meta-scriptGRAMMY Museum's New Marco Antonio Solís Exhibit Celebrates The Mexican Superstar's Rise | GRAMMY.com
Marco Antonio Solís poses with hand on heart in all-white outfit

Marco Antonio Solís

Photo: Courtesy of artist

news

GRAMMY Museum's New Marco Antonio Solís Exhibit Celebrates The Mexican Superstar's Rise

The bilingual exhibit "Y Para Siempre… Marco Antonio Solís" opens May 21 at the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles and invites guests to explore five major chapters from the superstar's life and 40-plus year career

GRAMMYs/May 10, 2021 - 11:31 pm

Following the recent, exciting news that the GRAMMY Museum in Downtown Los Angeles will be reopening its doors on Fri., May 21, they've revealed the details of its new billingual (Español/Spanish and English) exhibit celebrating Latin GRAMMY-winning and GRAMMY-nominated Mexican cantante Marco Antonio Solís.

"Y Para Siempre… Marco Antonio Solís" invites guests to explore five major chapters from the superstar's life and 40-plus year career, including his family and years growing up in Michoacán, Mexico, his early years as an artist, the formation and evolution of his group Los Bukis, and the iconic solo artist he is today.

Related: The GRAMMY Museum Reopens In May 2021 With Exhibits On Dave Mathews Band, Marco Antonio Solís, Motown & Nat King Cole

"One of Mexico's most beloved sons, Marco Antonio Solís is a well-established global superstar. Whether it is his voice, songwriting, technical understanding of multiple instruments, his ability to compose, produce, and arrange, complex, emotional music, his showmanship, or his ability to create music of different styles and genres, Solís' talents are unmatched," said Nicholas Vega, Curator and Director of Exhibitions at the GRAMMY Museum.

"It's no surprise that he's captured the hearts of millions of fans worldwide and we're thrilled to host his expansive exhibit in the GRAMMY Museum's Latin Music Gallery."

This exhibit captures the deep connection between Solís and his fans, including a collection of personal gifts given to him by fans from all over the world over his four decades of fame.

More Museum: GRAMMY Museum Presents Dave Matthews Band: Inside And Out

Outfit from 'En Pleno Vuelo' on view at GRAMMY Museum | Photo: Rebecca Sapp

The exhibit also celebrates Solís' connection to his current hometown, Los Angeles. As a resident, Solís has formed a special bond with his community here, where he has performed throughout the city at various iconic venues, including the Hollywood Bowl, and was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2010.

Exhibit highlights include:

  • Green tuxedo worn by Solís while performing with Los Bukis
  • The first award given to Los Bukis by their record label, Discos Melody, in the '70s
  • Gold studded jacket worn by Solís during his concert at the Hollywood Bowl in 2019
  • Wardrobe worn on the album cover and in music videos from En Pleno Vuelo, Solís' GRAMMY-nominated debut solo album
  • Solís' blue Taylor guitar, used during his performance at the Palacio Municipal de Congresos in Madrid in 2007
  • Handwritten lyrics
  • And more!

"Y Para Siempre… Marco Antonio Solís" is located in the Museum's permanent Latin Music Gallery and will run through spring 2022.

For more information regarding advanced ticket reservations and the Museum's new safety protocols, please visit www.grammymuseum.org.

Relive Ellas Y Su Música: Chiquis & Dolly Parton Perform "Jolene" And Other Performances From The Historic Night

Amy Winehouse performs "Rehab" during 2007 MTV Movie Awards
Amy Winehouse in 2007

Photo: Chris Polk/FilmMagic

list

How Amy Winehouse's 'Back To Black' Changed Pop Music Forever

Ahead of the new Amy Winehouse biopic 'Back To Black,' reflect on the impact of the album of the same name. Read on for six ways the GRAMMY-winning LP charmed listeners and changed the sound of popular music.

GRAMMYs/May 17, 2024 - 01:05 pm

When Amy Winehouse released Back To Black in October 2006, it was a sonic revelation. The beehive-wearing singer’s second full-length blended modern themes with the Shangri-Las sound, crafting something that seemed at once both effortlessly timeless and perfectly timed. 

Kicking off with smash single "Rehab" before blasting into swinging bangers like "Me & Mr. Jones," "Love Is A Losing Game," and "You Know I’m No Good," Black To Black has sold over 16 million copies worldwide to date and is the 12th best-selling record of all time in the United Kingdom. It was nominated for six GRAMMY Awards and won five: Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year, Best New Artist, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and Best Pop Vocal Album. 

