Album Review: Mateo Kingman – Respira [AYA Records, 12th August 2016]

Music is a medium with many powers. It can touch our deepest emotions, it helps us process feelings, it conveys joy, sorrow, melancholy and any other possible shade of the emotional spectrum. Among its many wizardries, music holds one wonderful power that other media simply cannot equal; the power to teleport you, in the blink of an eye, anywhere, somewhere, everywhere. The destinations are endless – a personal emotional space, a suggestion of natural surroundings, the place of a memory.

Listening to Mateo Kingman’s music feels very much like this; an experience permeating all senses, an intercontinental journey to the deepest corners of the Amazon jungle. The 24-year-old Ecuadorean singer and songwriter has his musical identity rooted in hip hop, but in his debut album Respira –published with ZKK Records’s sister label AYA Records – he gives much room to his profound connection with the local sounds of Ecuador and its nature. Chirping birds and crickets, rain dripping softly on a tropical afternoon and the peaceful flow of a river, intertwine naturally with the music and his singing.

Respira’s first two tracks; “Sendero del Monte” and “Lluvia” are the perfect introduction to Kingman’s natural surroundings: walking with us through the placid breath of the jungle he sings ‘necesito esta tormenta para relajarme’ (which translates ‘I need this storm to relax’), highlighting his strong tie with the elements of nature. This is no surprise since he lived most of his life in a small town in the middle of the Amazon in close contact with the Shuar culture, and moved only recently to the capital Quito to work on his music career.

Although the soundscapes of the Amazon are pivotal in his music, in his tracks Kingman presents diverse influences, showing a promising creative versatility. In “Se Va” and “Ragasonico”, catchy electrical guitar riffs prevail over the spiritual introspective journey of the first tracks – the first has R&B tendencies like The Roots, while the second is more punk-rock/ska oriented. We see the other side of Kingman’s creative personality emerge: a fiery voice exploding with raw energy through the power of words and rhymes. These two sides live together not yet seamlessly, reflecting the clash between his upbringing surrounded by nature and his recent experience in the city, maybe.

One of the highlights of the album is track number 9; “Dame Tu Consuelo”. Although it has nothing innovative in its sound (it’s rather traditional actually) this soft ballad cradles us to the hypnotic rhythm of guiro and guitars. A Latin American-flavoured song with Mateo’s voice at its expressive peak.

Just like his internationally renowned countryman Nicola Cruz, Kingman holds his cultural legacy very close to him and conveys it all in his music, although he’s still learning how. His raw energy comes across, uncompromising and spiritual, in his evocative lyrics and hybrid melodies, but it’s missing a clearly defined identity. As a debut album, Respira is undoubtedly an impressive work, yet Kingman still needs to make his sound truly his own.

But he’s just at the starting line and he’s undoubtedly got the potential to take his music to the next level.