Latin America and West Africa.
From a percussionist’s perspective, how would you describe the differences between West African and Latin American rhythms?
Honestly, I hear more of the similarities than I hear of the differences. So many rhythms you hear in Latin American music were passed down from West African slaves. I’ve been playing West African music since I was 18 so it was really interesting to learn Brazilian rhythms and hear the similarities. Some are exact rhythms from West Africa and are now traditional Brazilian rhythms. There are also rhythms of the indigenous peoples of Latin America. And then there’s what we think of as more western rhythms. And it all got mixed up.
I was surprised to find the EDM remix of your song on Spotify – let’s see how badly I can pronounce that – “Respiração?
Well, this one is actually in Portuguese, so the R is silent. It was the first song we recorded after the trip to Brazil. I think it was the first Portuguese song Kate wrote. A lot of our songs in Portuguese, until then, were traditional Brazilian folk songs that we had adapted and kind of made our own. That’s when we really started writing our own songs in other languages.
When did the remix take place?
It was quite recent. It was during COVID, and a Brazilian artist asked if they could do “Respiração” again, and we thought it would be fun to do some sort of cross-pollination with the EDM scene, which is so different from our fan base. usual. We actually hope to have all the songs on our We saw blue album remixed by different artists. And not just EDM.
We really hope to find other female artists who do totally different styles of music and who would be interested in remixing the songs. So we’ll see where it goes.
So far you have written and recorded songs on the air [“Respiração”], the water [“En Busca Del Agua”], The sky [“To the Sky”] and the sun [“Sounding Sun”]. Is nature a big thing for you?
Yes, nature is a huge inspiration to the four of us. It’s also like our spiritual practice, connecting with nature and using our music to somehow honor the natural world. It seems very fitting that we are talking about Indigenous Peoples Day [Oct. 11], because I thought about it a lot today, this [ancient Iroquois] the idea of seven generations ahead and seven generations ahead, and how can we choose actions today that will have a positive impact seven generations ahead? I’m sure, you know, that we all drive cars and do things that don’t have a positive impact. But we have tried in our music to just remind people how closely connected we are to Earth and how our decisions really have a big impact on the future of our planet.
You play seven dates in Colorado on this tour. What do you like about playing here?
Well, I think it’s nice to go back to Colorado, because that’s where we all met. Kate went to CU Boulder for a few years. My sister Maddie went to Fort Lewis College in Durango, and we have an uncle and cousins who live in Boulder. So we’ve all spent a lot of time there, and every time we go to Colorado we try to make it a long trip so that we can connect with nature, all the open spaces, mountains and rivers. . We will also be playing new music on this tour. In fact, we have a new single coming out on November 12th, the same day as our concert in Manitou Springs. These are called “postcards”.
So is it in English?
It’s in English. Well, there is a little French, there is a little Portuguese. But it’s mostly in English. [Laughs.] It’s kind of like a love song that a band member wrote to another band member when we were away from each other, so it’s just a matter of thinking of a person that you hold. And it’s really a song about friendship, which we hadn’t talked about yet.
When the four of you first met at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, did you have any idea to form a band and stay together for that long?
Well no. When we first met it was like that very fleeting moment. Like we were all hanging out together, we went camping, we sang together and it was really special. We talked about our dreams and goals, and I remember thinking, “Wow, these girls are so cool, they feel like soul mates, but I’ll probably never see them again. I was just happy to know that there are people out there who are on the same path as me and want to do the same job in the world. And I remember in particular that we also talked about art and education, and using art as a tool for young people to talk about their emotions and feelings, to bond and communicate. This is something that we are now all doing together.
What ultimately happened was that Maddie moved to Austin with her punk band in 2015. And when they broke up, she started playing bass with Kate and Emilie. And then I would go downstairs to visit – I have always enjoyed playing music with my twin sister. It always felt like something I knew I would do for the rest of my life – so it was kind of natural to come here and play with them.
Has the band played Telluride since?
Yes we came back [in 2018] and performed Sunday morning gospel with Bonnie Paine from Elephant Revival. Then we had the opportunity to do a workshop and to kind of talk about our songs and where they come from. We made everyone dance in a big circle at the end. I often think about this in the days of COVID, how special it was – and will continue to be – to create times when people feel connected and hold hands, you know?
One last question. In the chorus of the song “Pirulito”, you repeatedly sing the line “Le le ô saudades”. Can you tell us what “saudades” means and how it applies to music?
Yes, you will hear it in a lot of Brazilian song lyrics, and Brazilians use it in their conversations as well. It doesn’t really have a direct translation. It’s a bit like nostalgia. But I think the nostalgia is rather sad, while I think the saudades are more heartwarming. So we like to say it’s the love that stays after the moment is over. And we often end our shows with that song, because for us it’s like, wow, we’re coming to the end of this great experience. It’s like this experience will never be recreated again, but we still remember it.
And for music, I think almost everyone has a special connection to a song or an artist. It’s like putting on a Taylor Swift song and remembering being at her concert when you were 14. And like, all of a sudden, you’re back at that point.
So every time we sing the song, it’s like a flashback to all of these different experiences. And when you say “saudades” to a friend, it’s like “I remember all the beautiful times we had together and it’s still in my heart.”