Celebrated vocalist and composer Lauren Henderson releases Sombras, a sonic exploration of the influence of heritage and lineage, out May 31, 2024, via Brontosaurus

Lauren Henderson is a lauded vocalist, composer, and songwriter whose multifaceted roots have blossomed vibrantly in her craft. Having compositions featured in four different films, earning recognition by the Recording Academy as one of the “10 Jazz Artists Blending and Expanding the Sounds of Latin America”, breaking the Top 5 of the Jazz Week Charts, and being heralded as a “vibrant new star singer” by DownBeat Magazine, Henderson is an artist whose work has the rare power to bridge genre conventions and speak meaning across cultures. Leaning into her rich and varied background, Henderson seeks to take her honed ability to blend traditions a step forward and presents Sombras, a musical exploration of the power that heritage has to mold one’s identity and artistry in the present. 

Sombras was born of an idea, and one that has burned in Henderson’s mind her entire life: how does an individual’s cultural inheritance shape who they are? As one whose roots span Panama, Montserrat, and the Caribbean, yet who was raised in North America, Henderson has embarked on a journey of discovery to answer this question that is so poignant within contemporary society’s kaleidoscopic culture. Over the course of Sombras, Henderson unravels her own history through original compositions, fashioning stories reflecting her African Diasporic background.

The album’s title, Sombras, is a Spanish word that translates to “Shadows” in English. This title evokes the idea of one’s ancestry being the shadows of oneself. This, then, depicts a metaphor that as one’s present actions and self are the light and the visible world, one’s genealogy is the unspoken and hidden driving force that subtly forms a person into who they are. Shrouded in mystique, each song on Sombras plays with this balance of the seen and unseen and the myriad elements, decisions, and events that have led each person – even from generations before – to where they are today.

Musically, the body of work presented on Sombras stands as a triumph of expression and concept. The lyrics, all of which are original, encompass two languages—English and Spanish which symbolically represent the wealth of influence the African Diaspora has had on Henderson through her family tree and on the wider creative world. These impassioned lyrics are set with an intentionally specific orchestration of vibraphone, piano, bass, and drums, lending each song a mesmerizing sonic palette. 

The album begins with the powerful and aptly entitled “Fuego”, which translates from Spanish as “Fire”. Using call-and-response thematic development, the piece lights the ideological fire of the album and directly engages the listener. “This song encourages the listener not to forget the beautiful fire they’ve cultivated, not to take it for granted, and not to let it die out,” Henderson says, “embracing and identifying the burning passions and what inspires us to improve and develop as people.” The piece “Illumination” falls roughly halfway through the album, and as its title suggests, carries the light that was ignited in the ideas of the first track through the rest of the oeuvre. “Emerging from Sombras and heading towards light, we may lose our footing, but there is strength received from the journey,” Henderson says. “Although we face adversity, there are opportunities to emerge in the embrace of advancement.” The album’s title track, “Sombras”, sets up motifs that are used throughout the album. Utilizing layered, pleading voices, the piece musically paints and scores the convictions present in the lyrics. As the album advances, these same musical motifs are referenced in the track “Shadows”, which is the album’s conclusion and the English translation of the album’s title track. This conceptual bookend of the album enables the body of work to sound and feel complete and conclusive, with balanced and measured emotive and intellectual development. 

The successful execution of such nuanced and emotive work is no small feat, and Henderson acknowledges with gratitude the personal influence and touch of each member of the Sombras ensemble. “It’s essential to collaborate with artists whose voices I admire and value, and then give them space to shine,” Henderson says. “I am always enamored by the band’s kindness and patience. It’s our creation and the process is open and collaborative.” The personnel on Sombras comprises Henderson’s longstanding creative team of Joel Ross (vibraphone), Sean Mason (piano), Jonathan Michel (bass), and Joe Dyson (drums, percussion). The album was engineered by Daniel Sanint of Flux Studios who has engineered Henderson’s entire discography, and their established collaborative rapport enabled the sessions to move forward with an almost telepathic smoothness. “Laughing, positive energy, vulnerability, patience, catharsis through music, and a willingness to take risks then let go enables us to get the most of our session and certainly makes it one of my favorite parts of my career,” Henderson says.

What Henderson presents is not merely an album; rather, Sombras stands as a testament to the power of an idea brought to life. By asking a bold question, Henderson engendered an answer that is as variegated as the array of cultures into which she delves. With scintillating passion, Sombras oscillates mesmerizingly between the sunlight and shadows of identity as Henderson depicts the formation of the person and soul.

Sombras releases May 31, 2024 on Brontosaurus Records

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