Nicola Cruz is a charting electronic musician, producer, and DJ who has been making music since he was 12. His trance-like sound seamlessly melds instrumentation from Latin American folk music — such as the Andean sikú (pan flute) and the bombo (a family of Latin American drums) — with African percussion instruments, dubwise production, and even Indian sitar to electronica, resulting in a continually flowing range of harmonics, polyrhythms, and interweaving melodies. His music invokes the landscapes and rituals of his ancestral homeland, Ecuador, which is home to both to the Andes mountain range and the Amazon jungle. His music explores and celebrates ancient mythologies and folkloric traditions, albeit in a 21st century setting that offers an organic impression. Though he has been active since 2012 — mostly with Nicolas Jaar for the Clown & Sunset label — Cruz's first full-length album, Prender el Alma, was issued by the ZZK label in the fall of 2015 and took listeners by surprise with its original, organic-sounding strategy. In 2018, his two pre-release singles, "Arka" and "Seite," took an even more audacious approach, putting historical instruments at the forefront of his mix. Born to Ecuadorian parents in Limoges, France, then relocating to the village of Quito in Ecuador at three, Cruz's musical education began shortly after he was able to walk. His parents surrounded him with a rich musical and cultural education in both indigenous traditions and Western theories. His first formal training was on percussion instruments and by age 12 he became interested in electronic and folkloric music simultaneously, inspired by Ecuador's landscapes and ritualistic rhythms. By age 12, he was creating his first mixes and began DJ'ing, and by 16 he began working clubs. His break came through another N.Y.C.-based South American producer, Jaar, in 2012. He'd sent the producer a tape and, impressed, took Cruz on tour across the U.S. Upon return, he performed DJ sessions that melded his heady "Andean Step" with the lineage of traditional sounds of Colombian singers such Totó La Momposina and Petrona Martínez, using cumbia rhythms and instruments alongside the bevy of keys and drum machines. In 2013, he dropped the Noise Within Us EP, whose A-side was a collaboration with Fernanda K. In 2015 Cruz scored on the international club scene with the single "Colibria," that featured the vocals of then unknown Huaira Ukay. The album Prender el Alma followed in October on ZZK and garnered positive critical notice globally. Cruz went on a tear over the next three years, remixing more than 15 singles by other artists including Sabo, Xique-Xique, and Viken Arman. His full-length was so popular in EDM circles, ZZK issued a remix of the entire album that featured tracks by Umoja, Captain Planet, and Ninze & Thomash, to name a few. Over the next year, Cruz toured and issued a slew of singles and EPs, including the track "Tzantza" on the Cantos de Vision EP. Cruz teamed with Brazilian artist Renata Chebel to shoot a video that added a heavily psychedelic visual dimension to his hypnotic music. In May, the "Espiritu" single followed along with Puente Roto Remixed (along with the original cut, the recording included two remixes by Quantic).
In the summer of 2018, Cruz issued the Inversions EP, that contained the title cut, original versions, and remixed tracks from earlier recordings. In the fall of 2018, Cruz garnered a great deal of international press and chart attention for the pre-release singles "Sieta" and "Arka," the former for its use of sitar and balafon; the latter for its gorgeous palette of bansuri flutes and the sikú. The singles prepped fans for the release of his second full-length Sikú in January 2019. The set went beyond the use of Andean ancestral sounds: He experimented with samba rhythms on the track "Criançada," featuring Brazilian singer and poet Castello Branco. For "Esu Enia," he traveled to Africa with Marcio Pinto, a Portuguese musician he met in Lisbon, and on "Hacia Delante" worked with charting Spanish flamenco singer Chato. That same month, Cruz was named one of "10 Latin Artists to Watch in 2019" by Billboard. ~ Thom Jurek