Winehouse accepted her golden gramophones via remote link from London due to visa problems. At the time, Winehouse set the record for the most GRAMMYs won by a female British artist in a single year, though that record has since been broken by Adele, who won six in 2011.

Written in the wake of a break-up with on-again, off-again flame Blake Fielder-Civil, Black To Black explores heartbreak, grief, and infidelity, as well as substance abuse, isolation, and various traumas. Following her death in 2011, Back To Black became Winehouse’s most enduring legacy. It remains a revealingly soulful message in a bottle, floating forever on the waves. 

With the May 17 release of Sam Taylor-Johnson’s new (and questionably crafted) Winehouse biopic, also titled Back To Black, it's the perfect time to reflect on the album that not only charmed listeners but changed the state of a lot of popular music over the course of just 11 songs. Here are five ways that Back To Black influenced music today.

She Heralded The Arrival Of The Alt Pop Star

When Amy Winehouse hit the stage, people remarked on her big voice. She had classic, old-time torch singer pipes, like Sarah Vaughn or Etta Jones, capable of belting out odes to lost love, unrequited dreams, and crushing breakups. And while those types of singers had been around before Winehouse, they didn’t always get the chance — or grace required — to make their kind of music, with labels and producers often seeking work that was more poppy, hook-packed, or modern.

The success of Back To Black changed that, with artists like Duffy, Adele, and even Lady Gaga drawing more eyes in the wake of Winehouse’s overwhelming success. Both Duffy and Adele released their debut projects in 2007, the year after Back To Black, bringing their big, British sound to the masses. Amy Winehouse's look and sound showed other aspiring singers that they could be different and transgressive without losing appeal.

Before she signed to Interscope in 2007, "nobody knew who I was and I had no fans, no record label," Gaga told Rolling Stone in 2011. "Everybody, when they met me, said I wasn’t pretty enough or that my voice was too low or strange. They had nowhere to put me. And then I saw [Amy Winehouse] in Rolling Stone and I saw her live. I just remember thinking ‘well, they found somewhere to put Amy…’" 

If an artist like Winehouse — who was making records and rocking styles that seemed far outside the norm — could break through, then who’s to say someone else as bold or brassy wouldn’t do just as well? 

It Encouraged Other Torch Singers In The New Millenium

Back To Black might have sounded fun, with swinging cuts about saying "no" to rehab and being bad news that could seem lighthearted to the casual listener. Dig a little deeper, though, and it’s clear Winehouse is going through some real romantic tumult. 

Before Back To Black was released, Fielder-Civil had left Winehouse to get back together with an old girlfriend, and singer felt that she needed to create something good out of all those bad feelings. Songs like "Love Is A Losing Game" and "Tears Dry On Their Own" speak to her fragile emotional state during the making of the record, and to how much she missed Fielder-Civil. The two would later marry, though the couple divorced in 2009.

Today, young pop singers like Olivia Rodrigo, Taylor Swift, and Selena Gomez are lauded for their songs about breakups, boyfriends, and the emotional damage inflicted by callous lovers. While Winehouse certainly wasn’t the first to sing about a broken heart, she was undoubtedly one of the best.

It Created A Bit Of Ronsonmania

Though Mark Ronson was already a fairly successful artist and producer in his own right before he teamed with Winehouse to write and co-produce much of Back To Black, his cred was positively stratospheric after the album's release. Though portions of Back To Black were actually produced by Salaam Remi (who’d previously worked with Winehouse on Frank and who was reportedly working on a follow-up album with her at the time of her death), Ronson got the lion’s share of credit for the record’s sound — perhaps thanks to his his GRAMMY win for Best Pop Vocal Album. Winehouse would even go on to guest on his own Version record, which featured the singer's ever-popular cover of "Valerie."

In the years that followed, Ronson went on to not only produce and make his own funky, genre-bending records, but also to work with acts like Adele, ASAP Rocky, and Paul McCartney, all of whom seemingly wanted a little of the retro soul Ronson could bring. He got huge acclaim for the funk-pop boogie cut "Uptown Funk," which he wrote and released under his own name with help from Bruno Mars, and has pushed into film as well, writing and producing over-the-top tracks like A Star Is Born’s "Shallow" and Barbie’s "I’m Just Ken."  To date, he’s been nominated for 17 GRAMMY Awards, winning eight.

