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Kali Uchis On What It Means To Be A Latin "Crossover" Star In The 21st Century

Kali Uchis 

Photo: Marcus Cooper

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Kali Uchis On What It Means To Be A Latin "Crossover" Star In The 21st Century

Kali Uchis also discusses her first GRAMMY win with Kaytranada and her upcoming Spanish-language collaboration with SZA

GRAMMYs/Apr 7, 2021 - 02:21 am

Kali Uchis still remembers the reactions she would get when she was crafting her first Spanish-language record, Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios), which was released late last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. "You're going backward in your career doing this. This isn't going to get supported," she would hear. “Well, this is what I want to do,” the Colombian-American singer would answer. That album, a body of work that captures her isolation and is a cross-pollination between haunting boleros, downtempo trip-hop, and a splash of reggaeton, ended up landing on the Billboard 200 and received glowing reviews around the web. "I really just make music for the love of it, not for the same reasons that others would," Uchis tells GRAMMY.com over the phone as she’s about to board a boat in Miami. “A lot of people just look at it as a business.”

Going against the grain is exactly what Karly-Marina Loaiza has always done. (At one point, her unwavering determination to her art, and self, led her to live in her car during her teens.) Sticking to her guns is finally reaping the rewards, especially now that Latin music is consumed on a global scale and continues to become one of the fastest-rising genres in the U.S. Yet, while Latin music has been increasingly dominating mainstream airwaves worldwide—most notably since reggaeton's second explosion in the mid-'10s—Uchis is among the few successful crossover stars who didn't have to conform to the demanding and dominating rhythms of reggaeton. She's been helping forge her path, leading a new rising Latin R&B scene alongside other bilingual luminaries like Omar Apollo and Paloma Mami.

Recently, she achieved a major accomplishment in the music industry: her first GRAMMY for her song "10%" with Kaytranada. From here, Uchis can only go higher. Her latest music video "Telepatía" has already garnered nearly 20 million views in just two weeks since its release. The R&B singer is planning to hit the road again this fall and also has a collaboration with SZA underway: "I really admire her as a woman, as a creator and as a writer, so I was honored to help segue her into her first song singing in Spanish," she says. 

Just as her songs can easily tap into the depths of human emotion, with equal parts soul and grit, the 26-year-old star candidly reflects on her career with a social and critical lens. Chill yet assertive, Kali Uchis taps into racial and gender politics, all while redefining what it means to be a Latin "crossover" star in the 21st Century.  

Hi Kali! First of all, congratulations on your first GRAMMY win. When your name was announced, what went through your head?

I was in Mexico filming a commercial, and Jenn Nkiru who was directing it also won a GRAMMY for directing the Beyoncé video ["Brown Skin Girl."] We both found out that we won a short time between each other, and we were both freaking out. She went to the other room to go do a thank you speech, and I didn't really take it in because I had to be on camera. But I so couldn't focus while on set because I was like, "Oh my god, we won a GRAMMY." I need to get on my phone, make a post and thank everybody.

On your video for "Telepatía," viewers see you in Pereida, Colombia. What would you like your fans to see or know about the place of your heritage?

Since the first day that I came up with the name Kali Uchis, I was in Colombia. I have a home there, too. My first years of education were in Pereida. I spent a lot of time there going back and forth. I left to be able to have both worlds, and that's how I've lived my whole life. For me, it was always really important to represent. That's why a lot of my first videos take place there, in the streets that I played in when I was a little kid. It’s really about never forgetting where you come from.  

Everybody there [in Colombia] is so proud of me and the kids are always so happy that I'm there. At the end of the day, I feel so loved and supported by my community. That's what my dream has always been. Anybody who knows me knows I'm so proud of both of my homes [the U.S. and Colombia], and growing up that way is what contributed to a lot of who I am as a person and as an artist, the way that I see the world, and the way that I listen to music. No matter where you come from and who you are, as long as you keep working and stay true to yourself, you'll get where you want to go. 

Your parents are Colombian, you were born in Virginia and are an L.A. resident. Describe your personal connection with these places.    

There’s just so much that comes with being multicultural. I feel love for the DMV area because that's where I'm from, northern [Virginia.] When I lived there, I never really felt embraced. I always felt like people were always like, "Oh, you're not from here. You don't dress like you're from here. Your music doesn't sound like you're from here." When I was really little, we lived in an area called Chirilagua, where there’s a large Latin community. It's pretty much all Salvadorians. I love Salvadorians, and I love the Latin community there. At the end of the day, all I ever really wanted was to show love to my community and receive that love in return. It's a beautiful thing to be accepted by people in general. 

