To understand what inspires New Mexico-born artist SWAYLÓ’s emotional, funky, and rhythmically dense house beats, look no further than his rich cultural background and the land he grew up in. His Swiss father and South African mother settled in Zuni, New Mexico. An area of New Mexico steeped in the history of the Zuni People, a Native American tribe that has lived there for over 7000 years. SWAYLÓ's music is layered with these divergent influences.
“My family was very global and kind of culturally diverse in a lot of ways. I'm a byproduct of kind of a few different cultures and races,“ he explains.
Growing up surrounded by Zuni culture also affected him. He tells Gray Area, “It was very inspiring hearing the tribal drumming of Zuni. And the drum beats and rattling. And those are absolutely fundamentally inspiring to me.”
His first introduction to writing music was through hip hop and trap beats. He progressed nicely but grew frustrated without the community he needed to pair his beats with rappers.
He moved to Austin to work as a talent buyer for C3 Presents, the event promotion company that produces Lollapalooza. As he dove deeper into the business side of the industry, his goals as a musician faltered.
After a difficult breakup, he went home to New Mexico and took part in a ceremony that involved (ahem) plant medicine. He had a vision that a Jaguar-like creature descended from the cosmos and told him to return to the thing that made him happy, music. The idea of SWAYLÓ was born from that experience.
He says that he tries to keep himself and his music connected to the idea of ritual. “I think everything I do, I try to hold some element of ritual.”
It’s his way of staying present even through the most mundane of tasks. It’s helped him open new pathways to connect to music. “I'd say that on a broad picture. music is fundamentally connected to this invisible world or spirited world. And I find so much connection in a heartbeat. Like, that's the root of music for me. It’s like this lifeline.”
Music is a spiritual practice for SWAYLÓ. It comes out in the vibrant sonic textures he paints with his music. His recent release “By My Side” swells with a bed of celestial synths into a tantalizing drop accented by tribal drums and a thick chunky bassline.
His songs are multi-dimensional and moody, he plays with light and dark and moves fluidly between connecting motifs. He sees music as a powerful transfer of energy. And the way he chooses to express that is intentional. “I think that music is the fastest way to drop into a spirited world or to connect back to source,” he explains.
It’s not just the cultural influences that have seeped their way into his music. There are more tangible snippets of his background you can hear. Several years ago, he traveled to South Africa to visit family. He also made his way north to Malawi to study music with the locals for a year.
He was blown away by the similarities between the drumming there and the music he grew up with from the Zuni People. “It was like, so mind blowing to see that symmetry or that parallel between those two worlds.”
He also made friends with a local man who took him in and taught him about native cooking, art, and carving. He made several drums by hand that he played in his first releases as SWAYLÓ.
The practice of coming together dance is something humans have done for tens of thousands of years. It’s a ritual baked into the fiber of our being and why clubs and raves produce such visceral feelings of joy. SWAYLÓ hopes that his music can open up pathways for people to connect with those feelings.
He wants people to, “Enjoy the dance floor,” he says. “The dance floor [is] this super powerful sacred container of diversity. Humans in a safe space. Humans coming together and blending together, merging, sweating. We're like, uniting in such an intimate and powerful way.”
He speaks with such a deep reverence for the power of music. So, I’m not surprised by his answer to the question, “What excites you about the future of dance music?”
He says, “I'm very excited by the power that music has to bring us together. And I think it's more powerful than ever.”
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