Ronson has always acknowledged Winehouse’s role in his success, as well, telling "BBC Breakfast" in 2010, "I've always been really candid about saying that Amy is the reason I am on the map. If it wasn't for the success of Back To Black, no one would have cared too much about Version."

Amy Showcased The Artist As An Individual

When the GRAMMY Museum hosted its "Beyond Black - The Style of Amy Winehouse" exhibit in 2020, Museum Curator and Director of Exhibitions Nicholas Vega called the singer's sartorial influence "undeniable." Whether it was her beehive, her bold eyeliner, or her fitted dresses, artists and fans had adopted elements of Winehouse’s Back To Black style into their own fashion repertoire. And though it’s the look we associate most with Winehouse, it was actually one she had truly developed while making the record, amping up her Frank-era low-slung jeans, tank tops, and polo shirts with darker eyeliner and much bigger hair, as well as flirty dresses, vibrant bras, and heels.

"Her stylist and friends were influential in helping her develop her look, but ultimately Amy took bits and pieces of trends and styles that she admired to create her own look," Vega told GRAMMY.com in 2020. While rock ‘n’ rollers have always leaned into genre-bending styles, Winehouse’s grit is notable in the pop world, where artists typically have a bit more of a sheen. These days, artists like Miley Cyrus, Billie Eillish, and Demi Lovato are willing to let their fans see a bit more of the grit — thanks, no doubt, to the doors Winehouse opened.

Winehouse also opened the door to the beauty salon and the tattoo studio, pushing boundaries with not just her 14 different vintage-inspired tattoos — which have become almost de rigeur these days in entertainment — but also with her signature beehive-like bouffant, which hadn’t really been seen on a popular artist since the ‘60s.It’s a frequent look for contemporary pop divas, popping up on artists like Ariana Grande, Lana Del Rey, and Dua Lipa.

The Dap-Kings Got The Flowers They Deserved

Six of Back To Black’s 11 songs, including "Rehab," got their "retro" sound via backing from the Dap-Kings, a Brooklyn-based soul act Ronson recruited for the project. 

While Winehouse’s lyrics were mostly laid down in London, the Dap-Kings did their parts in New York. Ronson told GRAMMY.com in 2023 that the Dap-Kings "brought ['Rehab'] to life," saying, "I felt like I was floating because I couldn’t believe anybody could still make that drum sound in 2006." Winehouse and the Dap-Kings met months later after the record was released, and recorded "Valerie." The band later backed Winehouse on her U.S. tour. 

Though the Dap-Kings were known in hip musical circles for their work with late-to-success soul sensation Sharon Jones, Back To Black’s immense success buoyed the listening public’s interest in soul music and the Dap-Kings' own profile (not to mention that of their label, Daptone Records).

"Soul music never went away and soul lovers never went away, but they’re just kind of closeted because they didn’t think it was commercially viable," Dap-Kings guitarist Binky Griptite said in the book It Ain't Retro: Daptone Records & The 21st Century Soul Revolution. "Then, when Amy’s record hit, all the undercover soul fans are like, I’m free. And then that’s when everybody’s like, Oh, there’s money in it now."

The success of Back To Black also seems to have firmly cemented the Dap-Kings in Ronson’s Rolodex, with the group’s drummer Homer Steinweiss, multi-instrumentalist Leon Michaels, trumpeter Dave Guy, and guitarist/producer Tom Brenneck appearing on many of his projects; the Dap-Kings' horns got prominent placement in "Uptown Funk."

Amy Exposed The Darker Side Of Overwhelming Success

Four years after Winehouse died, a documentary about her life was released. Asif Kapadia’s Amy became an instant rock-doc classic, detailing not only Winehouse’s upbringing, but also her struggles with fame and addiction. It won 30 awards after release, including Best Documentary Feature at the 88th Academy Awards and Best Music Film at the 58th GRAMMY Awards.

It also made a lot of people angry — not for how it portrayed Winehouse, but for how she was made to feel, whether by the British press or by people she considered close. The film documented Winehouse’s struggles with bulimia, self-harm, and depression, and left fans and artists alike feeling heartbroken all over again about the singer’s passing. 

