SWITZERLAND: Aliento - Danit
Looking across the Atlantic for inspiration, the Swiss musician entrances her listeners with soft instrumentation and her beguiling voice
Though she may not sound it, Danit is from Switzerland. In fact, the album, which is sung mostly in Spanish and draws partially on the Latin American style of electronica selvática (a kind of ambient music that draws inspiration from traditional Amazonian and Andean music, sounds, and themes, though I was surprised to find out that no synths were used on this album), as well as other mostly Latin genres like samba, is so convincingly Latin that we both had to do some digging to find out where this album was from. Though there is not much out there on the internet about Danit, her Bandcamp page does state that she is based in Switzerland, so we’ve taken that to mean she can represent Switzerland on our page, and she is more than a worthy contender. The album is full of beautiful and gentle instrumentation, which varies from acoustic guitars to synths, to pristine natural sounds and rhythmic Latin American drums, but really Danit’s voice is the star of the show here. It takes centre stage on pretty much every track, and her gentle, smooth, almost soothing tones manage to take the listener on a journey through music. That’s not to say this is just an album of vocal theatrics, but nonetheless it remains the star feature of what is already a very good album.
“As Danit intended, it takes you on a journey, a meditative and ruminative one but a journey nonetheless, with music that is indicative of the majestic and dramatic scenery of Latin America...”
In Danit’s own words, Aliento is “a journey into the heart of prayer and gratitude for mother nature.” Thus, it is clear that the natural world is a crucial inspiration for Danit. This should come as no surprise to those who have a bit of knowledge of the genre. One only need look at the extraordinary and pioneering work of American musician and sound ecologist Bernie Krause to understand the intrinsic link that music has with the natural world, and indeed Krause hypothesises in his seminal 2012 book The Great Animal Orchestra that humans may have even have learned scales and the basics of music from the animals around us. Whether or not the work of Krause was an influence or not, Danit uses natural sounds to complement the songs she has written. Whether it is the rippling river with birdsong at the start of Amanecer, or the rustling winds of Cuatro Vientos, you’ll hear soothing nature sounds throughout the album, which help to ground the piece in a sense of place. The final track of the album is even called Naturaleza, which is Spanish for nature, again showing how crucial it is to the concept of the album.
But Danit is not only looking to flora and fauna for musical guidance, she has also looked to the indigenous peoples of Latin America, most notably on the song Iansã, which is done in a style reminiscent of the traditional and ritual music of that area. Sung in Portuguese, the name is a reference to the orisha (or spirit) of the Brazilian syncretic religion of Candomblé, a religion that was the by-product of many West Africans, including Yoruba people from whom the name derives originally, being kidnapped and sold into slavery and then taken to Brazil, where a new religion was forced upon them – Roman Catholicism. The song in question uses the caxixi, a type of woven percussion instrument similar to a maraca, created by the African diaspora in Brazil for use in ceremonial rituals alongside the berimbau. One could build a charge of cultural appropriation against Danit here, and while it would not be for me to say either way, I certainly feel like Danit is approaching these musical influences with sincerity and respect, and while there are elements throughout the album (like the use of indigenous instruments like Cuba’s cajón, the Native American eagle whistle, and the Udu clay pot of African origin), to me it seems to be much more in the vein of paying tribute to these musical traditions rather than claiming any ownership of them.
Putting these lofty concepts and allusions to one side, the album is simply, on a musical level, excellent. You don’t really need to know any of the above to get something out of it, its simply a beautiful collection of songs that warm the soul. They’re all rather soft and slow, with the exception of Lunita, which has a bit of an infectious Latin rhythm to it that you could just about dance to. The track Amanecer is, at a push, the best song on the album (alongside the equally sublime Guacamayo, at least) due to its particularly splendid vocals. That said, for me, this isn’t an album of selected high points and low points, rather it is a cohesive piece of music that works as an album. As Danit intended, it takes you on a journey, a meditative and ruminative one but a journey nonetheless, with music that is indicative of the majestic and dramatic scenery of Latin America, while Danit’s skilful singing take one of a rollercoaster of emotions, from sadness to joy, melancholy to euphoria, while evoking spiritual ecstasy one song and earthly delights the next. If you choose to listen to it, I would recommend you do so while actively listening, headphones on. You won’t regret it.