At the age of 26, Barcelona singer/bassist Magali Datzira has matured into a one-woman creativity factory — as a vocalist, musician, composer, album producer, video producer…and leave space for whatever else might be added to the list in the future. While it can be said that each of us is unique in our own way, perhaps some of us are just a little more unique than others. If you go along with that idea, then we can say Magali exhibits her uniqueness with virtually every musical project she pursues.
After making a name for herself at a young age in Europe’s jazz circles with the famed Sant Andreu Jazz Band, she began her solo musical journey upon leaving the project in 2016, when she was not yet 20 years old. And now she is excited to release her first solo album, Des de la Cuina (“From the Kitchen”) on the Bankrobber label. We’ll explore that momentarily. First, though, let’s begin at the beginning of her life in music…
For our delightful video chat, she was cheerful and relaxed as she spoke from her home studio about when and how her involvement with music began to take shape.
“I was 7 when I started to play double bass. My brother Iscle [a saxophonist] is two years older than me, and he started to play before I did. I wanted to do that, too. My parents aren’t musicians, but they love music and listen to music, and I come from kind of a musical family. And my aunt is a musician.
“I wanted to play the flute in the public school of music of the Sant Andreu neighborhood [Escola Municipal de Musica de Sant Andreu]. Every year there are just a few openings, but I got in because my brother was in, and that makes it more easy. But there was only a place open for double bass, and I think I didn’t know what it was.”
She recalls there may have been just a couple of openings for other instruments, but she “randomly” chose double bass — an unusual instrument for a little girl. “I was too young to not like it, just because…but after the first classes I told my mom that my fingers hurt!”
One of the teachers at the school was Joan Chamorro, who had the idea to teach classic jazz at the school that focused primarily on classical music education. “Joan Chamorro was the saxophone teacher, and jazz musician. The other teachers were like classical musicians. My teacher was also a jazz musician.
“In the beginning, the band didn’t have the name Sant Andreu Jazz Band, it was more like an ensemble, playing Dixieland. Iscle was in, Andrea, Eva, Raul Castro was playing the tuba….When I joined — and Carla joined, because there was no guitar — we started to play more arrangements like Count Basie, Duke Ellington, big band arrangements. More people joined, and at some point it became the Sant Andreu Jazz Band.”
Once the SAJB grew into a big band, Iscle continued in the sax section through 2013 — while Magali’s proficiency on bass, and her charisma as a vocalist, continued to captivate SAJB fans. She says she enjoyed learning the styles of traditional jazz and American standards.
“I enjoyed it a lot. If not, I wouldn’t have lasted so long. But I was young. I don’t remember listening to jazz at home, I was more into Rhianna, Beyonce…but I listened when the teachers said, ‘play this’ — okay, we have to listen to it and play it. And I enjoyed playing with the big band a lot. Playing with the big band is amazing.”
Her easily identifiable voice and phrasing began to bring much attention to her as a singer:
Throughout 2011 and 2012, filmmaker Ramon Tort became a presence at SAJB rehearsals and performances, as he filmed footage for what would become his award-winning documentary A Film About Kids and Music.
“I don’t know how long Ramon was filming us — maybe a year, a lot of times! In the first weeks and months, it was like, ‘there’s a camera there, and there’s a camera there…but at the end, it was normal. You get used to it. We humans get used to everything!”
One scene gives viewers a peek at a singing lesson with Magali, Eva Fernandez, and Andrea Motis learning the ditty “Please Don’t Talk About Me,” under the guidance of Monste Jorba. But Magali seems a bit out-of-sorts as the discussion turns to the meaning and proper interpretation of the song.
She explains, “Ten years ago, I was 15–16, and I was not a very easy adolescent teenager. And in that lesson I was angry because what they were saying to me made no sense to me…but I don’t even know if I was upset about other things that were happening in my life. I was just a teenager.”
She adds, “I enjoyed learning those songs and singing them. It was amazing to sing with friends, with more than one voice, to harmonize. I love it.”
