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Andean flutes with an electronic beat? Inside Nicola Cruz's electro-folkloric sounds

From computer-generated sounds to a recording inside a volcano's cave, the Ecuadorian artist creatively blends modern life with his South American roots.
Nicola Cruz
Nicola CruzHanna Quevedo

An album mixing Andean wind instruments, some played in a cave, with an electronic music beat?

Ecuador's Nicola Cruz, 31, is well-known in South America for his so-called “Andes step” style, combining elements of electronic music and folkloric, ancestral Latin American rhythms and instruments.

“People, instruments, ideas can be different but complementary, not rivals,” Cruz told NBC News ahead of his U.S. tour, which starts May 9 in Miami. “Because I work with organic and synthetic worlds, it makes sense.”

In this latest album “Siku” — named after a wind instrument considered to be highly symbolic in ancestral Andean rituals — Cruz successfully juxtaposes the seemingly colliding words in a way that is difficult to put into words.

”I want my music to speak for me," Cruz said. “That is why I love to make sound as expressive as possible.”

The album starts with “Arka,” a song that was recorded inside the caves from the Ilaló volcano in Ecuador, expressing a level of mysticism that pays tribute to indigenous Andean rituals.

“When I set my mind on something, in the end, I kind of make it work," Cruz said about recording “Arka” inside the cave in collaboration with Esteban Valdivia, a performer and expert on the world's ethnic flutes and the study of pre-Colombian aerophones. “I love pushing the limits and not keeping it conventional, so I find myself trying new spaces and different acoustics.”

Cruz’s music is known for giving a new sense of relevance to ancient and ritualistic rhythms while respecting their sources of origin. At the same time, he organically incorporates digitally generated sounds and other contemporary inspirations to create music that defies our concepts of time and space. And “Siku” is no exception.

“Electronic music is the contemporary expression and it creates a bridge,” Cruz said about the genre’s ability to make other types of music “more accessible” to global audiences. “Music has a very magical thing because it truly is a universal language.”

The 11-track album does not only give listeners a chance to travel through time and space, but it also takes people around the world through sound.

Cruz has traveled across continents since the release of his 2015 debut album “Prender El Alma," ("Turning on the Soul") which has surpassed 35 million streams. Since then, he has toured different countries including Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan and the United Arab Emirates.

From his travels, Cruz "felt quite natural integrating" some instruments that are reminiscent of the places he toured in his newest album. Among these are the sitar, the bansuri flute, the African balafon, and others; he then combined them with hints of electronica and subtle Latin American rhythms such as samba and cumbia.

“These are new times for me,” Cruz said. “And ‘Siku’ represents that evolution since ‘Prender El Alma.’”

After Cruz wraps up his U.S. tour May 18 in Los Angeles, the artist will be performing around Europe during the summer.