The LADAMA bio cuts right to the chase: A collective of four women from four countries across the Americas, the group harnesses the music of their unique cultures to spin out an alternative Latin sound that transcends boundaries and time zones. In advance of her stop in Boston this week with bandmates Mafer Bandola (Venezuela), Lara Klaus (Brazil), and Daniela Serna (Colombia), we spoke with LADAMA’s US-based member, Sara Lucas. Hailing from St. Louis, Lucas has traveled extensively while performing and engaging communities. The group focuses on outreach, holding workshops for musicians on the road. I asked Lucas, a guitarist and vocalist, about the band’s various influences and their mission to use music as a tool for change.
Where did the members of LADAMA meet?
We met at a residency called OneBeat in 2014. It’s a place where they incubate socially engaged projects and where you compose music with musicians from around the world. Mafer Bandola, who’s from Venezuela, had the idea of bringing us to her neighborhood in Barquisimeto to show the young women there an alternative to life besides motherhood. She wanted them to see strong, independent, professional women. That’s where the idea for LADAMA started.
How would you describe LADAMA’s sound, and why is it unique?
Our music is Latinx. We take the music that has informed us and is unique to us culturally—and of course, that’s different for each of us—and then we create a conversation with it musically, sonically as a band. It’s really interesting for us as artists, and it keeps us interested in continuing to do it. We’re always learning from each other, whether it’s another language—Maria didn’t speak English when we began, I didn’t speak Spanish—learning another musical language, learning new instruments, stories, and oral traditions, finding commonality in the roots that formed all of our music. Those roots are indigenous and African. Very similar in all of our countries considering the Western Hemisphere was conquered the same way everywhere.
We wouldn’t do it if we were bored, so it’s really interesting to be constantly working with people that you’re always learning from. All of us are always wanting to expand our idea of what music is, what conversation is, what communication is, what sound is. For us, it’s important to make music, but to use it as a tool to connect with people and communities, especially youth, with other women and especially nonmusicians to understand that they can use their bodies as instruments, that they can actually play music no matter what they’re using, who they are, or what their background is.
What does an American perspective bring to a group like LADAMA?
When you step back and you’re forced to define who you are as an American, you understand the depths of that pretty profoundly. I think a lot of Americans think, “Oh, we don’t have culture,” and that’s complete and utter bullshit. I grew up with a classic American background in music, which is to understand that traditions—especially the Southern traditions of music in this country—are based in the African-American experience. Gospel, blues, R&B, jazz, freedom songs, rock ’n’ roll—they all came from Africa but people made it here. It’s American, you know? We might take that for granted.
Take jazz, for instance. It is the language that we all learn to improvise with. That’s not something that everyone around the world just learns growing up. You might learn to improvise in a different way. America created jazz and so many other things that are incredibly profound. I feel lucky that I’ve had an education in that truth, and it really is our truth. I’m not saying I’m a master or anything, but these are the languages that I’ve learned and this is what I can bring to the band as an American.
What’s the creative process like in a collective?
For our first album we wrote, composed, arranged, and produced everything. In the beginning, we found a lot of commonality in listening to each other and all the different rhythms that defined the foundations of each of our music. So we used rhythm as a starting point in the beginning. Our first album was very much based on that intersection of understanding rhythm and rhythmic commonalities.
The second record, which we’re making right now—and which we have a Kickstarter for—is more based on conceptual themes about current events and what it means to be women artists in the industry and just our experiences together since we’ve started touring—where we’ve traveled and what that means, what’s universal and what’s not.
How does LADAMA engage with communities and other musicians?
Our first tour was all free workshops that we produced in partnerships with organizations in our respective communities. When we are on the road now we work with schools … to do workshops. We also do workshops at universities. … What we love to do is try to engage with the communities we’re playing in, wherever we go. And I think it works well because people want to feel joy, and I think joy is something that people feel when they play music.
We went to St. Louis and performed at Washington University and did two days of workshops within the school. We also went to my high school, University City High School, and spent all day working with the jazz band, the concert band, the drum lines, and the hip-hop production group. It was incredible. Historically, a lot of drum lines pass down the rhythms and the forms and compositions from students through generations. The teachers don’t necessarily do that, it’s something that’s passed down. It’s very big at my school, and they’re really badass. So we taught them maracatu, which is a Northeast Brazilian percussion style where this gigantic mass of people all plays together.
In a lot of ways, what we try to do with the workshops is to approach them like a sharing session almost. When we work with musicians, especially young musicians, we see it as a share and collaboration. They’re sharing something with us. They shared with us their incredible drum lines, and we learned them. Then we shared with them maracatu, and they learned that. We did the same thing in Cali, Colombia. We worked with the young musician[s] from La Escuela Canalón de Timbiquí. They are amazing musicians. We spent a day sharing our music. It’s not like we’re there to help them or anything like that, we’re there to highlight and use as a platform the young beautiful talent around the world that exists already.
What is LADAMA’s mission as a band?
We feel very lucky and fortunate to have the success we’ve had until now. We hope to use music to create sustainable lives for ourselves and others. We also want to promote other artists, expose and collaborate with other artists, especially women and non-binary musicians, and with youth. I personally believe in the power and beauty of youth, and I feel like people need to listen to them. I personally hope that LADAMA can help make that kind of communication happen. We hope to just continue working with folks globally and learning from them. We get so much from this, it’s a learning experience for us. It’s beautiful.
THE CELEBRITY SERIES OF BOSTON PRESENTS STAVE SESSION: LADAMA. THU 3.21. 160 MASS. AVE., BOSTON. FOR MORE INFO AND TICKETS VISIT CELEBRITYSERIES.ORG.