María José Montijo: ‘Realismo Mágico’

The Sunday Music Drop is a weekly radio series hosted by the KQED weekend news team. In each segment, we feature a song from a local musician or band with an upcoming show and hear about what inspires their music.

María José Montijo is a singer-songwriter, harpist and sound healer originally from Puerto Rico and now based in Oakland. She came to the Bay around 2007.

“My music is rooted in Caribbean rhythms and, specifically Afro Puerto Rican rhythms, like Bomba music,” she said. “This person told me the other day, I can hear the Caribbean sea in your voice. So this kind of transmission of place, I feel like it’s very strong in me.”

She started writing songs from her own healing journey. “I was just really wanting to express the things that were going on inside me,” she said. “Sound is a very powerful medium.”

She shares that realismo mágico is a term from a literary genre from Latin American — novels like those by Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende. “There’s magic all around. We just need to notice,” Montijo said.

She says there’s a cultural phenomenon that shines through in the realismo mágico genre, that she grew up with. “Going to a spiritualist’s table as a child, and just being really in touch with the supernatural was something very normal,” she said.

The song is also a nod to being connected to ancestors. “We can talk to them. Sometimes we can see them. We can ask for stuff. We can be in relationship,” Montijo said. “It’s like there’s all these potentialities and dimensions here, and how can I see things in a different way so that I can access, touch, feel, listen, and have a conversation with life that’s different.”

María José will be performing at Vetiver in Oakland on December 30, 2022.