‘Agua de Jamaica’ is the first collaborative project between producer, multi-instrumentalist, composer and arranger Sylvester Uzoma Onyejiaka II AKA Sly5thAve and pianist and composer Roberto Verástegui. The pair originally met whilst studying Jazz in Texas and began piecing together the release on Sly5thAve’s first visit to Mexico, over a drink of Agua de Jamaica – a drink made with water, hibiscus flower and sugar. Recorded during lockdown in Mexico, the LP is built from a passionate and comprehensive understanding of Jazz, a love of Hip Hop and Mexico City’s ever-vibrant artistic culture, Latin flavours, and the African roots from which these sounds grew.
Epitomising this fusion of sounds and collaborative talents on introductory single “Tie Break”, Sly5thAve reworks a track originally written as a big band chart for the Orquesta Nacional de Jazz de Mexico by Roberto. Beginning with the original lead sheet, laced with nods to Funk and Hip Hop, the pair improvised a Jazz reworking before taking it home to layer synths, piano and beats. With a constant backbeat and harmonic pattern courtesy of Sly5thAve, Roberto’s Hammond organ takes the experimental Jazz centre stage.
At the heart of ‘Agua de Jamaica’ is the title track; the moment Sly5thAve and Roberto realised they had something to pursue. Thought of by both Sly5thAve and Roberto as the fullest collaboration on the release, “Agua de Jamaica” considers the constant artistic and cultural exchange between the US and Mexico, despite the political differences. It draws the listener in with a Hip Hop loop intertwined with hypnotic vocals from local artist Silvana Estrada; “she has a voice unlike anything I’ve ever heard. She has the ability to effortlessly float between genres”, Sly5thAve adds.
Having moved to Mexico City at the beginning of 2020, Sly5thAve stayed with Roberto and his wife Yuki during the first Covid-19 lockdown; outtakes of their time together BBQing can be heard on the serendipitous “Empeño (lil’ bop)” if you listen closely. This time allowed for the pair to build on their ideas and explorations of different sounds and places centred around Jazz. Their combined voice, emotions and way of working are perfectly presented on the Afrobeat-inspired “La Tormenta”. “I stayed up all night working it out and it came together last minute,” Sly5thAve recalls. “After we had finished recording everything we went back in and started to piece it all together like a Hip Hop record. Thinking about how it all came together, “La Tormenta” (or “The Thunderstorm” in English) made the most sense”. This energy carries through to the interweaving melodies of the Modern Jazz-inspired “The Wanderer” – built from unused demos of a Jazz album Sly5thAve had been working on – and onto the improvised big, tough city vibes of “Past Thoughts”. “We decided to improvise over some Jazz changes that get played pretty often, but with an ‘IN YOUR FACE’ edge”, Roberto says, highlighting the freely played nature of the Jazz tune which peaks with the perfected communication between the rhythm section and Sly5thAve’s sax sound.