When I reach Daniel Valle-Riestra, better known as QOQEQA (pronounced kwo kwe kwa, a play on the word ‘coca’), he is deep in the Peruvian jungle. “I’m in Tarapoto in the province of San Martín, close to a river called San Roque de Cumbaza,” he says over Zoom. “In this place I can be calm, create and live. In the city, I felt trapped.”
The 29-year-old electronic producer from Lima released debut album AxuxA in February. Written just before coronavirus, the title translates to “toward the source” – a prescient title for a project that would ultimately become a document of where Valle-Riestra was pre-pandemic, a sort of sonic premonition of the meditative isolation that would define 2020. AxuxA also serves as the inaugural release on Kebrada, an imprint label run by fellow Peruvian electro-folk experimentalists Dengue Dengue Dengue.
The 11-song collection of otherworldly, syncopated rhythms draws from modern ambient as much as it does from Afro-Peruvian and Indigenous Andean traditions. Soundscapes replete with drums, ethereal flutes and pared-down percussion are combined with the sort of electronic droning and distorted keys one might hear on a Nicolás Jaar track. Equal parts ceremony and an invitation to the dancefloor, these sound portals do more than transcend time and false borders; they challenge the mestizaje of Latinx identity with elegant subtlety.
“This album was my statement of rhythm,” says Valle-Riestra. “I think of each track not just as going toward a source or future, but toward new questions. I hope to answer these questions through rhythms that I’ve studied and deeply respect. I feel like if I don’t break them up, our ancestors would say, ‘What the fuck are you doing? It’s all the same shit.’ Every Latin country has African heritage. It’s not just ‘Latin rhythms’ that run through our veins.’
Honouring past practices while pushing their boundaries to make something new is at the core of Valle-Riestra’s artistry. Maintaining creative momentum to avoid the ennui of the past year, he took to participating in sound meditations, ecstatic dance ceremonies powered by cacao, and crafting new music. These new tracks, due for release on a compilation via ZZK Records, are interested in the mental journey of the body in motion. Both a break and a continuation of the ideas transmitted through the beats of AxuxA, he hopes that the psychosomatic recentering of music will be the focal point of his future gigs once large groups can gather again. Even then, he’d rather keep the crowd small and let the euphoric vibes flow.
“Here in the jungle, there are a bunch of places where you can throw parties in the open, without police, and are still completely safe,” he says, pondering music’s healing powers, the past year in particular. “I think people forgot why they went out. Music became the least important part. In this moment, it’s important we revisit and revise what we were doing right – and what we were doing wrong.”
Sounds like: Chopped ambient beats with Indigenous flutes and drums
Soundtrack for: Raving in the Amazon rainforest
File next to: Nicolás Jaar/Dengue Dengue Dengue
Our favourite song: Momposina
Where to find him: qoqeqa.bandcamp.com
This interview has been translated from Spanish.
AxuxA is out now via Kebrada