Bassist Willy González was already an accomplished jazz/rock musician in Argentina when he ran across Micaela Vita while she was studying in Buenos Aires. González’s skill was deeply refined and scholastic. He had played with South American artists like Raúl Carnota, Juan Falú, Mercedes Sosa, Scott Henderson, and Diego Urcola, among others. Vita’s talents were obvious, but they were raw and developing. Together, they clicked.
“I started singing professionally with Willy when I was 20 years old,” says Vita, now 26. “Simultaneously, I started singing in the Latin American quartet Duratierra, which still exists today.”
González formed his first professional band when he was 15, but by his early 20s, he was already refining Latin American popular music into something new. At the time, his use of the six-string electric bass was unique and unprecedented.
“I always felt a great closeness with the rhythm,” González says. “Since I was a small kid, I beat everything that was nearby until I approached a bass guitar and never left it.”
González plays six-string bass much like a nylon-string classical guitar — strumming, slapping, thumping, and muting strings at various points along the wide guitar neck. Fans and critics often ask him why he chose to play the electric bass over a standard guitar.
“The bass is something I feel in a very different way than a guitar,” says González. “If I hit a guitar in the way I hit the bass, I would totally break it. I developed this style by imitating other Argentinian folk music instruments with the bass. I’ve incorporated phrases and styles that are characteristic of some Argentinian folk instruments, like bombo legüero (a type of drum), accordion, and guitar.”
For Vita, her voice is her main instrument. On each song, her singing exerts a strong emotional pull. Her mood changes and her tone shifts in a very powerful manner. Sometimes it’s delicate and mournful. Other times it’s rapid and forceful.
“The vocal work I had to develop for the duo led me to seek new forms of expression while singing,” says Vita. “As the sound is so stripped, the voice becomes an instrument, not only responsible for the melody, but also to generate climate and respond sensitively to Willy’s ways. I started at the age of eight to study and develop my vocal technique, and even today I continue trying to improve and expand the expressive range of my voice.”
The latest disc from González and Vita is titled Duplo, which literally translates into “duplicate,” but it implies “two-fold” as well. “What each one decides to play directly modifies the response of the other,” says Vita, who, along with González, previously released Ares y Mares.
González and Vita aren’t simply a bass and vocals act, either. Both bring additional instruments into the mix from song to song. Duplo starts with the sounds of González playing a traditional siku panpipe in the opening phrases of the song “Piedra.”
“The siku is an instrument that sounds great with the bass, which is why I started to combine them,” says González. “I love this Andean large sound. It takes up a lot of space in my musical composer head.”
Throughout Duplo, there’s also the rumble and click of Vita playing a bombo legüero, an Argentine drum traditionally made of a hollowed tree trunk and skins.
“The bombo legüero has a very particular depth sound,” says Vita. “On stage, I also play the cajón peruano, which is a typical instrument of Afro-Peruvian music, entirely made of wood. Both instruments belong to the African culture, brought to America by the slaves.”
The Argentinian duo’s two concerts during Spoleto USA’s Wells Fargo Jazz Series mark González and Vita’s North American debut.
“For us, it is an honor to participate in this prestigious festival,” says Vita. “Being on that stage will be a privilege and an achievement. Our deep desire is to share the stories of our Latin American culture that inhabit the continent of our birth through our music, full of varied rhythms and sounds. We really hope the audience enjoys our work.”