When Mabe Fratti reached the age of 18, she made the decision to mark the occasion by climbing a volcano in her home country of Guatemala. At the time, Fratti was 31 years old. However, during the climb, her and her companions were subjected to a robbery. Reflecting on the experience, Fratti came to the realization that she may not be much of a hiker after all. Instead, she prefers to explore fields and forests for leisure.
The discovery hinted at a similar change in Fratti’s cello technique. Even in her teenage years, when she borrowed a communal instrument adorned with stickers to guide her finger placement, she resisted the traditional approach and yearned for experimentation. However, her goal was to create a timeless masterpiece. But now, she explains, “instead of seeking out a beautiful and remarkable piece that will be preserved in history, I have shifted towards a path of discovery. What if I wanted to create something groovy? Or an album featuring only cello and vocal automation? A heavily distorted cello album with powerful vocals? These are the types of things I want to explore further.”
Fratti’s unique and imaginative approach has earned her recognition as a highly esteemed new voice in experimental music. In her three solo electro-acoustic albums, she has progressively delved deeper into her instrument: 2020’s Pies Sobre la Tierra was raw and resonant, while 2021’s Será Que Ahora Podremos Entendernos was sinewy and twitching; and last year’s unsettling Se Ve Desde Aquí amplified the fraying of her bow against the strings (Oneohtrix Point Never described it as “mind-blowing”). All of Fratti’s deconstructed and beautifully unsettling songs are brought together by her wise Spanish-language vocals. According to renowned US drummer Chris Corsano, who has worked with artists such as Björk, Bill Orcutt, and Kim Gordon and has recently collaborated with Fratti, “Her transitions from composed pieces to improvisation are truly remarkable and never feel forced. To me, her music is a constant exploration of possibilities, with the ability to venture in any direction at once.”
These qualities have made the adventurous cellist a fertile collaborator, with two new projects released in recent weeks. Last month, she and her partner Hector Tosta (AKA I la Católica) released the album Vidrio under the name Titanic, an ecstatic yet fraught chamber-pop cabaret reminiscent of Julia Holter and Meredith Monk. Soon after, came the dreamy but distorted A Time to Love, a Time to Die by Amor Muere, an improv quartet she joined in her adopted home of Mexico City.
Importantly for collaboration, Fratti also appears to be a fun and easygoing person: open and enthusiastic, with long, tangled hair and lots of tattoos. During the 90-minute Zoom call, she moves her phone around the simple home she shares with Tosta, popping into the kitchen where he’s making tacos to ask for his opinion. “Pescado!” she calls out (she affectionately says he looks like a fish when he closes his eyes). Both of her new projects involved building trust in different ways. Tosta composed all of the music for Vidrio, while Amor Muere, which includes Fratti, Camille Mandoki, Gibrana Cervantes, and Concepción Huerta, is a democratic group. “Amor Muere starts off like a playground,” she explains. “It helps me to be flexible and listen to other people’s creativity. With Titanic, Hector studied composition, so he’s more structured. When you study composition, you tend to think about the future in a more concrete way.”
Both recordings caused Fratti to question herself: Vidrio was made in a studio, and it was difficult to communicate her desired sound for her voice and cello to the engineer. She explains, “I cannot transfer my thoughts directly to your mind!” With Amor Muere, she found herself getting lost in her own thoughts while reviewing takes. She admits, “I was too caught up in my own head.” Ultimately, she had to rely on the judgment of the people she trusts. Fratti reflects, “I think I was repeating myself!” Working alone, she feels creatively liberated, but in other situations, she may doubt her own perspective. However, Fratti sees this doubt as a positive thing. She remarks, “It’s thrilling.”