By 2014, Chamorro knew he had a talented and appealing lineup of vocalists who, together, would do justice to the songs made famous by the legendary American jazz singers. He had begun producing his series of Joan Chamorro presenta releases, each featuring an individual SAJB performer, beginning with Andrea, Eva, and Magali.
Chamorro also produced the album La Magia de la Veu (The Magic of the Voice), adding SAJB newcomer and trombone prodigy Rita Payés to the singing group.
As Magali recalls, “In the beginning it was Andrea, Eva and I for La Magia de la Veu, then I think Rita was in the SAJB already, but she was young. At some point Joan thought it’s going to be nice if Rita to also joins this group, where everyone paid tribute to the great singers — Andrea was playing tribute to Sarah Vaughn, Eva to Dinah Washington, Rita to Ella Fitzgerald, and I to Billie Holiday.”
Was Rita, who was only 15 at the time, welcomed by the others?
“Yes, sure. We didn’t have any [problem]. It’s always been a group thing, every Sant Andreu Jazz Band project is like, the more the better.”
As Chamorro wrote at the time, “It is my wish, for those who didn’t know the vocal jazz, that through this work and these young voices they become curious about and begin a journey of discovery of what may be a source of immense pleasure: Billie, Ella, Dinah, Sarah and other many voices, male and female, are waiting for them.”
Indeed, the young quartet succeeded in not only by expressing their respect for those legends throughout the album, but by introducing their own, personal sounds and voices together to the world. What is all the more remarkable is that, at the time of La Magia de la Veu, Eva, the eldest, was only 20, yet all of the girls’ understanding and feeling for jazz singing and musicianship was clearly evident.
Speaking of Billie Holiday, Magali’s renditions of the Holiday songs on the album, as sung with her own singing style and tone, still draw considerable acclaim from listeners — which is quite a compliment indeed, but she feels far removed from that scene today.
“Nowadays, I’m so out of that — I don’t sound like Billie Holiday anymore, definitely not. If I could even try, I think it would not go well! I’m not worried about it. There are some things from the past…I mean, I grew up listening to Billie Holiday, wanting to sound like her, and now I don’t sound like her. But it’s still in me. I grew up like this. Same with the Sant Andreu Jazz Band— even though I’m from Catalonia, I grew up listening to jazz and playing jazz. So now, even if I’m not playing jazz, you can hear that I grew up in jazz.”
She left the SAJB in 2016, after which she performed often with many and varied combinations of local musicians, including her brother Iscle; they billed themselves for a while as “The Datzira Brothers.”
She has even performed solo gigs on occasion. After all, what’s a double bass player to do without a band to play with? Play solo! As courageous as it may seem, Magali says it didn’t feel unnatural for her, but it did bring its own challenges.
“When I study at home, I play alone, I sing alone. So, I wasn’t searching for this, but someone asked me, ‘do you want to play a gig yourself, alone?’ And I said yes, and have played some gigs alone. But I love to play with other people. It’s much more easier. When I play alone, it takes a lot of energy, a lot of concentration. I love it, but I cannot play alone for a gig every week!”
In October of 2020, a Barcelona band of young jazz musicians call The Goliards Collective asked her to take part in an offbeat recording — a version of the Billy Strayhorn swing classic “Take the ‘A’ Train” popularized by Duke Ellington, but to be played by the Collective in the Jamaican ska style.
“I was surprised. I was like, ‘Really? You want to invite me to do ‘Take the A Train’ in ska? Okay, let’s try.’ In the end, it was nice!”
When discussing her years with the SAJB, it’s only to be expected that Magali doesn’t want to be thought of primarily as a former member of the band. “Everyone reminds me that I was in the SAJB, even though I left about 8 years ago.” It does say something about the power of her having so many memorable performances with the band easily available to see on YouTube, but this same kind of frustration has touched countless artists through the years who have pursued independent careers after leaving a highly-revered group or band.
