Of all the places to take your mother’s world-renowned neurosurgeon, Berlin superclub Berghain might not be top of most people’s lists. But, the Peruvian producer Sofia Kourtesis reasoned, she had seen so much of the Berlin doctor’s workplace, “I told him: ‘I want to show you a little of Sofia’s world.’” They went for Peruvian food before hitting the club this May. “He really loved it,” she says. “We bonded in a very beautiful way.”
The unlikely duo met when Kourtesis was seeking medical advice for her mother, who had been diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer and whose health was deteriorating rapidly. She needed life-saving surgery that very few specialists could offer. Kourtesis, who lives in Berlin, read about Peter Vajkoczy and was determined to reach him, despite knowing that obtaining an appointment would be near-impossible. She posted an Instagram story saying: “If anyone can put me in touch with Peter Vajkoczy, I’ll dedicate a song to him. I just need two minutes to talk to him.” Vajkoczy appreciated her cheeky request and agreed to meet.
“I was having this moment when I thought it couldn’t be true,” she says. “But I believe in the power of manifesting things. I think that if humans believe, something beautiful can happen.” Vajkoczy successfully operated on her mother and Kourtesis kept her promise and wrote the irrepressible, driving Vajkoczy. It appears on her debut album, Madres, dedicated to her mother and the surgeon.
Speaking to Kourtesis, it’s no surprise that her overture worked: she radiates natural charm and infectious positivity. Her attitude resounds through the warmth and hope of Madres, one of the year’s best dance albums which deserves a Bicep-level crossover moment. Rapturous melodies nestle into deep grooves, alongside fragments of field recordings, distorted vocals, anthemic and infectious hooks. At the same time, a sense of urgency and catharsis cuts through the project.
Madres also reflects on her life in Berlin – the song Funkhaus explores her time working as a programmer at the city’s former GDR radio headquarters, now a studio and performance complex. Kourtesis, now 38, moved there when she was a teenager, wanting to escape Peru where she was “bullied for her queerness” and kicked out of school for kissing a girl. Her family were supportive: her parents are both political activists, her father a pro bono lawyer during the dictatorial Fujimori presidency, while her mother works to protect the Indigenous tribes of South America. But she found the country repressive, and left for Germany when she was 17. “It was personally a hard time for me in Peru regarding my sexuality,” she says.
She studied communications in Hamburg, and wanted to make films, but found the process frustrating. “I’m always writing scripts,” she says. “But I couldn’t make them, so I made them through my music. I see the song and then translate it into melodies.” While studying film in Berlin, she also DJ’d and worked as a booking agent while honing her craft as a producer. She caught the attention of influential label Studio Barnhus when she drunkenly sent a track of hers to co-founder Axel Boman, and her song WinWin San appeared on a 2018 label compilation. A year later, her self-titled EP propelled her to wider acclaim, crowned by 2021’s sun-soaked dancefloor anthem La Perla.
That song was dedicated to her father, who had recently died. After he died, Kourtesis went “travelling like Che Guevara because my father always said, ‘go and see the world and write about it’.” She visited Central America, honouring his unfulfilled desire to travel there, and she came across “beautiful sceneries where all the people from local, small towns unite and tell their stories through singing”. She captured field recordings of rallies, demonstrations, speeches, conversation and song. Then her adventure was cut short by her mother’s diagnosis.
Kourtesis found herself balancing her burgeoning touring schedule with rushing home to Peru to care for her mother. “I was also in therapy, but needed something to just sit down and do, to distract myself,” she says. She spent what free time she had crafting Madres, bringing together these disparate sides of her life: her family, her life in Berlin and the euphoric moments she had captured during her travels, specifically in Peru. “I was trying to take the most beautiful moments from the world and capture them,” she says, “From the places where I lived to the people that I met and the things that I do.”
Although Kourtesis left Peru as a result of its conservatism, Madres honours her parents’ work and the country’s radicalism. “I wanted to create an album that has meaning,” she says. “I wanted to talk about our Latin American community and the movements that are happening, to show the diverse range of demonstrations for equality, for the queer community, for abortion rights. All the things that are very important to me.” Estación Esperanza opens with recordings of a Peruvian protest against homophobia and features Manu Chao, who was moved by a long letter Kourtesis wrote to him; El Carmen features the Ballumbrosio family, who helped pioneer Afro-Peruvian percussion through instruments such as the cajón. “You have to give back,” she says. “It’s a way to say thank you. My mom learned from her mom and I learned from them. It’s very important for my family to look after our communities and the places we come from.”
Understandably, Kourtesis lost hope after the death of her father and after her mother’s seemingly terminal diagnosis. “When this happens to you, you feel like your world is going down and you’re not going to survive this pain,” she says. Meeting Vajkoczy helped Kourtesis finish the album. He also inspired the song How Music Makes You Feel Better, which acknowledges sharing music as a form of activism and healing. “You have to surround yourself with community,” she says. “They will always be there to give you love and hope in the darkest moments.”
Source : The Guardian