Fratti’s artistic journey has revolved around breaking rigid barriers. Growing up in Guatemala during the 2000s, she was surrounded by fortified communities meant to protect against gang violence and gun crime. However, she refused to succumb to the constant feeling of insecurity: “While I didn’t want to give my mother nightmares, I was determined to go out and connect with other musicians to start my own bands.” Despite the lack of a well-established music industry in Guatemala, which is mainly funded by beer companies, Fratti had no shortage of opportunities to explore experimental music. Her contemporary music group pushed boundaries and experimented with techniques outside of what she learned in school. She also found inspiration through driving with friends and playing with a metalhead bassist who introduced her to artists like Sunn O))), Scott Walker, and Cocteau Twins. The cello that she still plays today was a gift she received upon graduating high school, although it may have initially had a different sound before it broke.
She initially pursued a degree in journalism as a backup plan, but decided to leave before her final year to relocate to Antigua Guatemala. However, she encountered challenges in this popular tourist city, where the pressure to conform to a certain aesthetic hindered progress. In 2015, she was offered a residency in Mexico City by the Goethe-Institut. This opportunity opened doors for her in the music scene, which she had only experienced once before in Guatemala. Collaborating with established musicians like Gudrun Gut and Julian Bonequi was daunting at first, but she found them to be welcoming and supportive. Through Bonequi, she discovered the music of Okkyung Lee and was immediately drawn to it. This led to her participation in local improv shows and a strong connection to the thriving music community in Mexico City. She ultimately made the decision to permanently move there, which she believes was meant to be.
Fratti’s musicianship flourished. After seeing a show by drummer Gibrán Androide, she asked him to help her develop her improvisation skills as a way of responding to her environment, and noticed the “chaos” of the city coming out in her music. The British indie label Tin Angel offered to release her records, and with her feet on steady ground as part of a thriving music community – partly orbiting the venue Jazzorca, run by the brilliant experimental jazz musician Germán Bringas – Fratti’s music and lyrics explored uncertainty and miscommunication. The more she learns about certain topics or systems, she says, the more certain she is that she could be wrong. In the Titanic song Anónima, to dramatic flicks of cello and contained clatter, she sings: “Si no se quien puedo ser pues soy mi presentimiento” (If I don’t know who I can be, I’m going to be my hunch). Embracing instinct and ambiguity sounds like good counter to today’s polarised discourse, I suggest. Fratti takes us into the kitchen to ask Tosta, who wrote the lyrics. A few years ago, he says, they read the book The Transparency Society by Byung-Chul Han, “about having this obligation to [take positions] and to feel that you have to be this kind of person and to write it in ink. Sometimes you’re just confused and it’s about your instinct and everything is so weird that—”
Fratti advises, “You must trust your intuition.”
Tosta states that occasionally those types of risks arise and seem promising.
Giving up control of the creative process to improvisation and collaboration can be a remedy for a society that is heavily divided. Playwright and director Fratti points out that this is evident in both Titanic and Amor Muere, where there is an ongoing dialogue about what each person wants to contribute and express. It is a refreshing and purposeful effort to give equal value to the voices involved in the collaboration, without enforcing a hierarchy and recognizing the various approaches to music.
Fratti is a well-known musician in a tightly-knit music scene. Her talent has led her to perform at various venues and events in Europe, including the prestigious Royal Albert Hall where she was the opening act for British singer-songwriter Ben Howard. According to Howard, her performances are mesmerizing and her songs are like orbiting planets with ever-changing melodies. As for Mexico City, it is experiencing a period of growth with a 3% increase in population from 2019 to 2023 and a 70% rise in Americans applying for or renewing residency visas. This growth has also caused a rise in rent prices and the recent opening of a branch of Soho House. Fratti, although she feels conflicted about being an outsider, tries to integrate herself into the community. However, she has noticed that her friend who lives near Soho House only hears English being spoken outside, creating a more isolated and exclusive environment. Fratti does not want to be a part of this separation.
According to Fratti, despite the increased attention on her and the city, there has been no significant change in her music scene. She describes the community as laid-back and emphasizes the spirit of collaboration that is always present. Tosta has completed her latest album, which she describes as “groovy” and slightly reminiscent of progressive music, although not in the style of bands like Yes or Camel. She jokes that the structure may surprise listeners. She already has plans for her next project, which could be a simpler album featuring just vocals, cello, and resonators, or a heavier, distorted sound that she previously mentioned. The possibilities are endless.