Cristina Orbé is a Seattle artist who is perhaps best known for her work with regional hip-hop artists, yet her sound is impossible to tie to any particular genre. Cristina Orbé’s musical career began in 2001, when she relocated from New York to Seattle and decided, “to live alone; to stop watching TV and to teach herself how to play guitar.” In the time since, she’s done spoken word, performance art, and been a noteworthy chanteuse of both folk and pop. She’s also the co-founder and Executive Director of FEEST, which seeks to teach youth to be practical leaders in education, politics, and in the ways which they experience food. Cristina’s latest musical venture is orbé orbé, a collaboration between her and Seattle producer Johan Mikal, whose debut album, Invisible Kingdoms, is out October 22nd digitally and on vinyl.
I recently got a chance to chat with Cristina and upon asking her about her highlights of 2013, she seemed a bit at a loss, having a lot of nice moments as of recently: “This year’s been amazing. I think the highlight has been the synchronicity between putting everything together – the album, the show – it’s been magical. It’s surprising how easy it’s been.” The sound of Invisible Kingdoms is hard to pin down. There are tracks that resemble neo-soul, those that resemble a postmodern take on being a “singer/songwriter,” those that ring of an existentially profound take on club music, and even those, such as my personal favorite, “Instead,” which resemble a crossroads of 90s’ alt rock and power pop, propelled by a classic synth pop aesthetic. They’re all quite whimsical, but in every sense and musical take on the term. The album is both quite fun and sonically significant. Based on her previous outputs, I’m curious if this is going to be the first, last, and/or only effort from orbé orbé and Cristina reassures me that it won’t be… probably…
“We have a couple singles we plan on releasing in the coming months. We have tracks that we didn’t use on the album that Johan wants to go back into the studio and further explore and we have alternate versions of songs that are really different that we want to release.”
According to her latest press release, Cristina’s influences behind Invisible Kingdoms reflect humanities thinking (something I’m quite well-versed in), specifically the landscapes and relationships we create in our heads to make sense of the human experience. Yet, I’m pleasantly surprised when I ask her about the album’s inspirations and she confesses that much of it came from one of my own, personal, favorite works of art.
“Personally, the music I wrote was inspired by David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. A friend gave me the record and I hated it for the first month I had it but, then I finally began to get the album and what was so significant about it. I’m also really inspired by the movie Fantastic Planet, this French science-fiction film.”
Considering that Invisible Kingdoms is about to be released, it only makes sense that Cristina’s current focus is how the album will translate to a live setting, which she’s currently planning for in a big way: “I really like the idea of bringing theatrical elements into musical performances – shadow-puppetry and masks and costumes – I want to create these experiences where we explore imagination and wonder.”
When I ask Cristina what she is hoping and planning for in 2014, she tells me that the focus is getting the live version of the music to as large an audience as possible.
“I want to tour this. I want to get it out. We’re in the process of producing a show. I want to get it in front of as many people as we can.”
I’m curious about the live settings that Cristina has in mind for orbé orbé, considering that it doesn’t seem to be the traditional popular (or even indie) musical “performance.” She laughs and tells me, “We’ve performed in a lot of bars. The coolest thing about performing in a bar is that it becomes super ironic that we’re doing this theatrical thing and if we can get people to engage and interact with this in a bar. It’s very much about audience participation. I wanna make a show where people will be totally happy and smiling and, ultimately, maybe have a transcendental experience, where, for a second, it takes you to another place, even if just for a second.”