Of all the places to take your mother’s world-renowned neurosurgeon, Berlin superclub Berghain might not be top of most people’s lists. But, the Peruvian producer Sofia Kourtesis reasoned, she had seen so much of the Berlin doctor’s workplace, “I told him: ‘I want to show you a little of Sofia’s world.’” They went for Peruvian food before hitting the club this May. “He really loved it,” she says. “We bonded in a very beautiful way.”
The unlikely pair came together when Kourtesis sought medical advice for her mother, who was suffering from advanced lung cancer and whose health was rapidly declining. Her mother required a life-saving surgery that only a few specialists could perform. Kourtesis, a resident of Berlin, learned about Peter Vajkoczy and was determined to contact him, despite knowing it would be extremely difficult to secure an appointment. She shared a post on Instagram stating: “If anyone knows how to reach Peter Vajkoczy, I will dedicate a song to him. I just need a few minutes of his time.” Vajkoczy appreciated her bold request and agreed to meet with her.
She expressed, “I was experiencing a moment where I couldn’t believe it was real.” However, she firmly believes in the ability to bring things into existence. She believes that if humans have faith, something wonderful can occur. Vajkoczy was able to successfully perform surgery on her mother, and Kourtesis fulfilled her vow by writing “Vajkoczy,” an unstoppable and energetic track. This song is featured on Kourtesis’ first album, Madres, which is dedicated to her mother and the surgeon.
When speaking with Kourtesis, it’s easy to see why her approach was successful. She exudes a natural charm and infectious positivity. This attitude is reflected in Madres, an exceptional dance album that deserves recognition similar to Bicep’s crossover success. The album features ecstatic melodies and deep grooves, as well as snippets of field recordings, distorted vocals, and catchy hooks. However, there is also a sense of urgency and release intertwined throughout the project.
Madres also reflects on Kourtesis’ experiences in Berlin. The track Funkhaus delves into her time as a programmer at the former GDR radio headquarters, now a studio and performance complex in the city. At 38 years old, Kourtesis moved to Berlin as a teenager in an effort to escape persecution for her queerness in Peru. She was bullied and even expelled from school for kissing another girl. Despite facing difficulties, she had the support of her family, who are both politically active – her father served as a pro bono lawyer during the Fujimori dictatorship and her mother works to protect Indigenous tribes in South America. However, Kourtesis found Peru to be oppressive and eventually left for Germany at the age of 17. She reflects, “It was a challenging time for me personally in Peru due to my sexuality.”
After completing her degree in communications in Hamburg, she initially pursued filmmaking but became frustrated with the process. Instead, she turned to music and started writing scripts through her songs. While studying film in Berlin, she also worked as a DJ and booking agent while developing her skills as a producer. She caught the attention of influential label Studio Barnhus when she sent a track to co-founder Axel Boman while under the influence, and her song WinWin San was included on a label compilation in 2018. A year later, her self-titled EP gained her more recognition, and her 2021 hit La Perla solidified her position in the music industry.
The song was a tribute to her late father. Following his death, Kourtesis embarked on a journey similar to Che Guevara’s, as her father had always encouraged her to explore the world and document her experiences. She traveled to Central America, fulfilling her father’s dream to visit the region, and encountered breathtaking landscapes where the locals gathered and shared their stories through music. Kourtesis recorded various sounds from protests, speeches, conversations, and songs during her travels. However, her trip was unexpectedly cut short when her mother was diagnosed with an illness.
Kourtesis had to juggle her growing tour commitments with the responsibility of returning to her home in Peru to take care of her mother. She also sought therapy, but felt the need for a different outlet to occupy her mind. In her spare time, she created Madres, a project that integrates the various aspects of her life: her family, her experiences in Berlin, and the moments of pure joy she encountered while traveling, particularly in Peru. “I wanted to capture the most beautiful moments from my surroundings,” she explains. “From the places I’ve lived, to the people I’ve met, and the activities I’ve engaged in.”
Kourtesis departed Peru due to its conservative nature, but she holds her parents’ work and the country’s radicalism in high regard. She explains, “My goal was to create an album with depth and significance. I wanted to shed light on our Latin American community and the current movements for equality, the LGBTQ+ community, and abortion rights. These are all issues that hold great importance to me.” The album Estación Esperanza begins with recordings from a protest against homophobia in Peru and features a collaboration with Manu Chao, who was deeply moved by a letter Kourtesis wrote to him. The track El Carmen showcases the Ballumbrosio family, known for their contributions to Afro-Peruvian percussion through instruments like the cajón. Kourtesis emphasizes the importance of giving back, stating, “It’s a way to show gratitude. My mother learned from her mother, and I learned from them. It’s crucial for my family to support our communities and the places we come from.”
After experiencing the loss of her father and her mother’s serious illness, Kourtesis understandably felt hopeless. She describes this as feeling like her entire world was collapsing and that she would not be able to endure the pain. However, meeting Vajkoczy gave her the motivation to complete her album. He also influenced her to write the song “How Music Makes You Feel Better,” which recognizes the power of sharing music as a means of both activism and healing. Kourtesis emphasizes the importance of surrounding oneself with a supportive community during difficult times, as they can provide love and hope even in the darkest moments.