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Flor Nocturna (Night Flower)
Release date Sept 12, 2006

There's something pure and elemental about Marta Topferova's new album, Flor Nocturna. The singer-songwriter's newest release for the World Village label follows the widespread critical success of 2005's La Marea (also on World Village), but takes a purposefully different approach.

The new disc arrives as Topferova has toured extensively, broadening her global audience. She has headlined at Manhattan's top jazz showcase, the Blue Note, shared a bill with the great Peruvian singer Susana Baca at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, and performed at the Centro Cultural de la Villa in Madrid. Although based in NYC, she's won new fans for her music in South America, where the authentic spirit of her songs has found welcome ears.

"This record is definitely more folkloric," says Topferova, who writes and sings in Spanish, delicately evoking a sympathetic range of Latin American musical styles and rhythms, particularly those of Colombia, Venezuela and Argentina.

Though she travels in the company of some of New York's finest jazz improvisers, percussive masters and traditional musicians – several of whom appear on these songs – Topferova decided not to arrange the pieces for a full band. There is no drummer, although you will hear Neil Ochoa playing the cajon – a box-drum of Peruvian origin – and Adam Cruz playing marimba on various tracks. You will also hear the cellist Erik Friedlander and the violist Ljova on the gorgeous "Mar Amargo" ("Bitter Sea"), which closes the album with a kind of lush chamber music arrangement. However, even these flourishes are fairly simple, and often aim to spotlight an individual soloist – such as violinist Jenny Scheinman, who is featured on the songs "Zamba Gris" ("Grey Zamba"), "Los Hermanos" ("The Brothers"), and "Ojos Poderosos" ("Powerful Eyes").

Topferova wanted to keep things simple. Organic, even. "I wanted the cuatro and the bass be the core of the sound," says the performer, who accompanies herself on the four-stringed Venezuelan guitar, along with Pedro Giraudo on acoustic bass.. "I didn't want to have drums or cymbals or anything metallic. I envisioned this as a ‘wooden’ record. And that's what it is. Even the flute (played by Yulia Musayelyan) has a warm, organic sound.”

The tactic draws more attention to the flow of Topferova's voice and lyrics, which capture sensations both fleeting and eternal, and take much inspiration from the world she walks through. "I wrote "Gaita de Los Chiquitos" for my nephew," she explains. "He's very cute, very sweet. I wanted to write a very upbeat children's song. It features accordion and lots of percussion and a chorus of musicians singing all the words." Far from such cheer, the album's opener, "Zamba Gris," reflects on the grim, chaotic street life of the singer's New York neighborhood in somber language, which floats over the downtempo Argentinian rhythm implied in the title.

Other songs, such as "Dia Lluvioso" {"Rainy Day") and the title track, "Flor Nocturna" ("Nocturnal Flower"), discover in everyday vistas and natural phenomena the elements of bittersweet yearning. These are very much the qualities that first drew Topferova to the various Latin American, Spanish and Caribbean musics that have become her life.

"They're telling a certain story," she says of such traditional songs. "They're not just love songs, like a lot of jazz standards might be. They are fascinating to me lyrically; they are about so many things: children, death, something in nature, all these poetic images."

Her selection of two songs composed by Atahualpa Yupanqui illustrates Topferova's deep affection for such material. The legendary Argentinian folksinger and poet is little-known in the U.S. and Marta wanted to bring attention to his work here. She was surprised to discover that the co-author on of "Los Hermanos," "Pablo Del Cerro," was actually a woman. "It was the nickname of the companion he lived with for years and years," she says. The second selection, "Tu Que Puedes, Vuelvete," also offered up a secret. Its co-author, Hector Roberto Chavero is Yupanqui's birth name.

Topferova first heard music of rural South America as a child growing up in Prague. Friends of her parents, exiled from Chile, brought recordings by the legendary Andean group Inti Illimani. "I absolutely fell in love with them," she says. "I had no idea where this music was coming from. Later on, when I moved to the United States and heard more Latin American folk music I thought: This is it. This is the music that really speaks to me."

The singer taught herself Spanish and began studying guitar while in high school in Seattle, and eventually took extensive journeys - to Spain, Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Argentina, and other destinations - to absorb as much of the music as she could. She came to New York in 1996, where she immersed herself in performances with various traditional ensembles, most notably with Lucía Pulido & Fiesta De Tambores, a group devoted to Colombian music and música llanera (music from the plains).

In recent years, Topferova has gradually begun to step out as an instrumentalist as well as a vocalist. "The cuatro has so many capabilities. It's a percussion instrument, and it's like a guitar. It can be fast and aggressive, or you can get harp-like sounds from it. I'm also adapting new rhythms that are like nothing I've really heard. You can adapt a lot of things to that instrument that are not traditional.”

That stringed shimmer, which Topferova finds indelible to the music she loves, comes more and more as second nature to her. Along with her sensitive vocals and lyrical flair, it's what allows Flor Nocturna to bloom so freely.

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La Marea 2005 World Village

A Young Woman from Prague Finds an Unlikely Home in Latin Music

Czechs aren’t exactly known for their contributions to Latin music, but don’t tell that to Czech-born singer/songwriter Marta Topferova, who’s emerging as one of the freshest new voices on New York’s Latin music circuit. Purveying a deeply personal and engaging mix of pan-Latin sounds, Topferova has been winning over Latinos and Anglos alike with her poetic, heartfelt lyrics and intimate live performances. Her new album La Marea released March 8th on World Village brings her powerful stage shows to a whole new audience with a luminous, 10-song collection.

