Sofia Kourtesis’s newest house EP, Fresia Magdalena, is not simple club music. I say this not in condemnation of the thumping nightclub beats that seem so distant since the pandemic began, but in defense of the rapidly expanding paradigm of electronic music.
Kourtesis, a Berlin-based Peruvian producer and musician, challenges old notions of uninspired EDM on her latest project, a five-track chronicle of family, hope and heritage. Following the release of her debut EP Sofia Kourtesis in 2019 and sophomore EP Sarita Colonia in 2020, Kourtesis’s collage of samples remains consistently creative on Fresia Magdalena. There’s no denying that each song is dance-worthy in its own respect, yet Kourtesis manages to intertwine pulsing electro beats with clips of street-side conversations, lapping ocean waves and other sound bites in a way so disparate it works. On Fresia Magdalena, Kourtesis is unafraid to provide party anthems with an introspective twist.
Kourtesis pulls inspiration for the project from a variety of sources. The title Fresia Magdalena references the artist’s mother, Fresia, whom Kourtesis cites as a community organizer and champion for local causes in her home district of Magdalena, Peru.
“Fresia Magdalena is about activism,” she states, and, “making positive changes, whoever and wherever you are.”
The EP’s cover art pays homage to Peru’s unofficial patron saint of the oppressed, Sarita Colonia. The uncanonized young woman is said to have been extremely poor and hard-working, allegedly dying from malaria at the age of 26 and quickly becoming representative of the most vulnerable in Peruvian society. Sarita Colonia’s image, which also appears on Kourtesis’s 2020 EP Sarita Colonia, is taken from the Cementerio Baquijano del Callao, a massive cemetery in Lima that eulogizes the figure with pastel iconography, tile plaques and intricate flower arrangements from dedicated followers. It seems that Kourtesis wants you to find hope in this symbol as she and her community have, making the tracks that follow feel like a love letter to the vibrant city Kourtesis calls home.
In the opener and crown jewel of the EP, “La Perla,” Kourtesis honors her father, who passed away from leukemia last September. Growing up on the coast of Lima, the rolling Pacific waves have been synonymous with comfort for Kourtesis, and she shares that the beach was a place of solace for her and her father during his illness. Kourtesis croons wistfully in Spanish, “You and me / in solitude / the same here / trying to change / trying to forget.” The listener feels the bittersweet reverberations of these fleeting moments between father and daughter, and it’s clear that Fresia Magdalena is tapping into a kind of vulnerability that was unfamiliar in Kourtesis’s previous works.
The next track, “By Your Side,” transitions to a whirring metallic beat and menagerie of bells, chimes and brass wails. It feels both true to the genre of house and entirely fresh as Kourtesis expertly layers each sound. “Nicolas” follows with a clanking beat reminiscent of plastic pails being tapped with a drumstick. Its bubbly synth merges with recordings of Kourtesis’s father and other Lima inhabitants conversing in Quechua, striking a balance between club-worthy rhythm and homey warmth.
On “Juntos,” Kourtesis punctuates a fuzzy, thumping beat with twinkling piano, echoing vocal clips and intermittent erhu swells. I’ve never been to Berlin, nor have I ever stepped foot in a nightclub, but the vivacious clinks and thuds of “Juntos” sound tailor-made for the Euro rave scene. It may not feel as intimate as “La Perla,” but it sure as hell will make you want to dance.
The project closes with the ethereal “Dakotas,” a track coursing with rich bass, slinking symbols and buzzing synth. Like “Juntos,” it sounds less sunny and closer to a classical European house track. It’s as if you can hear Kourtesis’s journey from the streets of Lima to Berlin in a moment that comes full circle.
No matter which of her homes Kourtesis draws inspiration from, Fresia Magdalena undeniably bursts with life at every corner. The listener gets small snippets of Kourtesis’s everyday life intermingled with infectious dance beats that simply feel right in your soul.
In her aforementioned interview, Kourtesis muses, “My last EPs were about happiness and losing it and three-day raves with my best friends, but this one had to be more about reflecting on my life.”
Fresia Magdalena is a scrapbook of Kourtesis’s trials and tribulations, a taste of the vibrant community and culture she calls home. But for the first time, Kourtesis herself does most of the talking, rather than her samples.
Daily Arts Writer Nora Lewis can be contacted at email@example.com.