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From Bristol to Buenos Aires through Trip hop

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In late March Chloe Downes and Rebecca Blackburn heard trip hop musician and Buenos Aires native Ivana López talk about the surprising musical connection between Bristol and her native city.

Since it was born in and around the city in the early 1990s, trip hop has been one of Bristol’s most famous exports. Influenced by acid house, reggae, hip hop and electronic music, it is a mixture of distinctly Bristolian sounds. Local bands such as Portishead, Massive Attack and Tricky achieved the rare feat of pioneering a new genre of alternative, experimental music, a style that would spread and become popular throughout Europe and to the world beyond. What is more, trip hop has served as a potent influence on popular music since; not many people realise that trip hop-inspired songs feature on the albums of Madonna, Kylie and Janet Jackson, to name a few well-known stars.


At an event at Bristol University in March,  we encountered Ivana López, Argentinian composer and singer in the group La Casa Tomada.

López describes the diffusion of trip hop from Bristol to Argentina as a “journey from the centre of the earth to the end of the world”: from the musician’s perspective, England was a central point whilst her own nation was disconnected, too far away to share any particular feature with Bristol.

Native of Buenos Aires, Ivana says that there is, however, a connection between trip hop and the most famous musical style of her city—tango. The connection is found in the rhythm, but the two styles also use semi-tones in the same way creating a very similar sound. Tango’s origins are in the chamber music that was popular in Argentina during the 17th century. It is a style that constantly repeats musical samples which gives it a  nostalgic, puritanical sound. This element of nostalgia and repetition influenced tango, and is another link between tango and trip hop: they both share this characteristic with often longing, existential lyrics and an evocative sound.

According to Ivana, trip hop is not only a musical genre, but a way of communicating and transmitting universal messages about world problems. In their songs, Ivana takes influence from literature but primarily from graffiti, because it is at once multicultural and monolingual. The graffiti of Banksy, for example, is particularly recognised throughout the world. Although this recognition has been in part due to the hyper-commercialisation of the artists’s work, it is also due to the fact that the messages conveyed by the images can be translated into any language and throw light upon the injustices and controversial politics present in countless societies. For many, the street art made by Banksy, more specifically that much-reproduced image ‘the girl with the balloon’, conveys a universal message—one of lost innocence—that can be interpreted by anybody.

While the graffiti shines a light onto injustice, trip hop arguably brings an opportunity to escape it. The music, as a popular source of socialising, can unite many people across the globe. Today, the safe haven music offers the choice to be included by society, or simply to be part of a larger group.  And thanks to trip hop, another music style exists that helps us to escape from a world full of tragedy, even if only for a two or three minute song.

Read more about the international spread of trip hop and get some great album recommendations from Fact mag: http://www.factmag.com/2015/07/30/50-best-trip-hop-albums/

Header image Massive Attack circa 1991 waiting on a train at Temple Meads Station in Bristol. Credit Massiveattack.ie on Pintrest