The documentary also let fans in on what life was really like for Winehouse, and potentially for other artists in the public eye. British rapper Stormzy summed it up well in 2016 when he told i-D, "I saw the [documentary, Amy] – it got me flipping angry... [Amy’s story] struck a chord with me in the sense that, as a creative, it looks like on the outside, that it’s very ‘go studio, make a hit, go and perform it around the world, champagne in the club, loads of girls’. But the graft and the emotional strain of being a musician is very hard. No one ever sees that part." 

These days, perhaps because of Winehouse’s plight or documentaries like Amy, the music-loving population seems far more inclined to give their favorite singers a little grace, whether it’s advocating for the end of Britney Spears’ conservatorship or sympathizing with Demi Lovato’s personal struggles. Even the biggest pop stars are still people, and Amy really drove that point home.

We Only Said Goodbye With Words: Remembering Amy Winehouse 10 Years Later

GRAMMY Museum Hip-Hop Block Party

Image courtesy of the Recording Academy

news

GRAMMY Museum Announces Hip-Hop Block Party On June 6: What To Know About The Museum Takeover For Black Music Month

Inspired by the GRAMMY Museum's 'Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit,' this celebratory event ignites the Museum with an array of interdisciplinary arts and experiences. Get all the details here.

GRAMMYs/May 16, 2024 - 08:51 pm

The 50th anniversary of hip-hop may have come and gone — but the celebration is far from over.

On June 6, experience the potency of hip-hop culture like never before, at the GRAMMY Museum's Hip-Hop Block Party.

The event will take place on site at the GRAMMY Museum, located on 800 W Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles, California.

This follows in the footsteps of the GRAMMY Museum's 'Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit,' — an expansive series of historical hip-hop eexhibit running until Sept. 24, 2024.

The GRAMMY Museum's Hip-Hop Block Party will introduce an exciting array of interdisciplinary arts and experiences, immersing new audiences in the power of hip-hop. This will include:

  • Dynamic dance showcases lead by Leslie "Big Lez" Segar and Richard "Swoop" Whitebear

  • A cutting-edge fashion show featuring Cross Colours and the Black Design Collective

  • A captivating Sight & Sound photo gallery presented by Alvin Allure & Entertain the Angels and Corentin Villemeur

  • Riveting live performances by UraelB, Nilla Allin, and Xian Bell, and vibes curated by DJ R-Tistic on the ones and twos

As such, every floor of the GRAMMY Museum will be activated, and transformed into a living canvas of artistic expression.

The Hip-Hop Block Party will celebrate and empower local artists and businesses, creating an unforgettable celebration of creativity, community and culture in celebration of Black Music Month. This event is made possible in part by a grant from the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.

So don't miss the block party on June 6, at the GRAMMY Museum — and keep checking GRAMMY.com for all things commemorating the enduring power of hip-hop!

GRAMMY.com's 50th Anniversary Of Hip-Hop Coverage: A Recap

Grupo Frontera Press Photo 2024
Grupo Frontera

Photo: Eric Rojas

interview

Grupo Frontera On 'Jugando A Que No Pasa Nada' & Fully Expressing Themselves: "This Album Was Made From The Heart"

With their second album, regional Mexican music stars Grupo Frontera aim to honor their roots while showing their wide-spanning musical interests. Hear from some of the group on the creation of the album and why it's so special to them.

GRAMMYs/May 16, 2024 - 08:12 pm

In just two years, Grupo Frontera have gone from playing weddings in their native Texas to joining Bad Bunny on stage at Coachella and performing on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon." No matter how rapid their rise to fame has become, the Texas sextet has held the same ethos: celebrating their Mexican heritage while embracing the American culture they were born into.

Embracing that balance has helped them transcend cultural barriers with their modern take on regional Mexican music, which incorporates a wide range of musical styles. That holds true on Grupo Frontera's second album, Jugando A Que No Pasa Nada, out now. 

With bright accordion lines and a high-energy blend of urbano party anthems, cumbia-inspired ballads, and forays into pop, the album is a masterful display of the group's mixed cultural background. It retains the same Latin cowboy spirit of their first LP, 2023's El Comienzo — which had roots in the norteño genre, a traditional style originated in Northern Mexico — while tapping into the music they grew up listening to in the States, like hip-hop, corridos tumbados, and country music. 

