Para leer la versión en Español de este artículo, hacé clic acá.
Mariana Michi grew up in Saavedra, a relatively quiet neighborhood on the north side of Buenos Aires city, past where the subway line ends, just within the city limits of what we call “Capital.” It’s one of about 50 neighborhoods that make up the capital city, and also happens to be the one in which I currently live.
What separates Buenos Aires city from Buenos Aires province, at least on the east and north sides of the city, is General Paz, a 10-lane freeway that partially encircles the city, from Villa Riachuelo in the south to Nuñez and Saavedra in the north. It’s one of the few motorways in Argentina that is toll-free, and it’s named after José Maria Paz, an Argentine Civil War hero whose last name just happens to be “peace.”
And it was this freeway that entered into Michi’s “red de pensamientos” (web of thoughts) during a meditation a few months ago, paving the way for the idea that will see its fruition this 17th of September as La Paz Obligada: part virtual concert; part collaborative, cinematic work of art.
As a young girl, General Paz represented for Michi the boundary between the known and the unknown; between where she was allowed to roam, and where was off limits. On the other side of the highway was another world, shrouded in mystery, and General Paz its implacable gatekeeper.
But now, she crosses it all the time, without even thinking. (“Now” referring to a pre-quarantine present; since March police controls have been installed at points of transit between Capital and Provincia, and you must have a permit to enter or exit the city.) With the passing of years, and the crossing over into adulthood, General Paz lost a lot of its mystique. But it retains its symbolism, and reminds her, among other things, of how much our perception of limits can change over time.
“We all have those kinds of things that we remember from when we were kids,” says Michi, and I think of the stop sign at the end of the cul-de-sac in the suburbs of Charlotte, North Carolina, where I grew up. It seems like a world away.
From thinking about La General Paz, her thoughts then trailed toward thinking about La Paz General (with the change in word order, instead of a highway named after a general whose name is peace, we are now talking about the concept of peace, in general: general peace). And from there, arrived at La Paz Obligada (obligatory peace).
When the Argentine Government announced the start of mandatory quarantine on March 20th, Buenos Aires came to a full stop. That night, la General Paz and la Paz General became one. You could have walked straight across the ten lanes without so much as looking both ways.
For Michi, quarantine brought a welcome change of pace. She remembers feeling an almost eerie sense of peace descend upon her during those first few weeks. Since April of 2018, the month which marked the release of her debut solo album, Cayó el valiente, her life had become a whirlwind of live shows. In 2019 that same album earned her recognition as winner of La Bienal, and in addition to the commotion surrounding her emerging success as a solo artist, she was kept busy by her participation in several other projects which were also generating buzz in the local scene and abroad that year. The jazz vocal group Miau Trio released a single in July; Mugre, the punk-rock supergroup with Sofía Naara Malagrino and Jazmín Esquivel, released their debut album in August (it made our list of best albums of 2019); and Ocho, the experimental group project directed by Juan Belvis, released their sophomore album also in August of ’19.
But in March, a (momentary) hush fell over everything. In a sense, La Paz Obligada can be interpreted as a reference to the quarantine itself, which obliged us all, nos guste o no, to take a time out. But Michi stresses the importance of understanding La Paz Obligada as a multiplicitous concept: just as it can be interpreted as a reference to the quarantine, it can just as easily be interpreted in any infinite number of other ways and at the same time evade all interpretation. That’s how great art and imaginations work, right? As Michi said, “I don’t see anything in black and white.”
With live shows now off the table, Michi (along with all our other peers in the local music scene) was faced with the question: “What now?” She started listening over and over to the songs from the sets she had been playing in the months leading up to the quarantine — a mix of songs from Cayó el valiente and songs from her yet-to-be-released sophomore solo album, which she says is in the final stages of production. (Unlike her first album, which was worked on by various other producers in addition to herself — including Lucy Patané, Nahuel Briones, and Juan Valente — this next one she’s produced almost all on her own, only outsourcing specific tasks here and there.) And that’s when the idea of La Paz Obligada, the production, started taking shape.
She started thinking about what she could do, how she could weave the production together, who she wanted to collaborate with. She didn’t have a concrete plan when she started the process, but piece by piece, it began to fall together. She started reaching out to musicians she wanted to feature, and was ecstatic upon receiving positive responses from well-respected artists who she deeply admires and has been influenced by — including the likes of Julieta Venegas and Loli Molina.
So, what do we know about La Paz Obligada, the virtual event that will air this September 17th? Michi was careful to not drop any spoilers in our interview. We know it’s musical, and we know it’s cinematic. We know that Michi is the protagonist, and we know it involves, in addition to the artists I mentioned above, participation by Juana Aguirre (AKA Churupaca), Rocío Alí (bassist for Marilina Bertoldi), Carola Zaleschi (whose debut solo album was featured in our list of favorite local releases of 2019), Lionel Padrevecchi (pianist), Sofía Malagrino (of Mugre and Ohdiosa, also featured on the album and drummer of the band that presented Cayó el valiente), Chipi (electric guitarist of Michi’s band), Iván Llave (bass and synth in the band), and Tomás Villarrazo (synth). We know it was filmed in part at Niceto Club. And we know it’s high-fidelity (shot in 4K). And tickets are on sale now, ranging in price from a minumum of 270 pesos to a maximum optional contribution of 1,500 pesos.
It’s peace. It’s obligatory. No nos queda otra.
