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Swiss artist mixes jazz
and yodeling in musical commentary

By Sigurd Neubauer


Depending on the state of the global COVID-19 pandemic, vocalist and song-writer Gabriela Martina – who mixes jazz and soul with traditional yodeling from her native Switzerland – plans to release two new albums in 2022.

“Fingers crossed, the idea is to release ‘HOMAGE TO GRÄMLIS” in March, which is a tribute to the family farm where I grew up in Switzerland,” says Gabriela Martina whose band carries her namesake.

The album was initially set to be released in Switzerland two years ago – in March 2020 – but once the pandemic erupted, all nine concerts had to be canceled and she lost the entire investment in its release. 

Her second album, “STATES,” which was produced during the height of the pandemic of 2020/21, will be released in the fall of this year.  Her first album, “No White Shoes,” was released in 2016.

Man & Culture has reviewed Gabriela Martina’s forthcoming albums, which will be available on vinyl – as well as digitally – once released.

Her Avant-garde style, which is displayed in both albums, comes out in “STATES” in particular where the “Alpha Bird” song stands out.  It starts out with Franz Schubert’s Erlkönig (Erlking) melody played on the piano, but the lyrics of  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s poem, is not recited in the song.

The poem, for those unfamiliar with it, is about a father holding his sick child as he rides through the night, but the poem ends with the son dead in his arms.  

Schubert’s Erlkönig is riveting.

The Erlkönig music is “meant to be stressful as it is full of nervous energy, says Gabriela Martina.  “The ground is shaking,” adding that it’s just about “madness, chaos, and tensions.”

But just like Ghoete’s poem – where there is ambiguity of what ultimately leads to the child’s death, Gabriela Martina’s music intentionally leaves room for ambiguity as well.  The “Alpha Bird” song, along with “Dreams,” are both based on the style of American poet Gertrude Stein.

“Dreams” touches upon the concept of the American Dream but it is left to the listener how he chooses to interpret it and whether it still exist, explains the song writer.

Artistically, the “HOMAGE TO GRÄMLIS” album stands out as a clear contrast to “STATES,” where yodeling is interwoven into many of the songs. This in itself is an intriguing contrast to her jazz and soul style music, but it also enriches her music with a unique and original style.

For those drawn to classic Swiss yodeling mixed with jazz, “D’Heimat Rüeft,” or “Home Calls” in Swiss-German, stands out as an elegant song with a catchy rhythm. The song also puts Gabriela Martina’s formidable vocal cords on display, who began performing yodeling on the family farm at the age of four.

In the song, “This Country that Country,” Gabriela Martina celebrates her personal journey from Switzerland to the United States, as well as her love for both countries. The contrast between rural and urban – as well as between jazz and yodel – are themes elegantly interwoven and contrasted throughout the song.

The “HOMAGE TO GRÄMLIS” is not only celebrating idyllic childhood memories from the family farm but all members of her family have songs dedicated to them.

The song “Mary” is about the Catholic Church and the religious belief system in Switzerland. “I grew up as a strong catholic, but I no longer practice,” says Gabriela Martina. “Mary,” for instance, begins with the sound of cow bells, a very Swiss theme. “The sound of cow bells is known in Switzerland as ’Trichle,’ which are used for the ‘Alpabzug’ when all the cows come down to the valleys after having grassed in the Alps for the entire summer,” she explains. This ritual, which is repeated every fall, is “really beautiful,” Gabriela Martina adds.

Her father, whose name is not identified in the song dedicated to him, is lauded for his hard work. “He belongs to a yodel club in Switzerland,” says Gabriela Martina who grew up in a musical home where yodeling was an integral part of family life, especially on Sundays when music was performed in the living room while the children were jumping on the coach.

At the age 16, she decided to pursue a career in music but ultimately chose to give up the violin as she had developed a passion for jazz.

“It wasn’t enough to only study jazz in Switzerland. I needed to move to the country where jazz as an artform had originated,” says Gabriela Martina. She pursued her musical studies first at the Berklee College of Music followed by a master’s in Jazz Performance at the New England Conservatory of Music.

Gabriela Martina draws her musical inspiration and song writing everyday life. Photo: Simon Heer, 2019

Following her studies in 2010, Gabriela Martina founded her band whose members have been with her for 11 years. “It’s like family,” she says.

Her dedication to jazz is clear from her two albums but admits that she decided to include yodeling in her music in 2016 when she started to get homesick and began missing her native Switzerland. At that time, “When I listened to yodeling, tears ran down my cheeks and it somehow touched me deeply inside,” she says.

Gabriela Martina draws her musical inspiration and song writing from life: from physical exercises (running, yoga and hiking) to cooking, reading and movies. But her artistry draws particular inspiration from conversations with friends and family, she reveals.

Gabriela Martina plans to release “The HOMAGE TO GRÄMLIS” album in Switzerland in March, where she has already lined up six concerts, but the state of the global pandemic casts a light of uncertainty over it, she says.

“If everything goes as planned,” she adds, “STATES” will be released in fall of 2022 – but in the United States.  For now, Gabriela Martina is looking forward to introducing her band to her native Switzerland.

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Gabriela Martina and her band members
Ben Ronsenblum
Jussi Reijonen
Kyle Miles
Maxim Lubarsky
Vancil Cooper
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