Brisa Gonzalez was in her room at the Pocoapoco artists’ residency in Oaxaca when she heard a nearby serenade through the building’s old walls: a struggling tuba, a straining trombone, trumpets practicing their scales.
The charmingly disjointed music was coming from a kids’ orchestra camp. Gonzalez busted out her recorder and kept rolling as she moved into the next room, where Sávila bandmate Fabi Reyna was playing her guitar.
Those sounds were layered into the opening moments on “Nuestro Amor,” the second track on Sávila’s 2021 album, Mayahuel. Named for the Goddess of Agave, Mayahuel has beats and energy like a Latin Khruangbin album, wrapping your senses in its warm depths and grounding you in the music’s roots. Each song on the album, which sits somewhere between EP and LP in length, is a reflection of what the band experienced during their stay in Oaxaca.
Throughout the songs, you can hear the multicolored fabric of the landscape, from the sounds of the city to the rushing water and wildlife in the mountains to the pre-Hispanic percussive instruments of other musicians Sávila met along the way. Their surroundings helped inspire not only music, but the mini documentary Échale Sávila (which currently streams free on YouTube).
Created in collaboration with filmmaker Caitlin Díaz, the short film is a collage of stories shared by each bandmate’s mother: Brisa Gonzalez’s mother, Mercedes Gonzalez; Fabi Reyna’s mother, Martha Elena Reyna Villanueva; and Papi Fimbres’ mother, Berta Moreno Borja Fimbres.
“We all traveled to the Painted Hills to just be in a beautiful place of nature, which is something that is really inspiring to us in our work,” Brisa Gonzalez tells WW. “To share that with them, just to be out there collaborating with some other people that we really care for…that process is really, really beautiful.”
As director, Caitlin Díaz approached the project like an archivist, sharing a list of questions with each mother and child, then filming and seeing what would happen.
“We just invited everyone together to see what we could make,” Gonzalez says. “We were all surprised at what came out. To create memories of having [the mothers] singing together and watching this set together in the desert…that was really beautiful.”
The film weaves together the intersecting stories of each of these Mexican American women and their children. Each mother speaks of heartbreaking experiences and struggles, with the ultimate goal of creating more empathy and understanding beyond the Mexican American community.
In the film, Mercedes Gonzalez talks about her own mother: “By her actions and her words, it looks like she had grown up believing that being Mexican was not good. It was very painful to see her judging her own people. It took me lots of years to reclaim my own pride as a Mexican woman.”
Intergenerational storytelling projects like these help to create a vivid portrait of Mexican history—and collaboration is a huge part of how Sávila helps share these stories. The group invites dancers to perform at their shows and works with visual artists and set designers (and in some cases, caterers) to create a moving and connective experience for their audience.
Sávila plays at Polaris Hall on Aug. 19, along with dancers Muffie Delgado Connelly, Julissa DeJesus and Jakkii Vázquez. The trio has danced at other Sávila shows, in addition to appearing in the band’s short film Earth Without Borders, which was a collaboration with Portland Center Stage and features visually fantastic puppetry.
The band is hard to categorize, but to use their own words, Sávila is “music from our ancestors, made for the club.” It’s experimental Latin jazz and R&B; it’s psych rock; it’s cumbia; it’s music to feel to. And despite the disparate influences, all their performances have one thing in common: Each is like a celebration.
“The club is a place where people come together and they feel uplifted,” Gonzalez says. “We want it to be a positive thing.”