Still, she was glad to take part in the special concerts at the end of 2021 celebrating the 15th anniversary of the SAJB.
In a reunion concert comprised of the band’s musicians who had their own albums released as part of the Joan Chamorro presenta… series, she performed a stunning version of Paul Anka’s “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” with her fellow SAJB alumni (plus a few current members) providing back-up. It’s a somewhat unusual song choice for a jazz concert, but this exquisite rendition not only fits in quite well, but achieves nothing short of perfection.
“The first generation [of the band] that I’m a part of, I think we didn’t know — we grew up at the same time the SAJB grew up, so we were not like, ‘Oh, this is the starting point.’ We were not thinking about it.”
Nonetheless, she agrees that it does provide a solid jazz foundation for its young musicians who continue on with their professional careers.
“Yes, sure. It’s a nice starting point, I don’t regret it at all. I’m happy and proud that this was my journey through music, but it’s not the only one that works. I have a lot of friends here and around Europe that didn’t go to the SAJB and are extremely talented.”
She has also extended her independent ways of composing, recording, and producing a series of videos for her songs.
“I’ve always liked to make and edit videos, even when I was little, like random videos of things in my home. For that project I wanted to do something that was a collaboration between the music and the video.”
She agrees that the videos have an experimental, perhaps Avant-garde look. But more planning went into each one than is obvious. “We were, for months, planning the scripts. We didn’t have a storyboard, but did have the story outline of what was going to happen.” Even after careful planning and many discussions, she made several last-minute changes. “We had meetings and meetings, and at the end, like two days before the film shoot, I said no no, let’s take some of the story that we like, and are easier. And the other things were trashed because they made no sense. Images that I had in mind from the beginning made sense. And then we went for the filming.”
She concedes that the nature of her ideas behind many of the images might be curious to others. “The results are kind of experimental, because if you are not me, you do not understand it!” she says with a laugh.
In the summer of 2022, she and her friends Eva, Rita, and Lucia Fumero (who often collaborates with them) played a spirited gig a Barcelona’s Jamboree Club, a favorite jazz venue in the city, and so familiar to SAJB fans. Their closing number:
In December, she traveled to Mexico for a tour, which included an appearance at the Polanco Jazz Festival.
“I fell in love with Mexico. I liked it a lot! People there are amazing. They’re extremely hospitable, open. And the gigs were really nice. The musicians we played with were amazing musicians. I hope I can go back some other time. It was my second time in Mexico. And I went to New York when I was 8 or 10, but I don’t remember almost anything. I’ll have to go back again!”
Upon her return, it was time to prepare for the release of the new album, Des de la Cuina. For fans who know her primarily from her time with the SAJB, the new work will strike as quite a departure from the jazz stylings she mastered while she was still a teen. “It was my intention,” she says.
“I’m very happy with it. It’s my first album that I composed, and recorded, and everything, by myself. It’s been a long time since I finished an album. I’m really excited.”
The songs throughout have a quiet, intimate sound, with sparse musical arrangements, thus highlighting the qualities of her voice.
“I wanted it to be like a ‘cozy’ album , good to listen to with headphones in the bath — I did everything actually here in my studio, my kitchen, searching for the good spots…When I started, I wanted it to be just guitar and voice, and then I added some more things, instruments.”
For instance, a string trio accompanying her vocal on the opening track, “Riu,” effortlessly pulls the listener in. Lucia Fumero lends her talents on piano throughout the album as well.
The video of the title track:
Two of the songs in the collection are in English — “Move Out” and “The Cutest Boy” — but don’t expect many more from her in the English language.
“About two years ago, I decided to try to not write in English because I grew up singing in English — I don’t speak really good English, but it’s an easy language to sing. But it’s not my language, and so I decided to not write in English anymore. But ‘Move Out’ I wrote before making this decision, and ‘The Cutest Boy’ I wrote about a year and a half ago. But my intention is to write in languages that I know I can speak, and that I can express myself with” (for the record, Magali’s English is quite good).