I met with Mariana via videochat last Friday. I’d spent an excessive portion of the week leading up to our interview getting high and listening to Cayó el valiente on repeat. I listened to Miau Trio a bit, I listened to Ocho a bit, (I didn’t listen to Mugre ‘cause I’d already listened to Gracias por cuidar el equipo about a gazillion times), but mostly I listened to Cayó el valiente. I flashed over how much the guitar on “Marino” reminded me of Loli Molina’s playing (and then had an a-ha moment upon realizing that it was actually Loli playing on that song).
I looked over the other names in the credits, I wondered about the relationships between the artists involved. I thought about the lyrics and the relationships between the songs. I envisioned scenarios, and wondered about the emotional catalysts behind the songs. I felt myself absorbed into the mind of the songwriter, and saw many of my own thoughts and feelings reflected there. At one point I even picked up the guitar and started plucking out a version of “No Somos Reyes“.
Cayó el valiente is an aqueous album. In a sense, the piscean artist’s uncontainable response to her own thirst. It’s shadow and heat, rain, tears, and thunder. It’s vulnerable, sensual, painful, and heart-wrenchingly beautiful. That the author had experienced a separation, the dissolution of a romantic partnership, was obvious to me. But the story told is not bound to that materialistic sense of separation, the kind that just happens between two people. It speaks not of the wounded ego or the troubled mind in a vacuum, but rather as part of an ecosystem of existence and emotion, in which the sky reflects the stormclouds of the heart, tears and rain follow the same patterns falling to the ground as a river yearning for the sea, as ice cream shared with a lover on a hot day, as a human grieving and processing the past in the context of a new identity.
It occurred to me to start our interview by pulling a tarot card. For me, La Paz Obligada felt like something very reminiscent of esoteric thought, so the cards seemed like an appropriate frame from which to start our conversation. I shuffled my deck and awkwardly explained that the card pulled could represent anything related to this moment: the interview itself, the relationship between her and I; La Paz Obligada, and this moment in her music career; this moment in her life in general, or my life, or my music career, or this moment for La La Lista, or for the Argentinian independent music scene, or of course, the world in general.
We pulled the Tower. It’s a mysterious card. It implies a forced liberation. Una liberación obligada. It implies a break from patterns we’ve become accustomed to; a forcible and violent destruction of boundaries and limits. It implies leaving behind a construct that once housed us, and starting anew, without walls, outside of the borders we once knew.
We talked about the paradoxical nature of La Paz Obligada. Through the screen, I could feel Michi’s passion for the concept, and it was contagious. When artists get going on a creative concept, we start to see everything through the lens of that concept, we apply everything to that idea — and it was clear that Michi had been very much en esa. She expressed a sort of a epiphany, a “this is it” moment, realizing how everything could be stunningly encapsulated in that phrase. La Paz. Obligada. LA PAZ OBLIGADA. Like a mantra, a religion, a cosmology, a god, a breath, a way of life, the title of a chapter, a new world. I’ve been converted. La Paz Obligada.
She talked to me about Bardo, a buddhist concept that refers to the in-between. The moments between death and reincarnation. An intermediate, transitory state, like a limbo or purgatory. We like to think of purgatory as being ridden with anxiety and fear, but what if it weren’t? Instead, a time to reflect. The mutating formless creature in its chrysalis. The calm in the eye of the storm? La Paz Obligada. I told her about A Course in Miracles.
I ended the interview by asking Mariana what words of wisdom, advice, or encouragement she had to offer to someone who sees her as a role model. (“You know…someone like, uh, me,” I said sheepishly.) “First of all,” she said, “Don’t try to impress anyone. Just don’t do it; it’s not worth it.” She emphasized the importance of fears. “You’ve got to face them, there’s no getting around it.” And she insisted that “you don’t need anything to make music.” No fancy musical instruments or studio equipment, no degree from a conservatory — just your ideas, your heart, and your body, are enough. Musically, work on your strengths, first, she said. Recognize what you’re good at and focus on leveling up in that. Then, after you’ve done that, work on all the things you’re not good at. Her points of advice struck me as astute. I took them to heart immediately, and have continued to mull them over in my head since we finished speaking.
We talked for a little less than an hour. When we ended the call, I had several clear tasks ahead of me: listen back over our interview and transcribe it, then translate it into English, format it into WordPress, sprinkle in some links and embedded content, and voila: my interview with Mariana Michi about La Paz Obligada! But, the universe had other plans.
Technology always seems to fail us at the most (in)opportune moments. My screen recording saved, but the audio was missing. I felt my heart drop and my face burn red as I watched Mariana’s mouth moving soundlessly, tapping futilely on the speaker icon over and over again, trying to will the audio to just…come back! While willing my mind not to get stuck looping on the old favorite: “how could you be so stupid!?” I franticaIly searched for solutions on the internet, to no avail. I wrote down everything I could remember from the conversation we had just had. I closed my eyes, put my hand on my heart, and reminded myself that la paz es obligada. I decided I had to take a nap, to calm down. Maybe the solution would come to me in my dreams.
I woke up to a text from a friend: feliz día! hoy es tu día, sabías? (happy day! today is your day, did you know?) And a link to this Wikipedia article. I smiled. I thought about borders, boundaries, and limits. La General Paz, la paz general — the Tower. (The fucking Tower, che!) And La Paz Obligada. It all made sense and I knew what I had to do. So I began constructing a narrative. And that narrative ends here. Ahre. It actually begins here. (You are obligated to click.)