Ten years ago, a shy Karly Marina Loaiza, Kali Uchis, the words “without fear” were engraved on the skin. It was a phrase used in his Colombian family to give confidence. A decade later, that phrase would become the name of his second album, now certified double platinum. Without fear It is the album that catapulted his popularity worldwide.
Such was its arrival to the masses that the song’s star on the album Fearless (Of Love and Other Demons) –With an explicit reference to the novel by Gabriel García Márquez– “Telepathy”, already has more than 700 million listeners between Spotify, Apple and YouTube and became a challenge by Tik Tok among millennials and centennials on both sides of the Atlantic trying to reproduce their first bilingual verse. What’s more, Kali Uchis is the first Latina woman in the last decade to have a song at No. 1 on the Billboard chart. “Telepathy” is the most listened to feminine song in the United States and until a few days ago it was the number one song in more than 70 countries in Apple Music. Recognition for the Colombian raised in Virginia, United States, comes from both the people and the industry, which this year awarded her at the Grammy Awards in the Best Dance Recording category, along with Kaytranada, for “10%”.
“I was always proud to be Latina and my dream was to make a second album entirely in Spanish, so we went to Miami with Tainy – the producer of Bad Bunny and J Balvin – and in a week we had it ready,” says the artist 26-year-old on the other end of the phone, as the manicure wheel roars in the background, sharpening her acrylic claws. Uchis appears in her social networks as this diva of soap operas, sure of herself, with sensual curves, a style tacky, typical of 2000 and kilos of lipgloss over a dark contour mouth. But he says that not everything is what it seems, that his shyness and anti-social character are still intact, since he composed “Loner”, “Solita” and his first album, Isolation (2018) so far.
The second album takes up sounds from his roots and childhood on both sides of the continent and mixes boleros, reggaeton, soul, R&B and even Latin trip hop in an ideal song for a James Bond movie trailer: “go with God”. There are collaborations with Puerto Ricans Jhay Cortez, Jowell & Randy and Rico Nasty in “I want to feel good” and PartyNextDoor in “It was better”, where he sings: “It was better to fly so as not to fall”.
Without fear envelops the listener in a pink cotton paradise of cinematic progression. Uchis prioritizes her well-being and her emotions after a time of grief. Among the symbols of digital slang and emoticons that describe a happy face in the anime style, in “brandy and lemon% ᵕ‿‿ᵕ%” (yes, as weird as it looks and, as in all the themes of the album, with all the words in lowercase) sings: “Life is tasty, so delicious, I no longer want pain, I no longer want to cry.”
When the pandemic began, the sweet-voiced, wide-range singer had the record almost ready but took the time to simmer it. Meanwhile, he added an intro, “the moon in love”, the album coda (“angel without heaven”) and a reversal of “What I asked you”, by La Lupe and Tito Puente. To shorten the wait, he released the EP TO FEEL ALIVE in full social isolation and now he has added three songs in acoustic format where his voice floats between the sound of a Creole guitar and a soft trumpet.
“The only thing this album has in common with the previous one and with the other EPs is that they are built on that mix of genres, styles and cultures. I suppose that my identity has to do with that mixture ”, reflects Uchis, the artist who chose as her artistic name a deformation of Karluchis, the affectionate nickname that her Colombian father used in her childhood to call her. For Kali, Latin music today is finding great acceptance in the United States because it is made up of many different sounds and situations, which is projected outside of stereotypes.
Kali was 16 years old, played the sax and piano in a jazz group in Virginia and was rateaba of the secondary. Between being missed at school and late arrivals at the family home, her parents, exiled in the United States, kicked her out of the house and she had to spend time living among friends’ houses and in her car. At night in 2012 he slept in a parking lot and in the midst of that discomfort he produced Drunken Babble in 48 hours and using the Garageband app.
His first mixtape mixes genres, languages, flow Y samples by Astrud Gilberto, The Honey Drippers, The Notations and Duran Duran. Uchis explains: “I recorded it by myself and as an experiment. I uploaded it to Soundcloud without thinking, but then it started to have an impact and I was embarrassed, so I downloaded it, but people recorded it. I never sold it, it was always all free and to promote my music. Having started without money or equipment, the only way to amplify my music was always through the internet and social networks ”.
That first foray as a vocalist also caught the attention of Snoop Dogg and Damon Albarn.. Then Tyler The Creator, Diplo, and BadBadNotGood were added to his fan list. With them he formed creative alliances and collaborations in the production of his first EP, For life, with which he made his Buenos Aires debut at the BUE festival -at the end of 2017 and wildly programmed early on the grid, beyond the later complications of bad weather. His set was consistent with his hybrid style, with a combo made up of his short repertoire and covers by Los Panchos, Al Green and Elvis Crespo.
Once the industry knew and embraced it, 2018 was the time to reach the public, albeit not en masse, with Isolation, the album designated by critics as one of the best of that year and that has everything good that only pop can contain: its influences from music of the past, bossa-nova, doo woop, dancehall, R&B, and a list of contributors including Tyler The Creator, Bootsy Collins, BIA, BBNG, Jorja Smith, Kevin Parker and many more.
Uchis made a mark of her life, of her experience as the daughter of Latin Americans in the United States. According to her account, her most difficult challenge was to jump into that industry that knew her before her audience and to be able to show all the facets that compose it: Latin sensuality, cultural and musical confluence, self-knowledge, poetry and empowerment.
If, as Aldous Huxley said, love drives away fear and, reciprocally, fear drives away love, Kali Uchis protects herself from loneliness to face her own demons. She knows very well how to nurture self-love, so that sensuality and love reign in her universe.