Born in Ostrava, in the former Czechoslovakia, the young Topferova (pronounced Tope-fehr-oh-vah) moved with her family to Prague, where she began her musical career at age 8 singing in the Mladi children’s chorus, whose repertoire was mostly classical and folkloric pieces. As a child she studied piano and guitar, and got her own first guitar at the age of thirteen. Prague may have been an unlikely place to fall in love with Latin music, but for Marta, that was where she first encountered the music that would change her life. “My parents had Chilean friends who had given them a collection of Inti-Illimani records,” she says. “They became my favorite records as a kid. In those days (the Communist era), it was still hard to get a lot of music; but I know if it had been possible, I would have searched out a lot more Latin music.”

Eventually, she did just that. After immigrating to Seattle with her family as a teenager in 1987, Topferova found herself gravitating towards the Latino community and teaching herself Spanish. “It was just me, my mother and my sister and I felt isolated, thinking I would never go back to my country. Then I met Hispanic friends at school and that community drew me in. It was like a second home. Through those friendships I penetrated Latin music and culture more deeply.”

In her teens Marta sang with The Seattle Girls’ Choir for four years. Later, she would major in music and dance at Bard College in New York. Marta also began to get serious about her guitar playing and researching Latin music, searching out rare folkloric recordings and finding the originators of the styles she loved.

“I’ve always loved the rhythms and genres of Latin America,” Marta says. “Son, trova & bolero... I’m definitely inspired by the folkloric styles, but my own music is difficult to classify.” Indeed, the music that Marta plays today is the result of years of study, apprenticeship and travels that took her to Spain, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Mexico. In Spain, Marta lived in Moron de la Frontera, a gitano stronghold in Andalucía, where she studied flamenco at its source. In Mexico, Marta gained one of her first onscreen experiences when she performed on Fiestas Patrias, a popular television program shot in Mérida. Her travels also brought her to Havana’s famous casas de la trova – those bastions of Cuban traditional music – where she soaked up decades of Cuban musical genius.

After a short stint in Miami, Marta came to New York in 1996, where she immersed herself in the burgeoning Venezuelan and Colombian communities. She acquired a Venezuelan voice teacher who introduced her to Venezuelan vals, gaita and merengue, and began performing duets with Lucia Pulido, who in turn introduced Marta to Colombian joropos and musica llanera. Eventually she traded in her guitar for the smaller, higher-pitched Venezuelan cuatro, and began to incorporate these new styles into her repertoire.

For anyone who doubts the authenticity of a Czech woman playing Latin American music, Marta offers this response: “People only question me if they don’t know me, but once they hear me and realize that I study this music very seriously, they’re usually very convinced. Really, music travels the way we do nowadays, and borders can’t keep people in or out anymore.”

Marta’s music is a complex, lived-in mix of all of the aforementioned styles, shot through with a poetic sensibility. Citing the work of Argentine singer and nueva cancion icon Mercedes Sosa, Marta explains that it’s difficult to categorize her music. “I suppose I’m kind of a part of the nueva trova movement,” she laughs, “but I’m reluctant to call it that.” Poetry is a big inspiration for Topferova, too. “I speak English everyday, but I mostly read poetry in Spanish and Czech,” she explains. “Garcia Lorca and especially the Argentine poet Atahualpa Yupanqui have been very important to me.

“I’ve always loved Lorca,” she continues, “a lot of his work was inspired by flamenco, and I’ve always identified with gypsies, since so much of my childhood and adult life has been so nomadic.”

In 2000 she recorded Sueño Verde for Circular Moves/ Rykodisc (the album wasn’t released until 2003) with her former partner, guitarist Enrique Lopez. The album won critical praise, and gave audiences their first taste of Marta’s luminous songwriting and impressionistic lyrics. With her latest release, La Marea, (“The Tide”), Marta is joined by an impressive pair of seasoned musicians - Colombian harpist Edmar Casteñeda and drummer Chris Eddleton - as well as a raft of friends from the New York music community. Together the trio blazes through a sultry set of original material; Marta accompanying her own husky, smoky voice with a galloping cuatro guitar, Eddleton laying down a percolating stream of percussion, while Casteñeda absolutely rocks out on his arpa, playing basslines with one hand and melodies with the other. The ensemble takes Marta’s lyrics and arrangements to new places, adding gentle bossa nova (“Mañana Nevada”) and even a touch of Spanish tangos (“Limonero”) to the mix. Awash in water-borne images, from the title track to the existential lament “Grano de Arena” (“Grain of Sand”), La Marea’s evocations of the natural world and close-to-the-surface emotions are the work of a powerful poetic sensibility.

“I’m very proud of this record,” Marta says. “It brings together so many different experiences that I’ve lived through and images and ideas I cherish. I’m also very pleased with the arrangements and personnel. I feel very lucky to have been joined by so many wonderful guest players - violinist Jenny Scheinman, flutist Yulia Musayelyan, French horn player Chris Komer, pianist/accordionist Angus Martin, bassist Pedro Giraudo and percussionists Neil Ochoa and Urbano Sanchez. I’ve worked with all of them over the years and they’re good friends. Everything came together so naturally, I couldn’t have planned it better.”

“Their contributions reflect the generous and welcoming spirit of the Latin musical community. When I first set out to sing in Spanish, I didn’t know how far this music would take me – or how far I would take it. But I certainly hope that, with La Marea, I can give something back to the culture and music that’s brought so much to my life.”