Moving to L.A., I felt very accepted and loved. L.A. is also my home. When I go to Colombia, I feel the same thing. And when it came to VA, I never fully felt that way, like I didn't belong there as much. I think that was what made it difficult to grow as an artist there and the main reason why I left. Aside from the fact that I really don't have many family members there either. My parents live in Colombia. I think it's a situation of "go where you're loved, go where you're supported." That's what I always tell everybody, no matter where you come from or who you are, just go where you're loved and supported, and try to represent where you come from the best you can. It's really complicated, and it's really interesting.

How has that transmigrational experience played a role in your musical development? 

I feel like it’s what contributed to people looking at me as a niche artist, or even me looking at myself as a niche artist. I’m okay with that. I feel like part of being a niche artist is that you can't be categorized from one place, yet somehow that makes it harder to market artists. In my case, it was like, "Where is she from? She's from here, but she's also from there." It’s just more things that contribute to you not being able to be boxed into one category. Even some people now will be like, "Colombian-American, what does that even mean?" A lot of people still don't even understand what it means to be a dual citizen. For some reason, they just can't grasp how someone could have two homes, or two cultures, or more than two [nationalities]. I think that has been a blessing and a curse for me. It goes both ways, but I also wouldn't have it any other way.

It certainly brings some challenging layers, especially when one’s developing their identity, but I believe it makes creative growth more enriching. 

Yeah, not just as artists, but as human beings. I think the most important thing is to figure out and know who you are, and not let society [determine that]. Just the idea of borders and of people obsessing with one's nationality is a very strange societal norm. Don't ever limit yourself based on those things.

In your last video, we also see you portrayed as a retro Hollywood chanteuse and then a little more Latin-styled with a sultry edgy. Who are your fashion and style icons? 

Most of my life I have been inspired by not being able to be defined or confined to only one style. For me, being versatile, experimenting with genres, with style and never identifying as one [singular] look or anything. That's what really helped me make my life of creation fun and worthwhile—experimenting. Otherwise, you end up limiting yourself when you do one thing. In general, I'm a very nostalgic person. I love to mix futuristic things sometimes. I love the ‘90s, and I also love the ‘60s and ‘70s. Women being expressive with their sexuality, women being tomboys. 

I think gender identity and gender norms are another way that people try to restrict and confine us. I definitely had my own personal experiences with coming into my femininity and understanding what femininity was for me. Even now as an adult, I'm still realizing like, okay, I don't always have to be so glam in order to feel like me. Or, I don't have to have my identity attached to this certain brand to make me more comfortable. I'm trying to wear less makeup and just play with different styles and stuff. Just experimenting.

Thinking now as an adult, I realize that certain things in the ‘90s were actually appropriation. For instance, I never realized a certain hairstyle was called bantu knots, and that it came from an African tribe. Growing up in the ‘90s, you just saw No Doubt’s [Gwen Stefani] and Björk wearing these hairstyles and later realized that they were taking it from Black women. I think that's something that you have to be careful about, when you look at some of these older ‘90s styles, a lot of it is appropriation. Become more aware of that, and learn more about where things actually come from. That’s the most important thing to do when it comes to style. Educate yourself about what you're wearing.

On Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios)—meaning Without Fear (of Love and Other Demons)—what does the title represent to you?

Sin Mideo was a phrase that pushed me to never [live life without fear]. I feel like everybody should live life without fear. We only have one life. You shouldn't live it for anybody else. You should do what makes you happy. As long as you're not hurting anybody else, you should do what feels good for you and be who you want to be, whatever that is. Sin Miedo also captured the essence of isolation. All of my songs come from my own personal experiences. So when I made the album, I was thinking, "What type of state of mind was I in when I made all this music?" Isolated. I was literally not talking to anybody. I didn't have any friends around me. I was living by myself in this L.A. apartment, very lonely and separate. It's something my aunt used to always say to me growing up, "Sin Miedo, sin miedo." My first tattoo was also "Sin Miedo. Sin Miedo is really a state of mind. I think the most important thing as an artist is to never lose your mind and vision, and as a human, to never lose your soul.

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Luis Fonsi To Maluma: Who Will Win Record Of The Year Latin GRAMMY?

Maluma

Photo: C Flanigan/Getty Images

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Luis Fonsi To Maluma: Who Will Win Record Of The Year Latin GRAMMY?

Cast your vote. Who will voters choose for Record Of The Year at the 18th Latin GRAMMY Awards?

