Maria Usbeck, formerly lead singer of the great new wave band Selebrities, does something completely different on her first-ever solo single “Moai Y Yo”—and it’s not just swap out the old fuzzy guitars for soothing harp and quena flute. For the first time, she sings in her native Spanish.
“I’ve been in the States for 13 years, and after a while I began to think mostly in English,” the Ecuadorian-born New Yorker said over email, introducing her masterful new album, Amparo. “One day I was sitting on my couch with a friend and I realized I forgot the word for ‘lamp’—which is embarrassingly close, lampara—and I basically had an existential reckoning with myself. I began obsessively reading about endangered languages, cultures, music, and finding opportunities to practice my first language.”
On Amparo—and in the travels that followed her "reckoning," to Ecuador, Argentina, and Chile—Usbeck explored her familial tongue, and not just Spanish but also indigenous languages like Quichua, an Andean-Incan dialect that her father grew up speaking. “It feels more natural to sing in Spanish,” she said. “I can express nuances much easier, and tell a story in the tradition of a South American. We tend to narrate in very detailed and imaginative ways. You know, long lies! Joking!”
Listen to “Moai Y Yo,” which was inspired by her grandfather's stories of the statues at Easter Island (and interpolates bits of the Chilean island's Polynesian dialect, Rapa Nui), and pre-order the Amparo 12-inch before it comes out on May 27.