Kali Uchis Reflects on Motherhood, Navigating Dual Cultures and Crafting Timeless Music

Kali Uchis Reflects on Motherhood, Navigating Dual Cultures and Crafting Timeless Music

When Kali Uchis first broke into the American mainstream in the mid ‘10s, listeners were quickly drawn to her warm, languid coo. But what few knew then is that the artist born Karly-Marina Loaiza was already a veritable powerhouse: writing, producing and even directing and editing her music videos.

Uchis first registered on our radar as an indie sensation with her silky EP Por Vida in 2015, where she cemented her status as a formidable talent. By 2024, she has established herself as a versatile star, seamlessly navigating English and Spanish-language projects, while consistently defying genre with her unique blend of R&B, pop, indie and Latin rhythms. “Having these two different cultures has inspired and influenced so much of everything that I do and make,” the Colombian-American artist tells Billboard Español. Her smash hit “Telepatía” from Sin Miedo (2020) alone has amassed over two billion streams to date, while peaking at a career-best No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100, and also spending 25 weeks on the chart.

After a trio of Billboard 200-charting releases — 2018’s Isolation (No. 32), 2020’s Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios) (No. 52) and 2023’s Red Moon in Venus (No. 4) — Uchis unveiled her fourth studio LP (and second Spanish-language album) Oriquídeas, in January. The album became her highest-charting project to date, achieving remarkable success across both the American and Latin markets — peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, while soaring to the pinnacle of Top Latin Albums, Latin Pop Albums, Top Albums Sales, and Vinyl Albums.

Recently a new mother, Kali Uchis will be recognized with the Rising Star award at Billboard Latin Women in Music 2024. “As an artist, I have always tried to freely express myself. I think [that] opens a door for other artists to feel free and in expressing themselves when it comes to bilingual music, Spanglish,” she says. “It’s really special when young women tell me that because of me, they felt empowered to be more free in the way that they create. It’s a beautiful thing to feel that you can inspire the next generation.”

Firstly, congratulations on an eventful 2024 so far. You released a No. 1 album, and you’re a new mother! 

I was pretty much working my whole pregnancy. I was touring and getting ready to release this album. I shot a bunch of music videos. I was doing as much work [as I could] — so that when I had my baby, I could just enjoy my new baby, and not have to worry about work too much.

When it comes to my child, everything else can wait. I always told myself, “One day, should God ever give me the opportunity to become a mother, I don’t ever want to be the type of person that’s like, ‘My career comes first.’” There’s a lot more to life than your career. That’s how I look at the world. So it’s been a beautiful thing to put [the album] out and see what happens. I’m now getting back into the swing of working. We’ll see if another song happens to take off from the album. But if not, I’m not really worried about it, I have my next album ready. I’m ready for my next era.

You’ve navigated between the Latin and U.S. music markets with ease, which had been uncommon after first making it big in English-language music. What challenges and opportunities have you encountered in doing so?

There are so many of us that have grown up in spaces of feeling “other” — especially in the United States as a Latina, feeling like you have to [be in put a] box. Now, it’s different. But when I was growing up, you had to identify yourself on paperwork by checking a box [specifying] if you’re Black, white, Asian, Pacific Islander. I always checked the “other” box. Every day, it felt like people were trying to take away your identity, make you not proud of where you come from, and make you feel like it’s not okay to speak Spanish. Even people coming to this country changed their kids’ names to become more Americanized, so they don’t get discriminated [against]. A lot of that experience was challenging for me. 

You also grew up in Colombia.

I went to school in Colombia. We were supposed to live there for the rest of my life. Then we ended up coming back to the United States. I had a tumultuous upbringing when it came to heritage, [asking] where is home and what to call home. When I came back to the United States, our house was the place where family members [stopped in] when crossing to America. It was full of immigrants. As an artist, trying to find my footing not only as a person, but as an artist, your artistic identity. All of it has played a big part in me. Being a dual citizen and having these two different cultures has inspired and influenced so much of everything that I do and make. Finding that balance was probably the most challenging part for me. 

With Sin Miedo, the pushback was, “You’re never going to be accepted by the Latin market. You’re always going to be considered a gringa because of your U.S. upbringing.” Then with the English-speaking fans, the pushback was, “She’s making music that I can’t understand.” There was some shame, something out of your control. But I had the privilege of never feeling that pressure of having to be commercially successful. Now there are so many of us that have had that experience, first- and second-generation [Latinos]. It’s this new layer to Latinidad that never existed before. Now that America is becoming so Latin, it’s almost like I found my place in that, as well.

How do you and your partner Don Toliver, who’s also a well-known artist, support each other in your respective endeavors?

Whether it’s your friends, family, or partner, it’s important to support [one another’s] dreams, and ambitions. It’s great being able to be with somebody that supports anything that I choose to do, and he understands. If I want to keep making music, I can do that. He also supports me if I don’t want to keep doing that. As a mom, there’s a lot of shaming if you [either] work or don’t work.

On my end, whatever he feels he needs to do for his career, I’m here for him too. It goes both ways, and it’s important — especially when you have a baby. The relationship becomes even more layered. Both of you become responsible for this whole other human being. So it’s important to take time to still be communicating with each other, and putting energy into the relationship.

You’ve done dembow (“Muñequita” with El Alfa and JT), reggaetón (“Labios Mordidos” with Karol G), neo soul (“Igual Que Un Angel” with Peso Pluma), boleros (“Te Mata”) — you’ve tapped into many genres very seamlessly.

When I make a Latin album in particular, I’m really trying to play and experiment as much as I can with all of the Latin genres that have influenced me. That’s my opportunity to have as much fun as possible. A lot of times, when [non-Latin] people think about Latin music, they just think of one type of artist or sound — and I tried to just be as free with my expression so I can show the range of Latin music and everything that inspires me.

Sometimes I surprise myself, like, “Oh, I didn’t know that I could do this sound.” For instance, my merengue song (“Dame Beso // Muévete”) on Orquídeas, that’s my first time ever doing that sound. I never thought that I could make a song like this — so it’s cool. The bolero was really fun, too. 

What advice would you give to emerging artists who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

Any up-and-coming artists, I would say, “Be yourself.” Don’t ever try to be like anybody else, think about how somebody else would do something, or follow trends. Find your own light, find your own path, and do what feels right for you. That’s how you’re going to do something that’s never been done before. That is something that I’ve always stood for and lived by. I think that’s what sets you apart as the artist — solidifying your own lane, your own identity — and when you make music, that you are ultimately striving to be timeless. 

Billboard Latin Women in Music 2024 will air at 9 PM ET (8 PM Central) on Sunday, June 9 via Telemundoand can also be streamed on the Telemundo app and on Peacock.

The post “Kali Uchis Reflects on Motherhood, Navigating Dual Cultures and Crafting Timeless Music” by Isabela Raygoza was published on 06/04/2024 by www.billboard.com