‘Losing You’, was written in response to the 2016 shootings at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. Speaking on the track, Varillas quotes: “I was really touched by what I saw on the train that same day,” he recalls. “I was on my way to work, and I saw two men sitting opposite me, crying, holding hands. I must have internalised that, and the next day the song just flew out of my mouth, word for word. I used the name Maribel as a way of putting myself into the shoes of one of the Latin mothers who lost their child. That song is basically a letter to her. The sad lyrics provide some sort of depth, and the happy music gives reassurance.”
Varillas’ music could be described as ‘feel-good’; this belies the depth of sentiments contained within, and those stirred without. It’s true he leans heavily on an encyclopedic knowledge of colourful rhythms drawn from across the globe: his homeland’s rumbas and flamenco; Latin American Salsas, Tangos and Bossa Novas; African Highlife and Mali Blues; Calypso and Soca. But these joyful tempos are often undercut by wistful melodies or recognitions of life’s grimmer elements. “I like the idea,” he says, “of sad lyrics with happy music. It balances things out’.
If the last few years have been notable for the increasingly inward-looking nature of contemporary politics, and an upswing in what one might politely – or euphemistically – refer to as ‘nationalism’, Gizmo Varillas’ story can be interpreted an antidote, albeit an unpremeditated one. His music, however, unquestionably offers a powerful remedy for the distressing headlines piling up these days and this time that’s deliberate. Like El Dorado, its predecessor – an album distinguished by its cheerful air of enthusiastic idealism, but nonetheless penetrated by realism – Dreaming of Better Days acknowledges mankind’s darker sides, and seeks to find light therein. It’s a quality that might be considered as rare as it is indispensable.