While El Comienzo introduced Grupo Frontera as loyal traditionalists, Jugando A Que No Pasa Nada aims at speaking to younger generations. It's a fitting approach for the group, whose ages range from early twenties to early thirties across its six members — Alberto "Beto" Acosta, Juan Javier Cantú, Carlos Guerrero, Julian Peña Jr., Adelaido "Payo" Solis III, and Carlos Zamora — that also speaks to their evolution amid their whirlwind success. It's proof that they aren't afraid to create music that is completely true to them — and that's exactly what makes Jugando A Que No Pasa Nada special.

Below, Cantu, Guerrero, Peña, and Solis speak with GRAMMY.com about their cultural roots in South Texas and the making of Jugando A Que No Pasa Nada.

The last two years were a very prolific time for Grupo Frontera. What was it like to create Jugando A Que No Pasa Nada after everything that's happened to the group?

Adelaido "Payo" Solis: Last year we were working a lot, playing four or five concerts a week, and that didn't give us time to structure El Comienzo as well as we wanted to. Now we made time to record all these different types of songs. It was amazing to have time to work on the album cover and all the songs the way we wanted to, and have everything set in a certain way to represent the new album to its highest potential.

Between 2023 and this year, were you able to take any time off to work on this new record, or was it done in between touring?

Juan Javier Cantú: There were times when we were touring El Comienzo that we would record before the people got inside the theater. We would record onstage. We'd be like "Wait, don't let the people in — 20 more minutes, we have to finish this session!" That happened with our new songs "Quédate Bebé" and "Nunca La Olvidé."

Solis: It's a little bit of both because those were recorded live, but then two months ago, we locked ourselves in the house for a good four or five days, and out of that came, like, 15 more songs.

You mentioned that, for this new record, you had more time to work on the order of the songs. What's the general feeling behind this track list? Starting with "F—ing Amor."

Solis: The general feel of this album is literally the album's name, Jugando A Que No Pasa Nada [which loosely translates to "pretending everything is OK"]. Since we had more time to think about it, we tied many things to that name, to that phrase.

Everyone, at some point, has pretended everything is OK when in reality, it's not. You can see it in the album cover — the truck is on fire, but our character, who represents Grupo Frontera, is sitting in the car as if nothing is wrong. So the idea — and I know everyone experienced this — is that when you get in your truck, you can play our record and you can drop the act. You can stop pretending everything is alright. You can get in your feelings.

So the way it's structured, starting with "F—king Amor," is that you don't want to know anything about love, then in the middle, you have "Ya Pedo Quién Sabe," which says "maybe I miss you," and then by the end, "Quédate Bebe" [which translates to "Stay Baby"]. So it is a ride, an experience, which starts with you being hurt, or left behind by someone, and you being sad about it, then slowly wondering how is she doing, then saying "I miss you," and finally "stay with me."

Cantú: More than anything, we are playing with genres. In this record, you have our traditional cumbias, country music, and then songs like "Desquite." So that was also the goal, for people to know more about our music and the music we like.

Solis: Each member of Grupo Frontera listens and plays different styles, so starting from that, we each had a big say in the genres we wanted to play and styles we wanted to record on this album. 

More than anything, we were thinking of new generations. The Latinos of newer generations that don't speak Spanish, or don't get to come back often to Mexico or the countries where their parents are from. They don't want to hear just cumbia, so in our album, we want to make all these styles for them to find, in our songs, the genres that they like.

You mentioned that each of you has different styles and genres you brought to the new record. How did you work in the studio to generate these new sounds?

Solis: Grupo Frontera doesn't really use a lot of computer sounds, most of the music we play is through our instruments. We used to work on our songs starting from guitar and voice only, but now because we had more time to work on things, we each took a song and would listen to it for days. Then we'd meet again as a group and work on it in the studio: everyone's opinion counts, and no one's opinion takes precedence over the other. That's how, slowly, each new song took shape.

When you talked about the moment in which you get in your car or truck, and finally get to stop pretending everything is alright — does that car culture come from your upbringing in Texas?

Julián Peña: That culture is definitely from where we are from, from the Valley [the Lower Rio Grande Valley, which spans the border of Texas and Mexico], where there are a lot of troquitas tumbadas [lowered or customized pickup trucks]. You'd hear la Raza zooming by, blasting our songs, with the bass booming, from their trucks. So it's kind of like a relief, your safe space.

