Photo: Leo Adef
Nathy Peluso Talks 'Calambre' & 2020 Latin GRAMMYs Debut
Nathy Peluso is days away from making her Latin GRAMMY debut, and, understandably, she's excited. On stage, the Argentine singer-songwriter is a jolt of energy—her dance moves and improvised body movements could be a show of their own.
On a Zoom call from her home in Argentina, Peluso, dressed in loungewear, unveils a relaxed demeanor. At the heels of her first performance at the 2020 Latin GRAMMYs, where she is set to share the stage with Argentine icon Fito Paez and is also nominated for the first time—she's up for the Best New Artist and Best Alternative Song categories—she is eager, even if circumstances will be different. This year, due to COVID-19, the Latin GRAMMYs will not return to their usual broadcast home, Las Vegas, and will instead be based in Miami with performances based all over the world.
"It is something that I did not expect at all. It is an experience that I want to take care of and that I want to pamper with my heart because I know that it will be something to remember," she says.
The singer, who moved to Spain as a child and went on to study physical theatre, has placed that same kind of thoughtful care into her first full-length album, Calambre, meaning electric shock. On it, Peluso, a fan of Dr. Dre, Missy Elliott, Earth, Wind & Fire, jazz, and bossa nova, among other genres, shows a dislike for genre boxes; The album features salsa, R&B, hip-hop and classic Argentine pop sounds. The singer researched every genre she featured to make them "sound organic and genuine," she says. If she's going to take on a genre, she has to do it right, she feels.
But Peluso makes it clear—she does not define her music, she lets the music define her. She talks with GRAMMY.com more on how she lets the music speak for itself, growing up an immigrant in Spain, her debut album, being nominated for a Latin GRAMMY for the first time, and her performance at the show.
First of all, congrats on your nomination. Where were you when you got the news?
I was out. They called me on the phone and it took me by surprise. I started running around on the street. I called my mom. I did not expect it, really. It was like a very unexpected call for me. I wasn't waiting to see if they would tell me something, I did not expect it at all.
Was your mom the first person you called? What did you tell her?
Yes. I thought she would be very excited. I told her the news. I said, "Mami, mami, I'm nominated for a Latin GRAMMY." And she said, "Wow. Nathy, that doesn't surprise me, because you deserve it." She said very nice things. It was an exciting moment.
You’re nominated for Best New Artist. That’s big. What does the nomination mean to you?
For me, it means [a lot coming] from the music industry, from the academy, from my peers. Like very important inspiration for me to push forward and continue to represent Latin music with a lot of love. For me, it gives me a sense of pride and honor to be able to be there representing so many musicians, our culture, our music. It’s incredible.
What was the process like creating your debut album Calambre?
It was a very organic process. Songs started coming out melodies I was recording and I was sketching them out until I figured out how to evolve all of them. I knew I wanted it to be called Calambre from the beginning because I came onto a very inspiring, energetic point. It was interesting because it was very powerful learning that I did professionally and personally. I learned a lot and had to face several new situations, I worked with artists and musicians that I admired a lot. It was artisanal work because there was deep research around each musical genre in which I embarked in on the album because there are many. It was a very delicate and interesting process that I came out of very enriched.
What did you do to learn more about each genre?
The truth is, I embarked on research that also included finding the people who represent the genre, arrangers, musicians, or producers, to also give credibility to that sound from someone who has a lot of experience working on it. The wind arrangements or the salsa arrangements, for example in “Puro Veneno.” If I was going to do a salsa track, I wanted to do it for real. The whole band behind it, the arrangers, the choristers, all are from Puerto Rico. The song is played live in Puerto Rico. That was a learning experience, getting information about the roots of each genre and also being able to do the artisanal work which can be challenging because the truth is, I felt it as a challenge to do all those genres that are not normally heard in Spanish, like hip-hop or the neo-soul or certain ballads. Making them sound organic and genuine in Spanish, in Castilian, that was a task I learned a lot from as well.
You've talked a lot about your love for different genres. You wanted your debut to be something that really shows who Nathy Peluso is?
With Calambre, it was no more than just intention. My intention was not to do something homogeneous, to represent me as only me and my persona because, really, I organically improvise my persona. The music is what guides and represents me, I don’t represent it. I found it interesting letting myself go through music, and then have that represent me as Nathy Peluso and my sound.
I was never afraid of it not sounding homogeneous between all the songs or how can I make people know me with this album? No, I just flowed, I did everything I felt I had to do musically speaking. I wrote all the lyrics with what I felt I had to write them, regardless of respecting a rule or something, I just wanted to flow.
In the root of that as well, I let go, I trusted, I put confidence in the music and in my fans so that it accommodates and settles as it has to settle. The search was not so much as towards my ego or towards my persona, but towards making good music that represents music, that pays respect and worships music and I contributed a grain of sand so that many people enjoy musical quality.
You’re an animated performer. You studied physical theatre. Do your studies influence you as a performer?
Yes, without a doubt. I believe everything we learn throughout life influences us, be it in our studies or in life experiences. It’s obvious, it makes me a better version of myself because it is something I learned and it helps me access —obviously, we can all get to that point, but certain doors have to be unlocked, certain doors [have to] open to access all that. Above all, to me, to my career, it taught me the incalculable power of improvisation and the power of movement, of body expression, of what we can say at the root of a persona; It nurtured me a lot and gave me tools to be able to defend certain things on stage.
You were born in Argentina, but as a child, you moved to Spain with your family, how did that affect you musically?
I do not know. I feel that I got to know many cultures. Being an immigrant, I linked up with many [other] immigrants who brought me closer to salsa, for example, Colombians. Many Colombian friends taught me to dance salsa. I had the opportunity to be in a Cuban choir for many years, learning from Cubans. Then my schooling was at Alicia Alonso's high school, who was a well-known Cuban dancer, and all my teachers were Cuban too. It gave me the rare opportunity, because I was in Spain, to connect with a deeply rooted Latin world because the people who had left their [countries, had] roots and had to promote them elsewhere. I learned a lot about the Latin culture and it made me look for a great friend, a great partner in music. Perhaps for a girl emigrating, it is something a bit difficult. Having music always accompanying me made me like having a faithful friend who never left me.
In the album you have a song dedicated to Buenos Aires, was it important for you to include the song honoring your homeland?
Yes, the truth is that it was a name that came up after making the song. It was not on purpose, but it sounded so much to me like the city, it sounded so much like the sound of nostalgia that it reminds me of my roots, that I decided to give it this name. Because I felt that many people, by closing their eyes and listening to that song, could travel wherever they wanted, because the sound is like a time machine, like the sound of beautiful nostalgia, the sound of feeling part of something. Obviously for me, when I closed my eyes, I listened to my city, it was something special, a special ritual.
You’ll appear at the Latin GRAMMY Awards, and I know they’ll be different because of COVID-19, but is there something your most excited about?
I am very excited because I am going to perform. It is something that I did not expect at all. It is an experience that I want to take care of and that I want to pamper with my heart because I know that it will be something to remember. It is my first time performing at the Latin GRAMMYs and it is such an immense opportunity that I am very grateful and very eager for.
What can you tell us about your performance?
They won’t let me, I can only say that I am preparing it with a lot of love and that I promise to do my best.
The 2020 Latin GRAMMYs will air on Univision on Thursday, Nov. 19, at 8 p.m. ET/PT (7 p.m. CT). The broadcast will also air on TNT (cable) at 7 p.m. (MEX)/8 p.m. (COL)/10 p.m. (ARG/CHI), and on Televisa on Channel 5.
Learn more about the 2020 Latin GRAMMY Awards via the Latin Recording Academy's official website.