Let's talk Latin America

Masilva the Borrower

Written by
Posted on

Bristolatino Music editor, Rebecca Wilson, meets up with Camilo Martínez Silva (Masilva), in Bogotá, to discuss borrowing musical influences from Colombia’s distinct regions and how electronic music became a part of his repertoire.

Masilva, a “sound thief” from Colombia, a country he dubs a “musical millionaire”, has travelled cross-country, learning and borrowing rhythms and skills and collaborating with musicians from all corners of the world. He can’t really be put under any genre, “No soy músico puro de nada”, Camilo Martínez Silva told me. Throughout our conversation, Camilo gradually took me through some of his vinyl collection, which included Puccini, Fela Kuti and Andrés Landero, amongst a wealth indigenous and Tropical Colombian music. He spoke of Ecuadorian Cumbia, Afro-Peruvian sounds, Llanero music and Marimba. He is drawn to areas of geographical mezistaje, such as Caquetá, the Colombian region where the cordillera meets the Amazonas, or areas surrounding the capital, where the Andes meet the Tropics. He gives off a similar air; born in Cali and moving to the states at a young age, before moving to Bogotá where he really grew up; Camilo has learnt software and beatmaking in London, where he worked in a small studio; has watched the art of mixing whilst working with Mad Professor in Peru (!); and recorded his own works in Madrid with a troupe of Senegalese, Cuban, Brazilian and Gitano musicians on his first album. Camilo Martínez was not born into a musical family, has not grown up perfecting one musical tradition. He doesn’t care for love songs-“they all say the same thing”- and he values his musical and professional independence, as “the greatest treasure is to do what you really want”. He calls himself a borrower of influences, “which is what making art is.”, and is the only constant of Masilva.


A resumé of the MASILVA story.

Camilo spent a short period of time living in Brockley, South London, and working in a small private studio in Notting Hill. Here he learnt that many in the music business are complete wankers, how to work production software, and that people in England didn’t actually listen to Rock music. Instead, he heard Garage, Dubstep and Drum & Bass, he began listening to Massive Attack, Portishead, Aphex Twin and Squarepusher, and worked as a barman, a waiter, a packer and packager and a videogame tester.

Whilst living in Spain, Camilo played in a few bands, mixing ska, salsa and tropical sounds. Camilo wrote a set of his own songs over a period of about a year, which he then recorded in a small homemade studio in a friend from Sao Paolo’s home. The recordings pulled together a range of musicians for its different layers. The bass and drums, as on his second album, are technologically produced, and tracks feature musicians from Senegal, Colombia, Spain, and Cuba. This would go on to become Masilva’s first disc, titled ‘Criollo businessman’.

Having fallen in love with a Peruvian in Spain, they moved together back to her home country, where Camilo gigged the album with all different musicians. The songs featured new instruments, different voices, live drums and bass; they changed with each reproduction, adding another level to his fusion of sounds. It was here in Peru that Masilva’s second album, ‘Condor’, was recorded. The renowned Dub producer and engineer, ‘Mad Professor’ remixed some of the songs from ‘Condor’, after Camilo worked logistically with the Professor during his time in Peru.

Masilva’s most recent disc, released July this year, was recorded in Colombia. The drums are live-recorded on the album, and the electronic element does not form the rhythmic base of the tracks, instead acting as a “colour” to the album.


Past and future collaborations

Camilo gets tired of hearing his own voice in his songs and enjoys collaboration. “I love the contrast between a male and a female voice”, he told me. Being so connected by the internet today, Silva has had the opportunity to collaborate with people “on the other side of the world”. For example, a Belgian Hip Hop musician, some Mexican artists, a German songwriter. He enjoys this kind of work, naturally as a mixer of people, places and sounds. “I’m a songwriter. I take sounds and mix them together in my own way. It’s a different path.”, he told me.

Who would he like to collaborate with in the future? Tom Zé, the experimental Brazilian musician, “who must now be about 70.” Camilo swiftly got up to show me his record, and we began to listen to the strange, wonderful album, with each song taking a different path to the one previous.

Camilo recently collaborated with the first champion of psychedelic music in Colombia, guitarist, Abelardo Carbonó. The song, ‘Aberlardo’, written by Camilo as a homage to the legendary musical hero, is included on the current album, ‘Juglaría Gallinaza’, also featuring Peruvian Huayno and Colombian Champeta influences.


Masilva’s aesthetic

Masilva videos have typically been ‘homemade’ and low-fi, as “Masilva is [essentially] an artisanal proyect”. Often videos have been the idea of a friend, or proposition of an artist. The first, ‘Criollo businessman’, was filmed in Peru, using a faulty film camera. The director has gone on to produce videos for Dengue Dengue Dengue! and Kanaku y el Tigre.


The ‘Sigue caminando’ video has a really fun element of acting to it. It was filmed in a market, “the perfect place to make a music video”, in Peru, and features a “chica ‘común y corriente’” as its protagonist: your average girl, not a supermodel posing as your average girl. It’s full of colour and has everyone in and around the market dancing. Although the graphics have a documentary feel, the acting allows it to feel like a special performance.

When I saw Masilva perform at a Sofar Sounds gig in Bogotá, he was wearing a traditional sombrero guajiro (traditional hat from the Caribbean La Guajira region, bordering Venezuela), a pink shirt, red trousers and cowboy boots, with a tasseled belt and beaded necklace. I asked him what importance he gives to costume. “When Masilva began I didn’t dress this way, but if you think about the role of a musician in primitive society, or a dancer or actor, there’s a way of dressing for performance so that people feel the magic. I’ve been to a few medicinal ceremonies over the past few years. Music is a ritual too. To interpret and respect music you have to dress yourself specially.”

On a side note, Camilo, in the comfort of his home wears jeans, with a traditional ruana (poncho), and Nike slides – perhaps indicative of his ‘borrower’ personality.

Camilo doesn’t want to have his face feature in every music video, like a regular star, following the same consistent rubric. The most recent video for ‘Como el Ojo’ (“opinions are like arseholes// we all have one”), was filmed by a fashion photographer. “He has such a good eye and knows exactly how to work the light…and how to help a dancer wearing little clothing feel comfortable in front of a camera”. In the studio they played a range of music for Camilo’s friend (whom he lived with in London whilst she atended dance school) to dance to, including classical music and the same Andrés Landero disc we listened to, alongside the track itself. The video was filmed using few resources and the dance was improvised, giving a unique performance.

Current Work

Alongside working with ‘Sinfonía trópico’, an environmental music Project in Caquetá, which brings together musicians and environmentalists from Germany and Colombia, Camilo is learning to play the cuatro llanero a small, four-stringed Spanish guitar from the llano region of Eastern Colombia (he also plays guitar and sometimes the cajón). Camilo teaches music and holds workshops in junior schools in Bogotá.

After playing a recent concert in Cali, Camilo is looking forward to travelling around the south of Colombia in the coming months. Let’s see what he brings back with him.