Of all the places to take your mother’s world-renowned neurosurgeon, Berlin superclub Berghain might not be top of most people’s lists. But, the Peruvian producer Sofia Kourtesis reasoned, she had seen so much of the Berlin doctor’s workplace, “I told him: ‘I want to show you a little of Sofia’s world.’” They went for Peruvian food before hitting the club this May. “He really loved it,” she says. “We bonded in a very beautiful way.”
The unlikely pair first met when Kourtesis was searching for medical advice for her mother, who had been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer and was rapidly declining in health. Her mother needed a complex surgery that only a few specialists were capable of performing. Despite living in Berlin, Kourtesis came across information about Peter Vajkoczy and was determined to contact him, even though she knew it would be extremely difficult to get an appointment. She shared a post on Instagram stating, “If anyone can help me get in touch with Peter Vajkoczy, I will dedicate a song to him. I just need two minutes of his time.” Vajkoczy appreciated her bold request and agreed to meet with her.
“She expressed her disbelief, but also her belief in the power of manifestation. She believes that with human belief, something wonderful can occur.” Vajkoczy was able to successfully perform surgery on her mother, and Kourtesis fulfilled her promise by writing the unstoppable and dynamic track, Vajkoczy, which is featured on her first album, Madres. The album is dedicated to both her mother and the surgeon.
When talking to Kourtesis, it’s no wonder her approach was successful. She exudes a natural charm and contagious positivity. Her upbeat energy is evident in Madres, a standout dance album of the year that deserves recognition on par with Bicep. The tracks feature blissful melodies woven into pulsating beats, intermixed with snippets of real-life sounds, distorted vocals, and catchy, uplifting hooks. However, there is also a sense of urgency and emotional release present in the project.
Madres also reflects on her life in Berlin. The song Funkhaus delves into her experiences as a programmer at the former GDR radio headquarters, now known as a studio and performance complex. Kourtesis, who is now 38 years old, moved to Berlin as a teenager to escape Peru, where she faced discrimination for her queerness and was expelled from school for kissing a girl. Her family was supportive, with both of her parents being political activists. Her father served as a pro bono lawyer during the Fujimori dictatorship, while her mother works to protect Indigenous tribes in South America. However, Kourtesis found Peru to be repressive and left for Germany at the age of 17. “My time in Peru was personally challenging due to my sexuality,” she explains.
After attending school for communications in Hamburg, she had a desire to create films, but faced difficulties with the process. “I constantly write scripts,” she explained. “But I struggled to bring them to life, so I expressed them through my music. I visualize the song and then translate it into melodies.” Alongside her film studies in Berlin, she also worked as a DJ and booking agent, all while honing her skills as a producer. One night, while under the influence, she sent one of her tracks to co-founder Axel Boman of influential label Studio Barnhus, leading to her song WinWin San being featured on a label compilation in 2018. A year later, her self-titled EP gained her wider recognition, culminating in the 2021 hit dance track La Perla.
The song was a tribute to her deceased father. After his passing, Kourtesis traveled, following her father’s advice to explore and document the world. She journeyed through Central America, fulfilling her father’s wish to visit the region, and was struck by the stunning landscapes and the sense of community among the locals, who shared their stories through music. Kourtesis recorded various sounds, including protests, speeches, and conversations, but had to cut her trip short due to her mother’s illness.
Kourtesis had to juggle her growing tour schedule with frequent trips back to Peru to take care of her mother. In addition to attending therapy, she sought out a creative outlet to occupy her mind. With what little free time she had, she poured her energy into crafting Madres, a project that brought together different aspects of her life: her family, her experiences in Berlin, and the exhilarating moments she had captured during her travels, specifically in Peru. “I wanted to capture the most stunning moments from the world,” she explains, “from the places I’ve lived, the people I’ve met, and the activities I’ve enjoyed.”
Kourtesis left Peru due to its conservative nature, but she still acknowledges and respects her parents’ work and the country’s radicalism. She aimed to create a meaningful album that highlights the Latin American community and its ongoing movements for equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and abortion rights. The album, Estación Esperanza, begins with a recording of a Peruvian protest against homophobia and also features Manu Chao, who was moved by a heartfelt letter written by Kourtesis. Another track, El Carmen, showcases the Ballumbrosio family, known for their contributions to Afro-Peruvian percussion with instruments like the cajón. Kourtesis believes in giving back to her community as a way of showing gratitude and honoring her family’s traditions. She explains that her mother learned from her grandmother and she learned from them, making it important for her family to support and preserve their roots and communities.
After her father passed away and her mother was diagnosed with a seemingly terminal illness, Kourtesis understandably lost hope. She describes the feeling as if her whole world was crumbling and she wouldn’t be able to overcome the pain. However, meeting Vajkoczy gave her the motivation to complete her album. His support also inspired her to write the song “How Music Makes You Feel Better,” which recognizes the power of sharing music as a means of activism and healing. Kourtesis believes that surrounding oneself with a supportive community is crucial during difficult times, as they can provide love and hope even in the darkest moments.