Earthy, knitted and deep | Demian Coca

Text: Robin Boer

Paykuna is a band founded by Swiss-Bolivian composer and pianist Demian Coca. His origin and inspiration results into a very interesting and extensive palet of musical elements. Being supported by a wide ensemble of skilled and inspired musicians, the listener is being treated by a surprising journey of exciting, emotional and moving pieces.

At a very young age, Coca has been introduced to traditional Bolivian music by his father. He studied at Hochschule Luzern an eventually developed his own unique musical voice and reconnected to his earlierst influences. After founding his septet Paykuna in 2016, the group performed multiple times in Switzerland, Slovakia and Austria. So far, they recorded two albums: Raíces (2017) and Rinakaruy (2021).

The latter has been released on the label Sonna Records, which was founded by Sanne Rambags (Under The Surface, Mudita, Sonna) in June 2020. Next to the release of the new album, the band is releasing beautiful videos on their YouTube channel, where some of the compositions are acommpanied by impressive choreographical performances, done in the middle of Bolivian landscapes. Paykuna also received the Pro Argovia 2022 award, which is a notable entitlement from an important cultural foundation in Switzerland.

We reached out to Demian to explain the origins, purposes and profession of his art in more detail.

[1] Describe how influences from both Switzerland and Bolivia, combined with jazz elements are being translated to your music.

The Music of Paykuna is a result of both my musical background and the band members' individual heritages. Thanks to my father, who is also a musician, I grew up with traditional bolivian music and bolivian folk music. During my music studies, I noticed that this early influence is what still drives my inspiration as a composer and pianist, so I began to use his heritage actively in the composition process. My goal is to create a simbiosis between the traditional elements (traditional rhythms, melodic phrases, moods) and the aesthetic of modern day jazz. Paykuna's music is not meant to be a fusion of two genres, but more the result of them growing together naturally. The Swiss aspect of Paykuna lies mostly in the process and the interpretation of the music. As a composer, I do have a thoughtful, very precise way of working. Also, the band members are mostly Swiss musicians, who view the composed music from a different angle. Once they start to play the compositions and interprete them, the result might not always sound very bolivian anymore, which makes it even more intriguing for me to work with this band.

[2] How would you describe the evolution from your learnings at Hochschule Luzern to finding your own true style and musical language?

The Hochschule Luzern (HSLU) is a very good school in the way that they give room for the students to grow. Many classes leave several options to choose the topics you want to work on. Though in the end, finding an own voice in music doesn’t necessarily have to be linked to studies. It is more about listening to oneself and trying to find out, what drives our creativity and what really matters to us.

[3] What can you share about the creative process and development after the first record to the current one?

The process was not very conscious. We played concerts and new pieces would make it into the repertoire naturally. At one point, the music felt ready to be recorded again. The concept overall remained the same (with the addition of focus onto landscapes for the Rinakaruy pieces) and it will be interesting to hear other people's opinions about the development they see. Or maybe for us to look back after some years.

[4] How are the dynamics being managed in the group when it comes to sharing your compositions and giving the musicians room for improvisation? What kind of challenges do come with it, and yet what are the most notable strengths of the group in your opinion?

Balancing composed music and improvisation is a difficult but fascinating part of the work, especially in a band with seven members. Recently I tried to write pieces with the soloist already in mind, and compose it in a way that they might feel comfortable improvising over it. As a composer I sometimes have trouble to release some level of control over the piece. So right now we’re experimenting with some new pieces, that have much fewer musical information written, to even create space in the composing part of the process for the band to interact with the piece. Generally speaking, there are pieces of Paykuna that do have rather short and very defined improvisation parts, while other pieces do have open and long secions for soloing, or even group improvisations and then there are also pieces, that are tailored for a specific soloist who basically only improvises while the others set the mood and accompany his solo.

[5] Tell us about the choreographic visualization video's created of some of the tracks from the album.

Originally, the idea was to create one video for every piece of the album and that the videos in this way ARE the album. Because of budget and also because of the pandemic, this was not possible. But we managed to create videos for four pieces: Q’ocha, Uyuni, Tunari and Alas. The creation of these videos was the continuation of our collaboration with Bolivian contemporary dancer Laura Mercado. Together, we put together a team of 5 dancers, who interpreted the above mentioned pieces in the landscapes that inspired them. Q’ocha was filmed in the desert of Siloli, Uyuni was filmed on the salt flat of Uyuni, Tunari on the mountain with the same name as the piece and Alas was filmed in a tropical region called Chapare.

[6] How did you end up releasing this album with SONNA Records?

I 'met' Sanne Rambags, the founder and artistic director of SONNA Records, during my studies at the HSLU. She was there as an exchange student, and funny enough we never actually talked or played music together. A few years later I saw that she was in Bolivia, playing at the FestiJazz Internacional, the biggest Bolivian jazz festival. I started to listen to her music and really liked it and when SONNA was founded, I could identify very well with the philosophy and the artistic approach they have, so I reached out to her and finally got to know her. We are the first band to get released on SONNA Records, that is not one of her own projects, and we’re very happy about that.

[7] Slowly, performing possibilities are becoming a reality again. Any foresight on touring you can share with us?

After having released Raíces on a CD, I felt that this format was a bit outdated. It depends on the level of commitment to listen to music and also on age I guess, but many people don’t listen to CDs anymore. Most people, including me, have started to use different kind of streaming services or digital ways of purchasing music (though I still buy CDs at concerts to support artists). I still wanted people to be able to get something physical though. A friend of Paykuna, Rafael Koller, is a really good illustrator. He also did the cover for Raíces, our first album. So I decided that I wanted to try something new and to release this album digitally and on prints of his artwork. He ended up doing a different illustration for every piece of Rinakaruy and combining them to a main artwork for the album. All those illustrations can be bought as cards, A1 or A2 posters via our website, Bandcamp or the SONNA website.

[8] Slowly, performing possibilities are becoming a reality again. Any foresight on touring you can share with us?

Sadly, even though smaller events are again taking place, Paykuna has always had difficulties finding gigs. As a 7 (sometimes 8) piece band, we struggle to find venues who are able to take the risk of booking a rather unknown band. However, we were invited to participate in the 2021 edition of the FestiJazz Bolivia. Allthough it is rather uncertain that we will be able to travel to Bolivia this year, we still have our hopes up. Besides that, nothing is really confirmed and we’re hoping for 2022 to be a better year. Our confirmed concerts can always be found on our website or through our social media channels.

[9] What kind of development do you have in mind for the upcoming years? Even when not thinking too far ahead, how would you like to see Paykuna evolve for the next couple of years in terms of concept, music and performance?

There are ideas on implementing new elements to our music, especially concerning sound(s). With Antoine Humberset (flute) we have a specialist on the implementation of sounds and noises in music. So that could be a possible way we will explore, to create more moody, soundscape-based pieces. In general it seems like the pieces are going to be more open, less arranged than in Raíces and Rinakaruy. But I always like to let things grow naturally and see where that takes us.


Paykuna are:

Demian Coca: piano, composition

Nicolas Gurtner: tenor saxophone, bass, clarinet, flute

Antoine Humberset: flute, alto flute

Mario Alonso: alto saxophone, bass flute

Marius Meier: bass

Adrian Böckli: drums

Balthasar Hürner: guitar

The music of Paykuna is available on their Bandcamp page: