Sometimes, particularly these days, those in search of grace find they must create it themselves. In the Callao district of Lima, Peru, for instance, crowds of outcasts including transgender individuals and people surviving homelessness and poverty gather to worship a DIY saint at a concrete-block shrine. Sarita Colonia was a devout domestic in the 1930s who cared tirelessly for her troubled family and then died at 26, her body tossed in an anonymous mass grave. Since then, Colonia has become a cult figure for people in Lima who deserve the mercy their Catholic church denies them, just as it denies Colonia a sanctioned sainthood. Miracles persist: A drag queen told the L.A. Times that Colonia saved him from murderous homophobes, bending the bullets around him Matrix-style. Over the decades, the shrine has become a party, a kind of rave for the faithful who can’t get past the Catholic church’s velvet ropes.
Colonia has appeared on the cover of each release by Lima-born, Berlin-based Sofia Kourtesis; her visage hovers in the clouds or emerges through thick coats of paint on the producer’s two excellent 2019 EPs for Stockholm’s reliable bliss experts Studio Barnhus, as if 12" sleeves could be Shrouds of Turin for a new kind of savior. Kourtesis titled the first one after herself and the second for the should-be-saint. She’s there on the cover of Kourtesis’s new EP, whose design by Sofia Lucarelli joins illustrations of plants and photos of the Callao cemetery as if to emphasize the nature of life and death. The music within throws its hands in the air as prayers to house deities like Moodymann, whose powers of anticipation and release are echoed in Kourtesis’ extended sighs; DJ Koze, the Loki of post-Balearic tricky disco, whose style is here rendered a bit more low-key and beatific; and fellow bell-ringer evangelicals Pantha du Prince and Four Tet, schooled in the holy trinity of crown, sound bow, and clapper. But Kourtesis has a sound of her own: unfailingly warm, thoughtful in form, risking a certain conservatism for the sake of welcome comfort. Like the shrines to Colonia, Kourtesis’ beats reward belief.
“Fresia Magdalena” expands the pantheon of those Kourtesis finds venerable, including her mother, Fresia, and the people of Magdalena del Mar, the district of Lima where, as a teenager, she surfed the waves and got banished from convent school. Opener “La Perla” puts its faith in ripples of synths and briny percussion, breaking around foamy bits of field recordings and her own vocals; it’s an aching tribute to afternoons spent staring at the sea and trying to make peace with her father’s death. His voice intermingles with samples of disco diva riffing and other, younger voices on “Nicolas,” which takes the pleasure principles of French-touch house à la Roulé and builds a casa de playa beneath an ocean of stars. “By Your Side” is a bit more ooh-la-la, decked out in samples of snazzy horn sections and someone tickling ivories that will tickle the fancy of party people whenever the parties resume.
“Juntos” swings like prime-era Herbert, but its vibe is more morning-after than afterparty, closer to her current Berlin than the Peru of her past. A melancholy violin cuts through the gloom, a crisp beat fidgets, a bit of melody jumps an octave, variously an earworm and alarm. The track embodies doubt but won’t mope; it peers into the vastness of what’s just below sadness and turns away, both clear-eyed and teary. And then arrives “Dakotas,” shimmering and dawn-y, tranced like Octo Octa and Eris Drew have been lately but with shakers and open hi-hats serving as the Amen. Pads, deep and wide in the mix, offer softness. Voices form choruses; some say “hi.” (Or, ahem, “high.”) It’s a modest kind of heartfelt anthem. If you need it, it’s a miracle.
Buy: Rough Trade
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