Another soft, gentle song is “Canco de Bressol (‘lullaby’)”, which, she explains, “is the only one on the album that is not mine, that I didn’t compose. It’s from [keyboardist] Tony Mora, a really good friend, who is going to play with me on the tour of the album. He wrote it and dedicated it to me, so I wanted to include it on the album because it’s really, really beautiful, and I’m so honored that he dedicated it to me.”
She says she won’t be like many artists who don’t bother releasing physical CDs or LPs, and instead go straight to digital streaming. Happily, Des de la Cuina has been released in both formats. “I love CDs and LPs,” she says. “I have everything to listen to at home. To listen to a whole album is like another concept.”
Now that the album is a reality, Magali’s tour to support it begins with the official presentation concert, taking on March 16 at The Parallel Room 62 Club in Barcelona.
As for the future? We can only anticipate what music and images will spring from Magali Datzira’s fertile imagination.
Until next time…
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Read my previous articles related to the Sant Andreu Jazz Band at the links below, or at the “Garry’s Blog” page on the website www.GarryBerman.com, and feel free to visit or join the Facebook group Friends of Sant Andreu Jazz Band (of which I am co-founder and administrator).
“A Film About Kids and Music: Ten Years Later” https://medium.com/@garryberman/a-film-about-kids-and-music-ten-years-later-50d5bf96f53b
“Kindred Spirits: How Joan Chamorro and Isidore Rudnick Teach Jazz to Kids” https://medium.com/@garryberman/kindred-spirits-how-joan-chamorro-and-isidore-rudnick-teach-jazz-to-kids-2d0cb80bed77
“The Compelling Music of Elia Bastida and Carolina Alabau” https://medium.com/@garryberman/the-compelling-music-of-%C3%A8lia-bastida-and-carolina-alabau-65da74f07804
“The SAJB’s Koldo Munne Steps into the Jazz Spotlight” https://garryberman.medium.com/the-sajbs-koldo-munn%C3%A9-steps-into-the-jazz-spotlight-238b3231626f
“A Tale of Two Albas” https://garryberman.medium.com/a-tale-of-two-albas-904849a5e697
“How a Kids Band in Barcelona Rekindled My Love of Jazz” https://garryberman.medium.com/how-a-kids-band-in-barcelona-rekindled-my-love-of-jazz-a20ea8873670
“Jan Domenech’s New Chapter as a Jazz Musician” https://garryberman.medium.com/jan-domenechs-new-chapter-as-a-jazz-musician-e1f0da8b19b9
“Joan Chamorro and the SAJB: Past, Present, and Future” https://medium.com/@garryberman/joan-chamorro-and-the-sajb-past-present-and-future-573eedcbff76
“Josep Traver: Guitarist of All Trades” https://garryberman.medium.com/josep-traver-guitarist-of-all-trades-608296f9d00a
“When American Jazz Pros Meet Spanish Jazz Kids” https://garryberman.medium.com/when-american-jazz-pros-meet-spanish-jazz-kids-25c7f5023571
“Claudia Rostey: The Life of an 18-year-old Bacelona Jazz Trombonist” https://garryberman.medium.com/claudia-rostey-the-life-of-an-18-year-old-barcelona-jazz-trombonist-d13b82c770a3
“The Magic of the Voice: The Singers of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band” https://garryberman.medium.com/the-magic-of-the-voice-the-singers-of-the-sant-andreu-jazz-band-208dfb629221
“Jobim is Alive and Well in Barcelona” https://garryberman.medium.com/jobim-is-alive-and-well-in-barcelona-d384b40d8c2e
“Did Someone Say Anastasia Ivanova?” https://garryberman.medium.com/did-someone-say-anastasia-ivanova-dd6f67277c64
“Struck by (musical) Lightning” https://garryberman.medium.com/struck-by-musical-lightning-6583ecb0de13
Sant Andreu Jazz Band CDs and DVDs are available at: https://jazztojazz.com, eBay, and Amazon.com.