GRAMMYs/Oct 1, 2017 - 08:57 pm

Including the likes of Shakira and Carlos Vives to Natalia Lafourcade, Marc Anthony, Jesse & Joy, and Alejandro Sanz, the previous Latin GRAMMY winners for Record Of The Year reads like a who's who of Latin music. This year's nominees are no different.

With Rubén Blades' sensual "La Flor De La Canela," Luis Fonsi featuring Daddy Yankee's song of the summer "Despacito," Residente's impactful "Guerra," Ricky Martin with Maluma's Vente Pa' Ca," and Jorge Drexler's "El Surco," among others, this year's class of 18th Latin GRAMMY Awards nominees for Record Of The Year is loaded.  

Which song do you think will take home the Latin GRAMMY for Record Of The Year? Cast your vote below.

Dreamville Festival 2020 Is Officially Canceled Due To COVID-19

J. Cole

Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

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Dreamville Festival 2020 Is Officially Canceled Due To COVID-19

The second annual music festival from J. Cole's Dreamville Records squad and friends was first postponed from April until August, and will now have to wait until 2021

GRAMMYs/May 19, 2020 - 02:27 am

Dreamville Festival has announced they are canceling their 2020 event due to public safety concerns caused by coronavirus. The second annual edition of the one-day music fest, hosted by J. Cole and his talent-filled Dreamville Records, was originally slated to take place on April 6 at Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh, N.C., but was rescheduled to Aug. 29 after the pandemic struck the U.S.

Like countless other events that were set to take place this year, it will now have to wait until 2021. Dreamville says all 2020 ticket holders will be receive refunds soon.

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"After much deliberation and careful monitoring of the current situation, we have decided to cancel Dreamville Festival 2020. Although we originally hoped it would be possible to bring you the festival this August, the ongoing uncertainty regarding the COVID-19 pandemic has made this timeline no longer possible. This decision has been extremely difficult to make, but the safety of our fans, artists, and staff is always our top priority, and nothing will ever take precedence over your well-being," the organizers wrote in a statement shared across their social channels and on the fest's website.

The message also shared details on refunds, noting that all tickets purchased online will automatically be refunded to the original payment method, beginning this week. Fans who bought physical tickets from official points of purchase can request a refund here.

"Thank you for your patience and understanding as we navigate this. Please stay safe, healthy, and sane so we can reunite with you in 2021," the statement added.

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According to Pitchfork, the debut Dreamville fest also faced unforeseen setbacks; it was originally set for Sept. 15, 2018 at Dorothea Dix Park but was pushed to April 6, 2019, due to Hurricane Florence. The 2019 event featured performances from Dreamville head Cole and labelmates J.I.D, BAS and Ari Lennox, as well as SZA, Big Sean, 21 Savage, 6LACK, Rapsody, Nelly and other heavy-hitters in hip-hop and R&B.

No artists have been revealed yet for the second edition of the fest.

The Dreamville squad earned their first two collective GRAMMY nominations at the most recent 62nd GRAMMY Awards; for Best Rap Album for the collaborative Revenge Of The Dreamers III and Best Rap Performance for one of its singles, "Down Bad." Cole earned a total of five nods, including for his work on that project, and took him his first GRAMMY win for his feature on 21 Savage's "A Lot."

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R&B Duo THEY. Talk Los Angeles, Touring, 'Nü Religion: Hyena'

THEY.

Photo: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images

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R&B Duo THEY. Talk Los Angeles, Touring, 'Nü Religion: Hyena'

Drew Love and Dante Jones reflect on their rise, why new jack swing is still it, and taking risks on their debut album. Plus they share the craziest things that happened to them on tour

GRAMMYs/Aug 9, 2017 - 10:49 pm

Drew Love and Dante Jones of L.A.-based R&B/beats-influenced duo THEY. have been working for it since the moment the pair linked up in Los Angeles in 2015.

Originally from Denver (Jones) and San Antonio (Love), the guys knew they had a mountain to climb in order to make the right moves and cut through the noise in Los Angeles. And similar to other success stories in music, a lot of the first steps are all about meeting the right people.

"It is a community, it is about who you know," Jones points out. "[GRAMMY-nominated producer and fellow musician] Zhu was one of the first people that I met —  he was fresh out of college, and I'd just moved out — and we really just connected on a friend level."

Through that close friendship, built up through days hanging out at each other's apartments and working on beats and music, THEY. found themselves with a friend with an ear for talent who was making big moves of his own locally.

"Me and Drew had been working on our project, I think we were maybe like eight songs in, and one day I'm like, 'You know what, I'm just gonna pull up and see what he thinks of it,'" Jones explains of how they first linked up with Mind Of A Genius Records, where Zhu had just been signed. "[Zhu] was busy that day, but we played it for the label head, David Dann, and within about a week he was hitting us up, and saying he wanted to help us out."

