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Magos Herrera: Rebirth in New York

Gabriel Medina Arenas By

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New York City became the new jazz mecca during the 1920s, when many top jazz musicians from Chicago and the rest of the U.S. migrated to the Big Apple. Jazz musicians from around the globe moved there every decade, knowing New York has some of the top jazz venues in the world, a dozen jazz festivals, and numerous jazz record labels. Competition is tremendous, but "The City of Dreams" remains the best place for a jazz musician to gain exposure and build an international reputation.

Renowned Mexican jazz singer and musician Magos Herrera, knows that all too well. That's why she decided to move to New York in 2008. Last April, Herrera released Dawn, her eighth studio album, with the Spanish flamenco guitarist Javier Limón as accomplice and producer.

The so-called Cassandra Wilson of Latin America studied at the Musicians Institute of Los Angeles, then trained with opera singer Konstantin Jadan, and continued her studies at the New England Conservatory.

One of the most talented Mexican jazz singers of all time, Herrera talked about her new recording, the deep consequences of her migration to New York, and the impossibility of reaching international success from Mexico, even though the jazz scene keeps on growing there.

All About Jazz: Tell us about your collaboration with Javier Limón on Dawn.

Magos Herrera: Javier and I met about three years ago. He came to one of my concerts and then we contacted each other. We had a coffee and realized we had similar taste in music. One thing led to another and we decided that we wanted to work together. It wasn't something that we planned, it just happened. When he was in Boston I invited him to do some jams at my concerts. After these concerts we decided to do a duo project.

Javier Limón has worked with very talented musicians as of late Paco De Lucia, Wynton Marsalis, Bebo Valdes and Chucho Valdés. In your opinion which of his collaborations or productions are the most interesting?

He's an incredible producer, period. His clarity as a producer is amazing, so everything he has done is interesting, but personally Lágrimas Negras (a 2003 album by Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés and Spanish flamenco singer Diego "El Cigala") is something that we all love. On the other hand he worked with Paco de Lucía, what an honor! Javier Limón is definitely very talented.

AAJ: Dawn includes jazz standards, bossa nova, flamenco arrangements and Mexican folk music sung in English, Spanish and Portuguese. What did you set out to accomplish with it and was there a message that you wanted to communicate?

MH: I think you just express what is happening in your creative world at that moment. I personally don't think of music as jazz standards, Brazilian standards or Mexican standards. I relate to music as beautiful melodies, harmonic possibilities, rhythm and most importantly, the chance to tell a story. To me, what all these incredible tunes have in common is that they're beautiful songs. They all come from tradition, excepting the ones we wrote ("Dawn" and "My Love for you"). But they're all music that relates to the human soul. There's longing, passion, ambition, you know; all these human feelings that maybe at this point of our lives both Javier and I have felt. We have independent careers going on, and we just happen to be expressing what we feel right now.

AAJ: What is the significance of the album title?

MH: Funny you should ask because Javier just lectured about it. You know dawn is the end of a long and beautiful night, not the beginning of a day. Which is different, right? As jazz musicians we work mostly at night, everything happens at night. But also, to start a new day you have to let go of what happened the day before. So maybe it's a new beginning. When we had all the music together, in one way or another all the tunes somehow made us think about dawn, the feeling of a new day, a new beginning.

AAJ: How was it working with Javier Limón as a producer and as a player?

MH: I think Javier and I complement each other in many different ways. One of the most important things to me is that we gave each other the trust and space to express ourselves throughout the whole process. Javier is a very open minded musician. He's very inclusive and he respected my vision and perspective. So, I think it was a very nice, natural, organic process. Of course, knowing him as a producer I knew there were things and decisions that I preferred him to take. It was mostly vocal and guitar so it's basically a very naked album. Guitar and voice is a very Latin American thing, a flamenco thing too. When I was a kid, my father played guitar and I sang in the living room. I felt so comfortable; everything flowed naturally in this minimalist, voice and guitar format.

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