Like the album's title says, "pretending everything is fine"... you're pretending to be fine and then once you get in your car and you pass yourself the aux, you turn that up and you start bawling, or feeling whatever you're feeling. Then the album's over, gotta get back to work, clock back in, and go back to pretending everything's fine. It's like an escape that we know many people have, it has happened to all of us; you go on a drive to decompress, turn the music up, let it all out, and feel better. That's what we wanted to capture with that image.

What songs did you each play when you needed that kind of moment?

Cantú: When I broke up with a girlfriend, around 2012, my go-to was Drake.

Peña: Mine was "Then," by Brad Paisley. I was just sad and going through a country phase. [Laughs.]

Solis: I would listen a lot to a song by Eslabón Armado called "Atrapado."

Cantú: When I feel a little trapped by this street lifestyle I go, "I Should've Been A Cowboy"! [All laugh.]

I read some of you grew up raising cattle, or come from families of farmers and ranchers. What aspects of that lifestyle do you miss, in contrast with being in a city like LA, and actively involved in the music industry?

Solis: Juan had his ranch around General Bravo [a municipality in Mexico], and I was born in the States, but I would go every weekend to Mexico, to my parent's ranch, where they had cattle. I know Juan can relate to this — when you are at the ranch and play a song, and can sing out loud without anyone around listening or judging you, that's a really nice feeling. When you are on stage, in the industry, you're not singing only to yourself, but to make the audience's day better. So no matter what you're going through, when you're on stage, your job is to make people happy.

Cantú: Going to a place — like a ranch, an open space — to disconnect, it's like a reset. I feel a lot of people have not experienced that, they don't know the power that has.

Through your lyrics, you adapted old love songs and romance to modern times. Some songs even mention emojis, DMs and texting. Do you have any favorite emojis?

Solis: Oh man, I love the black heart emoji because it can mean many things. A dead heart, or that you're not feeling anything. It can mean your heart is broken and needs mending to go back to being red. I think it's super cool.

Carlos Guerrero: I like the thinking face emoji.

Cantú: Sometimes he uses it out of context and we don't know if he's thinking, or he's mad. [Laughs.] For me, the one I use the most is the "thanks" [praying hands emoji].

Peña: I like the heart hands emoji. Like "Hey what's up," and throw a heart hands emoji.

Going back to your music, what's your favorite part of making songs?

Solis: I'm not sure if we all have the same answer, but for me, my favorite part about being able to sing, record and write these songs is to sing them with all the feeling in the world. And that is amazing, to be able to let that out.

Cantú: The simple fact of creating something and getting to test it out, seeing people sing it, it's like, Wow, we made that.

Peña: Yeah, that you do something and then put that out there right and you're like, I wonder if this feeling is gonna get translated the way we want it to. And then, like Juan said, when people go to concerts, and sing it back to us, or we see people post stories of them singing it and going through it. It's like, we made that! We got that point across, and it feels good for all of us.

How do you navigate being an American band with a cross-cultural upbringing?

Cantú: It's really cool. We were lucky to go to Puerto Rico, Colombia and Argentina, to collaborate with artists like Arcángel, Maluma, Shakira, and Nicki Nicole. That helped us understand their culture and meditate on what it means to be Latino, not just Mexican. Latino identity entails so many cultures in one, and even Mexican identity is vast. Latinos are from everywhere.

How was it to collaborate with all these other artists, and open your group to collaborate with them in Jugando A Que No Pasa Nada?

Solis: Basically, we are like a group of brothers. We sometimes spend 24/7 together. We see each other every day, and we spend all our time together on the tour bus and at home, even when we don't need to see each other. So when we collaborate with other artists, like Morat, Maluma, or Nicky Nicole, they sense that vibe — we carry that with us. I feel that carries through, to the point where we can all have that vibe together.

When we are collaborating with other artists, it feels as if it was a friendship that has been around for a while. Like, have you ever felt or had that friendship where you can go like a month without seeing each other and when you see each other is like you had seen each other? That's basically how it is when we collab with other artists.

I know it's hard to pick a favorite song from the new album—

Solis: It's not that hard! My favorite is "F—ing Amor."

Why?

Solis: Because before Grupo Frontera started, that was more the style that I listened to. I got into the music of Natanael Cano, Iván Cornejo, and others. I grew up listening to old cumbia songs that my parents played for me, but in high school, I started listening to new stuff and new genres, so I think that's why my musical style is more versatile. So "F—ing Amor" is more Sierreño, has more bass, and the congas and percussion; the vibe of that song reminds me of how, in high school, I would drive my truck listening to Natanael Cano. 