Once officially signed to Mind Of A Genius, also home to GRAMMY nominee Gallant, the duo initially put out their three-song Nü Religion EP, which generated buzz through the vocal support of Timbaland on Twitter and Instagram.

After wrapping a brief tour opening for Bryson Tiller, THEY. jumped right back into the studio, where they spent the next two years putting together their debut studio LP, Nü Religion: Hyena, which grabbed mad headlines for its purposeful blending of disparate genres and styles.

"I think it's just a culmination of everything we were feeling at the time," says Love. "It became something really really tight. We don't really go in with any preconceived notions of what we should be making, or, 'We need a song that sounds like this.'" 

"We knew that the album was a risk," Jones adds. "We were incorporating a lot of elements that really hadn't been mixed too well before. I think the main thing that was encouraging was how many people really embraced the music. We had a lot of people that really identified with the type of music that we were making. It was just that little bit of validation."

Speaking on their latest output, their funkified vibe track "Not Enough," a collaboration with Norwegian rapper/producer/songwriter Lido, THEY. reveal some details about how their shared music influences pushed the song in the direction it took.

"I've always been just a huge stan for new jack swing —  like Guy, Bobby Brown, New Edition, stuff like that. When we first came out, we listed New Edition as one of our main influences. Most people didn't get it," Jones explains. "But me and [Lido] were telling each other, 'Yeah, I've just been trying to find a way to bring new jack swing back, but I just haven't been able to figure it out.' I was like, 'Well, why don't we try this … ?' And when we actually put our heads together and tried to attack it, it just came together quick."

With their debut LP released this past February, Love and Jones were finally able to break out for a bit and dig into their first headlining world tour.

"Just to be able to go on stage and let out all that energy, and receive that energy back, that's just all a musician could really ask for," says Love. Jones echoes the sentiment, "It gave us the opportunity to be able to create the experience in a live setting. Recording is great, but we were really itching to make it a whole experience and really engage the fans in the world we're trying to create."

So what's up next for THEY.?

"I'm still songwriting behind the scenes, and Dante is still producing. We are working on our next project, so to speak. We just got back off of the tour, and we get to relax and see what our minds have in the tank, see what the next installment brings," says Love. "I'm just excited for music in general."

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Keith Wilder, Heatwave Lead Singer, Dies

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Keith Wilder, Heatwave Lead Singer, Dies

The GRAMMY-nominated "Boogie Nights" and "Always And Forever" singer dies at age 65

GRAMMYs/Nov 1, 2017 - 04:10 am

Keith Wilder, the lead singer of GRAMMY-nominated '70s R&B/funk hitmakers Heatwave, died Oct. 29 at the age of 65. Wilder's death was confirmed by the group's manager, Les Spaine, via Rolling Stone. No specific cause of death has been confirmed, although fellow Heatwave band member Billy Jones told Dayton.com that Wilder died in his sleep.

Wilder, who was born in Dayton, Ohio, formed Heatwave in 1975 in Germany with his brother, Johnnie Wilder Jr., who was serving in the Army. The duo subsequently enlisted songwriter/keyboardist Rod Temperton, drummer Ernest "Bilbo" Berger, bassist Mario Mantese, and guitarists Eric Johns and Roy Carter.

In 1976 the group released their debut album, the platinum-plus Too Hot To Handle, which peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard 200. The album spawned the hits "Boogie Nights" (No. 2) and "Always And Forever," both of which attained platinum status. Heatwave's sophomore LP, Central Heating, hit No. 10 on the strength of the Top 20 hit "The Groove Line." The group's third album, 1980's Hot Property, was certified gold.

Moving into a new decade, Heatwave released 1980's Candles and 1982's Current. By then, the group had lost Mantese, Wilder Jr. and Temperton, who at that point was emerging as a go-to songwriter for the likes of Michael Jackson, George Benson and Michael McDonald, among others.

Keith Wilder revamped Heatwave for 1988's The Fire, and kept the band alive as a touring entity into the '90s. While Wilder continued to tour in recent years, he was forced to retire from the road after suffering a stroke in 2015.

Wilder scored two nominations with Heatwave at the 20th GRAMMY Awards: Best Arrangement For Voices for "All You Do Is Dial" and Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus for "Boogie Nights"

"Johnnie was a MONSTER singer whose harmony game is unmatched," said Questlove in an Instagram post. "No REAL singer worth their grain of salt NEVER denied his mastery."

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