In recent years Guatemala has been one of the fastest, if not the fastest, growing Central American countries. Significant strides have accompanied this growth; whether the improvements are economic, political, or social, the country has made significant strides in improving the lives of its citizens. However, this development has not benefited all Guatemalans equally. There is rapidly widening income inequality and continued government instability, both of which threaten to undermine progress made. Still, in the face of this ambiguous change, a decidedly positive aspect is a burgeoning art scene, which is producing talented and innovative artists—artists who are currently writing the next chapter in the rich history of Guatemalan art. The most exciting music is coming from the capital, where talented and brilliant musicians are collaborating and writing together. One such group of artists, who release music under the name Fraaek, are leading the pack by fusing meditative alternative rock with ambient electronic sounds and Latin rhythms.
History of the Band
The beginnings of Fraaek go back to 2010 when guitarist Fernando Franco met vocalist and cellist Mabe Fratti. Both were asked to be guest live musicians by mutual friends who were putting out a record. The pair say they hit it off immediately and knew they wanted to write and play music together, even though, as Fernando says, “We didn’t really have a plan and we didn’t really know each other back then!“ From there, the project grew organically, adding bassist and producer Yvan Joint (Nelson Moran), Fernando’s older brother Federico and drummer Luis Alvarez to the lineup. The band quickly booked a handful of gigs and recorded their debut six track EP entitled “Las Olas.” Since then, musicians who have been a part of or collaborated with the group include keyboardist/producer Alex Hentze, guitarist Andrés Duarte, producer Oktay Evin-Schneider, bassist and producer Patrick McGauran, Caribou live member Brad Weber, drummer Stephane Cuchet, and most recently guitarist and singer Franc Castillejos.
One of the most unique aspects of Fraaek is that the members self identify as a collective rather than a band. While not originally the plan, the members say this arrangement grew out of necessity because some members lived abroad or had other commitments but still wanted to make music together. Members of the group have at one point lived in places such as Argentina, Mexico, Florida, Seattle, and Manchester. While for some bands the strain of not constantly being in the same city, let alone country or hemisphere, would ultimately do them in, the members or Fraaek say it has actually been a positive. The flexible structure of members dropping in and out based on their availability and geographical location has not only allowed the band to survive, but to thrive as well. Fraaek says that for every new collaborative relationship their process for making music changes and the group’s overall sound evolves. New collaborators bring their own approaches to making music as well as their distinct influences.This frequent changing of members, they say, has allowed them to learn different methods of writing and producing music. After having worked with so many collaborators over the years, adaptability is the greatest skill Fraaek has developed.
Describing the sound of Fraaek is no easy task, even for the members themselves. Their best answer is that they are are a post-punk/post-rock band that incorporates electronic elements and Afro-Latinx rhythms. They consider bands that vary as broadly as Radiohead, Aphex Twin,Talking Heads, Interpol, Beach House, Björk, Foals, Arcade Fire, David Bowie, and Four Tet as influences. Playing recently at SXSW, they too were immersed in the sea of musical styles coming from Brazil to Colombia and from Mexico to Spain.
In addition to broad influences, many of the members work in different projects, mediums and genres. For example, Alex is a highly renowned DJ and producer who plays throughout Guatemala and has released an ambient album. Fernando scores films, in addition to acting in and producing them. Mabe is currently involved in more experimental styles of music. Franc is a producer and singer-songwriter who has played with and been a member of various bands over the past 10 years.
Music scene in Guatemala
The growth and evolution of Fraaek mirrors the rise of Guatemala’s music scene, which the group says has transformed and improved over the last 7 to 8 years. They still remember growing up in the late 1990s and early 2000s and the challenges that came with playing music during those years. “There were few venues and spaces to perform original music, most people were used to seeing cover bands. There were a few mainstream acts going around but that was pretty much it,” recalls Fernando. This is no longer the case though, as audiences are more open to new genres, sounds, and formats, which has led to vastly diversified listening habits in Guatemalan audiences. The growth of individual scenes for a breadth of genres such as hardcore, indie, electronica, latin, rock, hip hop, etc. has taken place. There are even several cases of cross-scene mutual respect and collaboration; an example given by Fraeek was that, “It’s common to see a hip hop artist writing music with a funk band.” Additionally, they added, Guatemala is not immune to the expansion of the music festival market. New ones are emerging every year, each with different approaches, ranging from mainstream (Empire Music Festival with headliners like DJ Snake and Wiz Khalifa) to more experimental and underground electronic music events (Semana de Música Avanzada) and everything in between. The members of Fraaek are optimistic about the development of their local scene and hope that it continues to grow and connect with other geographies.
As for what the collective have planned for the immediate future, it looks like it will be more of the same. They have just released their latest single entitled “Land’s End,” which they say is the result of exploring different sounds and structures, as well as being the first song with Franc Castillejos. There are also plans to hit the road on a Central American tour from May to June along with fellow Guatemala City-based band Filoxera. This tour is particularly exciting for the group as they want to develop a replicable touring model for indie bands within the region and are testing it out on themselves. Following the tour, members will go right into the studio for the second half of the year to start recording and producing Nocturno’s follow-up, which the group is hopping to release in early 2018.
“We didn’t have a specific agenda or genre in mind, so the music has always been a bit surprising.” The group says the flexible structure and the possibility to collaborate with so many people has welcomed many surprises over the years. While the current members of Fraaek admit the group has changed and has become something different than they had imagined, they are still looking forward to, and are excited for, the future and all that it holds.
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