Peña: Mine is "Echándote De Menos." Ever since we recorded it, it has that rhythm in the middle where we all drop, on that note… I like all of them, but that one, in particular. 

Cantú: I have to go with two. When I first listened to them, "Los Dos," our collaboration with Morat, and "Por Qué Será" with Maluma. That song, when they first showed it to me, I felt chills down my back.

Guerrero: Mine is "Los Dos," with Morat, because we liked Morat before being with Frontera.

Cantú: To make a song with them is an achievement for us because our big song ["No Se Va"] was a cover of theirs. So making a song together is pretty cool — not many people get to do that.

Solis: We had people tell us that we were stealing their song! We get that Morat is some people's favorite group but we were like, bro, it is our favorite too, that's why we did that song!

What is your dream for this new record?

Solis: We were talking about this yesterday in the van. We don't want to expect anything out of it — success, or big numbers — because this album was made from the heart. We are just so happy and proud to be releasing it into the world.

Guerrero: I just hope that people like it, because, as Payo says, we explored a lot of different genres, so we hope people dig that. We put our best into it.

Cantú: I want what Payo and Carlos said, but also, to go to Japan to play our songs.

Peña: I want what the three of them want, but for people to really connect and identify with the songs. Even if they connect with one or three, what I want for the album is that — to connect with people.

Meet The Gen Z Women Claiming Space In The Regional Mexican Music Movement

Awich
Awich performing at National Sawdust during her "A New York Evening With..." performance in 2024

Photo: Rob Kim/Getty Imahes

feature

Japanese Rapper Awich Stuns At Brooklyn’s National Sawdust For "A New York Evening With…" Interview & Performance Series

Okinawan MC Awich sat down with moderator Jamie Dominguez at National Sawdust in Williamsburg to discuss her joyful, tragic and resilient life and career — which led to her latest album, ‘The Union.’

GRAMMYs/May 16, 2024 - 01:49 pm

"Your story is like that of a superhero. Literally, there needs to be a Marvel movie about her."

So gushed moderator Jamie Dominguez, the national director of industry relations at the Mechanical Licensing Collective, onstage at the acoustically designed National Sawdust space in Brooklyn. To a small crowd hiding out from the spring drizzle, Dominguez extolled the remarkable journey of Japanese hip-hop artist Awich. Hailing from Okinawa, Japan, Awich may just be a flesh-and-blood woman, but her sheer fortitude and tenacity are Stan Lee-scaled.

Born Akiko Urasaki — her stage name is short for "Asian wish child" — Awich was a natural fit for  the GRAMMY Museum-sponsored "A New York Evening With…" interview and performance series. Introducing Awich and Dominguez, Lynne Sheridan, Vice President of Public Programming and Artist Relations for the GRAMMY Museum, called her "the queen of Japanese hip-hop" and "the living embodiment of all that makes the genre so culturally vital."

"As she reaches global stardom on the strength of her music’s emotional potency and limitless originality," Sheridan continued, "Awich now moves forward with her mission of uplifting her community while fearlessly speaking her truth." With that, Awich and Dominguez hit the ground running, with a tip of Dominguez’s hat to the timeliness of the event: "Happy AANHPI month."

They started at the beginning: Awich is from Okinawa, a small island far from the Japanese mainland. To hear Dominguez tell it, Brooklyn is actually full of Okinawans. "I figured," Awich replied, "because Okinawans are everywhere."

The importance of Okinawa’s innate mysticism and turbulent history to Awich’s art cannot be overstated. As Awich explained, Okinawa was once the Ryukyu Kingdom, colonized by China, then Japan, before becoming an American territory after World War II. Her parents grew up during the latter period, which lasted until The United States returned Okinawa to Japan in the early 1970s.

"When they gave it back," everything changed," Awich said. "We drove on the other side of the road, the currency was different. It was always chaos, but Okinawan people always found a way to live through these complex changes." Because Okinawans, she says, are a resilient, hospitable people, "We value each other as brothers and sisters."

Awich

Awich speaking at National Sawdust during her "A New York Evening With..." appearance in 2024. Photo: Rob Kim/Getty Images

Awich’s father was born on the day Japan attacked Pearl Harbor; in the post-war era, it was rough going for Awich’s family, to put it lightly. One particularly jarring story involved a U.S. military jet crashing into a schoolhouse while her mom was in attendance.

