Alejandra Ribera Danced Her Way to Inspiration on New Album 'This Island'

Alejandra Ribera Danced Her Way to Inspiration on New Album 'This Island'
Photo: Bruno Rizzato
There's a deep physicality, a corporeality to Alejandra Ribera's new album, This Island, out now on Pheromone. It marks a change for the Toronto/Montreal songwriter, known for her spare arrangements and throbbing vocals. While she's always been a physically arresting performer, she's always seemed like a folk-tinged torch singer. Now she's taking that coiled energy and releasing it with rhythm.
This physical transformation isn't by accident — between her last album, 2014's La Boca — and the release of This Island, she studied movement in Paris. "I didn't do it for very long, or very intensely, and I certainly wasn't very good." she tells Exclaim! "But working with movement changed the way I experience music. That space between suspension and release is a really fascinating subject for me. I remember thinking: 'I want make a record where you want to move to it.' Whether it's moving like a sloth to 'Russian Plates on Michigan Avenue,' and doing something that's very meditative, or a faster number where you have a bit of a hip shake. It was very important that the music was grounded in the hips."
In person, Ribera is almost intimidatingly serene. She's tall, and speaks in a deep and confident voice, in full sentences and considered paragraphs. She sounds like a film noir siren teaching a grad school class; as a student, she found easy connections between movement and music.
"The most challenging exercise, which is bizarre, because there were others that were much more physical, was 12 or 15 of us in a line at one end of the room," Ribera relates of the movement class taught by a student of German modern dance icon Pina Bausch. "We were facing forward, our toes in line, with our hands on each others' backs. And the exercise was to walk from one side of the room to another, and when we arrived, to still be in that straight line. But there was no beat, no music, no cue. So how do 12 people, without talking, take that first step together?
"It opened my mind, and my body, too, to new ways of listening. And with the band that I chose to work with, those cats are guys that I've been playing with for a few years. They're also very close friends. So that higher listening, that psychic listening, was already there with them, so I knew they were the people to bring into the studio."
The 2014 winner of the SOCAN Songwriting Prize is keen to bring those learning experiences to the stage on some upcoming shows in Quebec and Ontario; others, she's happy to shed.
"That idea of finding the version of yourself that you choose to amplify in order to perform and talk about your work is something I had to let go of, eventually," she explains. "I couldn't keep up. And the wonderful thing about travelling so much, and basing myself in different cities, is that you start to go, 'Oh, I remember when that seemed really important, and now I live in this other place where, not only do they not care about that thing, but they think it's not that cool.'
"And to be honest with you, the older I get, the less I give a fuck, you know? If you like my album, super. If you don't, that's super, too. I'm off making another one."
Tour dates:
02/23 Quebec City, QC - Théâtre Petit-Champlain
02/24 Jonquières, QC - Côté Cour
02/28 Montreal, QC - Club Soda (MTL en Lumiere)
03/04 Sutton, QC - Salle Alec & Gérald Pelletier
03/09 Sorel-Tracey, QC - Marine Cabaret
03/15 Toronto, ON - Trinity St. Paul's
03/16 London, ON - Aeolian Hall
03/17 Ottawa, ON - NAC Studio
03/21 Berlin, Germany - Grüner Salon
03/24 Wawern, Germany – Synagoge
03/25 Freiberg, Germany – Jazzhaus
03/26 Landsberg, Germany – Stadttheater
03/28 Vienna, Austria – Sargfabrik