Photo courtesy of Conor Dardis

Landon Cabarubio was immediately gobsmacked by Njia Martin’s voice when he came across her music online a couple of years ago. He was just as shocked to learn she’s from Fort Worth. The two had met earlier through a mutual friend and kept bumping into each other at local shows. After a lot of small talk about making music someday together, Martin said it’s now or never. Now, two years and a pandemic later, the R&B duo Cotinga has released its debut single, “Where to Start.”

Martin and Cabarubio said they’re both super-excited about it. They’ve been working on their music for quite some time now, they said, and feel like now’s the perfect time for them to share what they’ve been up to.

“We didn’t want to rush it,” Cabarubio said, “and we wanted to make sure it was right.”

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During lockdown, the two musicians — Cabarubio on keys, guitar, and synth bass and Martin on vocals — had a lot of time to focus on their craft, Martin said. Instead of writing about the negative effects of the pandemic, Cotinga represented a great way to just have some fun.

“We were able to create more of a positive tone and make beauty out of the situation we were in, in a sense,” Martin said. “The music is all [Cabarubio]. I take what he gives me, and I go with the vibe and write with what coexists with the instrumental parts.”

In addition to the vocal melodies, Martin also handles the lyrics. For the single, she went with one of Cabarubio’s ideas.

“Lyrically,” Martin said, “I couldn’t figure out what to write, and [Cabarubio] simply said, ‘Just think about seeing someone you see is hot for the first time.’ After that, I took it from there and wrote around the idea of seeing someone that immediately catches your attention and how to start a conversation along with the awkwardness of seeing someone who catches your eye.”

The result is a jazzy, synth-based ballad for the new era.

Cotinga: “We were able to create more of a positive tone and make beauty out of the situation we were in, in a sense.”
Photo courtesy of Conor Dardis

While Cabarubio recorded the tracks for “Where to Start” at his home studio, the vocals were laid down at Alpha Omega Entertainment on Fort Worth’s East Side with producer Ty Macklin, who worked with Grammy winner Erykah Badu on her 1997 debut release, Baduizm. Cotinga’s sound owes a lot to groove-based electronic indie a la Blood Orange, Men I Trust, and MorMor with a soulful ’80s DNA.

The two Cotinga folks have been on the scene quite a while. Along with the long-running math-rock outfit Cleanup, Cabarubio produces hip-hop beats as Lando Sea, and Martin has been singing since the days of The Where House on the Near Southside.

Cotinga has played out a bit, too, and their biggest gig may have been a studio session. Last June, Cotinga performed a Tiny Desk Concert. Filmed on location at Fort Worth’s Trust Print Shop, where Cabarubio works full time, the 3:50-minute performance that was part of the popular NPR series has been viewed a very respectable 612 times.

Cotinga’s next shows are a SXSW showcase in Austin on Wed., March 16, and on Sat., April 23, the duo’s playing at Doc’s Records & Vintage as part of National Record Store Day. Brian Garcia will be joining the group on drums soon, Cabarubio said.

Cotinga is also releasing a second single, “Tiger Balm,” on April 15. Martin said the new track has an “upbeat vibe.”

The band plans to keep releasing singles and maybe an album in the future, all the while continuing to play out to build on their momentum. All Martin and Cabarubio really want is for people to dig what they’re doing.

“It’s something we are both very passionate about and are excited to share,” Martin said, “and we hope people get behind us.”