In 1986, Awich was born in an Okinawa steeped in American influence. As a teenager, she became obsessed with Tupac Shakur; listening to the hip-hop icon helped her learn English. "In Japanese, it's like there's a different, poetic, more indirect way of expressing. It's beautiful in its own way, but I felt like English is so simple, to the point and quick." Which describes the quintessentially American hip-hop idiom to a T.

"What he was saying and what he was doing, what his passion was, what his message was, his poetry book, his interviews, his speeches at the community center, his lyrics, his struggles, that's all I wanted to know," Awich says of Tupac. "And I just would study him all day, all night."

While she later learned to sing — and sing tremendously — rap proved to be her ideal creative vehicle. "I was already a poet in my own head before I met rap music, she said. "So when I [became acquainted with] rap music, I felt like, 'Oh, you don't have to sing to be a musician? I can do this!

The story rolled on: at 19, Awich moved to the U.S., against her parents’ wishes. "They gave up because I was a stubborn young lady," the rapper said impishly. She opted to put down roots, not in the "overwhelming" New York or LA, but in Atlanta, partly to "watch the city grow."

She met her future husband on a fluke, walking to school; he convinced her to play hooky. "I sometimes hitchhiked to school, because it was just so far away," Awich said. "I was looking in his eyes; I'm like, All right, I don't think he's a serial killer. And then I got into the car and we started talking."

It was through him that Awich learned about the Five-Percent Nation, an Afro-American Nationalist movement that deeply informed hip-hop legends like the Wu-Tang Clan. "It really teaches the Black, brown and yellow to be the original people of the earth… It was really fascinating to me." One thing led to another, and they fell in love and wed.

Awich’s husband was complicated and troubled, and unfortunately, involved in the criminal world — and, as such, in and out of jail. Just as they found out Awich was pregnant, he was incarcerated. Three days before their daughter, Toyomi Jah’mira, was born, he was released. 

Tragically, not long after, her husband was murdered in a street beef — the brutal culmination of violent events that included gunfire directed at their home. Of course, Awich was devastated. She turned to education as an outlet, earning a social degree in Georgia, and then two bachelor degrees at the University of Indianapolis. Then, she and Toyomi moved back to Okinawa.

"So you were a wife, a mother, and widow, all before the age of 24," Dominguez remarked. Awich answered in the affirmative.

Awich felt unmoored back in Okinawa. "It was a rollercoaster of emotion every day. One day I feel so sad and depressed, and the next day I feel like I could change the world," she related. "And the thing that kept me going was writing. I kept on writing journals, the things that I accustomed to do ever since I was a child. And I just kept on writing, writing, talking to myself."

After two years and a long talk with herself, Awich redoubled her commitment to music. And the conversation led to her creative process. Namely, writing and singing in three different languages — Okinawan, Japanese, and English. "The goal is for me to kind of just express or just catch what comes out in my mind," Awich said. "Each language has its own personality."

Awich talked about the meaning behind her latest album, The Union — "If you don’t know who you are, you won’t allow people to be who they are, and the unification of people coming together will never be achieved," she said.

She also discussed the hurdles of being an Asian woman in rap ("I always think that if I was a guy, I would've been way more famous"), and her appreciation of the Black culture that birthed her artform of choice. "I identify with the struggle," she said. "Hip-hop, the music, the culture, it represents the basic human struggle, and that's why it touches the people all around the world."

After a brief audience Q&A (mostly adulation from fans, and the revelation that she’s Team Kendrick in the Kendrick-Drake beef), Toyomi took the stage. ("Thank you for coming for my mom," the teenager sweetly, and sheepishly, offered.)

Following a projected video for Awich's song "Ashes" — about she and her daughter spreading her husband’s ashes in the sea — she then launched into a brief yet head-spinning performance of her trilingual bangers: “Queendom,” “Rasen in Okinawa,” “The Union,” and “Gila Gila.”

And with that, the globally rising star took her leave. "You’re about to take off into outer space, and it’s going to be beautiful," Dominguez said near the end. And, well — that’s what real-life superheroes do: transcend trauma, heartbreak and destruction, and take to the stars.

An "Evening With" Gossip's Beth Ditto Turns Hilarious & Rockin' With Real Power Tracks