Berlin-based DJ Sofia Kourtesis has spent almost a decade releasing EPs of funky bricolage, building eclectic scenes out of stylish samples and high-octane beats for worldly dance floors. Her full-length debut, Madres, is a little different. Dedicated in part to existentially important figures in her life–her mother, as the title suggests, as well as neurosurgeon Peter Vajkoczy, who helped save Kourtesis’s mother’s life during a battle with cancer–Madres glows, the edges and kicks that are so prominent in Kourtesis’ catalog to date fitting more tightly amid blissful electronic grooves. It’s an unexpected turn toward pathos and warmth, a move that serves her well. Madres is Sofia Kourtesis elevated, a contemporary work of EDM powerful on sonic and emotional levels alike.
The sun shines in from the very start. “Madres” calls for a maternal community inclusive of all identities, building a sense of home for all those who need it (“Ven, niño que estas ahí / Vuelve a casa, vuelve a caso”). The healing power of solidarity continues to flow through the album. “How Music Makes You Feel Better” pours radiant vocals and synths over ecstatic house beats to offer an uplifting philosophy for the dance floor, coming together as one of the record’s most uplifting cuts by virtue of melody, rhythm, and lyrics in inspired combination. Guest Manu Chao brings his signature calm to the twinkling ostinati of “Estación Esperanza”, making it another especially cosmic moment of serenity.
Among the more clearly luminous moments are many other moods. Sensual “Si Te Portas Bonito” smolders; it’s an easy, lusty track for hot club nights. More melancholy moments, like “Vajkoczy” and “Moving Houses”, add different kinds of tension to the mix. The latter, in particular, sees Kourtesis going slowly, distorting her voice so that it melts into abstract electronic backing sounds. “Habla Con Ella” merges lounge vibes, gospel lines, and snippets of loaded conversations (“She can’t be doing this all the time / She needs somebody, guys, once again / Say no to negative comments”) into a profound if nebulous statement about womanhood.
She touches on social issues further in tracks that pay tribute to other artists from her home country of Peru and throughout broader ideas of Latin America. “Funkhaus” invokes Afro-Peruvian cultural activist and performer, Amador Ballumbrosio Mosquera. The closer, “El Carmen”, named after the Peruvian district in which Ballumbrosio was born, samples Afro-Peruvian electro-folk group Novalima and longtime Colombian cumbia group Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto, whose work promotes Indigenous and Afro-Colombian styles. In highlighting these specific figures, Kourtesis sounds her stance against systems of supremacy and the violence of erasing such sounds.
Madres illuminates issues close to Sofia Kourtesis’ heart with tremendous empathy, grace, and skill. It is a clear culmination of everything she has released thus far and yet sees her continue to rise. Kourtesis pieces together all the samples, sounds, and roots she has brought us before in a tighter and more incandescent package than past EPs. Certainly, it’s a debut worth the wait.