In the years before moving to Portland, Enrique Ugalde worked as a massage therapist in the Bay Area. The practice is often misunderstood as something generally meant for relaxation purposes. But such treatments are truly intended to, as Ugalde explains, “really get to the core of where there’s stuck energy.”
“It’s about working into it and challenging that,” he continues. “And once it’s out in the open and vocalized and realized, then you just effleurage the tension.”
Though it’s been years since he has engaged in that discipline, Ugalde is applying the same principles to his work as a musical artist. For the past two decades he has been performing around the world under the name Soriah, bringing a ritualistic experience that involves an elaborate costume, makeup, and incense.
“It’s kind of like a sonic massage,” he says. “That’s been the recurring narrative of my performances and my albums. I’m working with brainwave frequencies and the other senses help as well.”
What is at the heart of these rituals is Ugalde’s music — an element of his work that has drawn people from across the globe into his orbit. He is a modern practitioner in the ancient art of throat singing, the droning overtone sound associated most with the Russian republic of Tuva.
Ugalde has been practicing this type of vocalizing since the late ’90s, including studying with masters of the craft and participating in competitions in Tuva. His talent was quickly embraced by the community, and he visits the landlocked region frequently to perform and collaborate with his fellow vocalists. (It doesn’t hurt that he has a son who lives in Tuva with his mother).
“People there are fascinated and grateful that somebody has come in and shown a real dedication and interest in their music,” Ugalde says. “The majority were super grateful that somebody from America came and really fell in love with their culture.”
Throat singing is what Ugalde is best known for these days, earning him opportunities to record with the likes of Modest Mouse and Skinny Puppy member cEvin Key, but it remains only one facet of the music he makes as Soriah. His latest album Cathartes draws upon the influences of various Asian nations, incorporating African and South American rhythms as well as modern synthesizers. Songs like the gorgeous “Flower Moon” and the intense “Axca” could easily slot into a darkwave playlist next to the likes of the Creatures or Sisters of Mercy. Which is why his upcoming performance opening for goth icons Bauhaus feels so perfect. And no one is more excited about it than Ugalde.
“My daydreams when I was a teenager were about what processes these guys were thinking about, what lives they lived, what experiences they had to create this kind of music,” he says. “To be able to meet them and talk to them about it and have them be interested in what’s happened to me… it’s so amazing to me that I’ll be walking down the street and I’ll just laugh.”
The joy that Ugalde is experiencing with regards to his gig at the Schnitz next Tuesday comes with a purgative tinge and an acknowledgement that he’s one of the lucky ones. The pandemic afforded him the chance to stay home and truly concentrate on his music for the first time in a long time. His apartment in the West Hills also gave him a front row seat to the ongoing protests in downtown Portland against police violence, while watching the city disappear in the haze of smoke from the nearby wildfires. His complicated feelings about it all made their way into the music on Cathartes. “There was so much to be inspired by,” Ugalde says. “It was a very potent time.”
With the world still slowly unfolding from the pandemic only to be greeted with a myriad of other concerns, Ugalde has much on his mind. There’s a lot to look forward to: more collaborations, more recording, possibly more tour dates with Bauhaus. But there’s also worries about how safe it will be for him to return to Tuva as the war in Ukraine continues. Whatever the case, Ugalde remains wide open to what comes next, wherever he may be.
“Going around as a global citizen, I’ve been fortunate enough to be really moved by these frequencies,” he says. “I’ve been able to go and really put my hands into the earth and to work with people and infuse it with my own spirit. It’s just been a wonderful road.”
Soriah opens for Bauhaus on Tuesday, May 17 at 8pm at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall (1037 SW Broadway, Portland). Tickets: $55 – 89.50.