Colombia and music go hand in hand, like water and life. And just as Colombia is home to an abundance of natural biodiversity, it is home to an abundance of musical diversity as well. It’s no coincidence that the Salsa, the musical sauce of Colombia, was tossed together by artists from around the globe.

Recently a global collection of musical artists came together in the natural beauty of la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta to create a new sound – a new musical salsa – that would combine Latin jazz with the sounds and harmony of water and nature.

I found the Latin jazz ensemble, MARIAZÚ, led by Parisian singer turned Bogotá resident, Sarah Marechal, alongside the river with Grammy Award-winning music producer Christian Castagno, formerly of New York and now in his home and recording studio in the heart of la Sierra.*

MARIAZÚ is recording their new album, “Eau de vie – Agua Ardiente,” (Water of Life – Water On Fire) entirely outdoors, beside the river, with the sounds of the birds and the water, with classical acoustical instruments joined by indigenous flutes and natural percussion.

In addition to Sarah, MARIAZÚ includes another musician from France, Stephane Montigny on trombone. The rest of the musicians are from Bogotá, except for the double bass player, Aldo Zolev, who is from Pamplona, a small city close to the Venezuelan border. Alejandro Loaiza is playing the keyboards and the traditional gaita flute. Amaranta is on drums and percussion, and providing background vocals. Turu is also playing percussion and rapping. Luis da Bit plays guitar, flute, trumpet and tenor sax. Pedro Ojeda on drums is a special guest for this unique outdoor recording session.

Sarah herself was born in Paris. Both of her parents are French, although her mother was born in Morocco, from a Portuguese father and a Spanish mother. She lived in Paris most of her life, but began traveling the world at eighteen and never stopped – living and working in Morocco, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua, East Timor, Guinea and Palestine. Following a return to Paris for another four years, she made the decision to make her home in South America.

In 2006 she packed up all her stuff in France, left her apartment and her job and headed to Colombia. She was working as a journalist at that time and a documentary film project brought her to Bogotá once again.

“I found myself in La Candalaria, where I eventually decided to finally settle down. I thought, ‘I will never find another place where I can have the quality of life of a little village only four blocs from downtown.’ I fell in love with the colorful colonial architecture, with the social diversity and with the bohemian spirit of the neighborhood. I started looking for a home to buy, convinced that this part of the town will continue to grow in charm and in value. I also realized that Bogotá was rapidly becoming a major international center for culture and music. I began to feel that this was the perfect place for me to learn from musicians from around the world and to start a new career as a performing musical artist.

“MARIAZÚ was born at the beginning of 2009, with a sextet that included guitar, saxophone, electric bass, drums and electronic percussion. In September 2009, we performed at the Teatro Libre international jazz festival, one of the oldest and most prestigious jazz festivals in Latin America. After that, we returned to a more traditional acoustic sound, exchanging the electric bass for a double bass and dropping the electronic beat, reverting instead to traditional percussion. With our new sound we recorded our second album and our first music video, ‘On the Planet.'”

And what about the album you have just recorded in la Sierra – why record Latin jazz in the mountains, along the waters of the river?

“MARIAZÚ is the coming together of a French singer and an eclectic ensemble of Colombian artists who combine their many various traditions and musical roots – from Samba to French music, to Jazz peppered with Caribbean rhythms. The idea was to create a fusion of rhythm and consciousness that would invite us all to think about our responsibility to care for one another and care for the earth – to express that in music and also in the vitality of dance.

“While we were thinking of how to express these feelings in a jazz record, water slowly emerged as a main topic. I realized that most of my songs had to deal with water in some way. When I talked about it with Chris, he said he would love to do a record about water, a musical expression that matches exactly his personal spiritual reflection in this moment. We also thought that La Sierra was then the perfect place, as it is one of the most important natural reserves of fresh water in the country, one that’s under constant environmental threat. We also thought that the vision of the indigenous Kogi, of water as “the living thought,” captured the essence of what we wanted to create musically. And to top it off, Chris’s studio was located between two rivers, so we really wanted to record outdoors, to capture the sound of the waters, the birds, the insects – the rainforest.”

“Eau de Vie – Agua Ardiente” is, as Sarah describes it, “a manifestation of life, through the spirit, vitality, strength and wisdom of water. It sounds and feels like real life, like the living planet, la Madre Tierra, that we all have the duty to care for and enjoy. That’s why it’s music for both meditation and dance. Like the water, both are fundamental to life and to the harmony of the planet.”

*Chris Castagno was profiled in the November 2103 edition of The City Paper.

The just-released single from their new album Eau de ‘Vie – Agua Ardiente’ – ‘Sushi’