Peruvian-born singer A.CHAL’s video for “To the Light” opens with a slow-moving shot of a neon-hued La Virgen de Guadalupe, glowing green as the electric blue desert sky looms in the background. Soon, the singer is caught in a blurry fog of religious iconography and alcohol, as the lyrics tell the story of an artist who has found a sense of spiritual fulfillment amidst the Hollywood minefield.
The RJ Sanchez-directed video serves as a fitting glimpse into the psyche of an artist who has gone from accomplished songwriter in the LA music industry machine to a champion of hazy, bilingual R&B with co-signs ranging from OVO Sound to Univision.
Now, as 2017 comes to a close, it’s clear that A.CHAL’s output – music and visuals often informed by a philosophy that’s both honest in its hedonism and steadfast in its appetite for enlightenment – has raised his public profile substantially.
Chal’s breakout year should come as no surprise. If his 2016 project Welcome to GAZI was an introduction to a reimagined A.CHAL, his 2017 follow-up On GAZ found Alejandro as polished and self-assured as ever, ready to command the summer months with a string of addictive singles.
Though he’d alluded to his Peruvian roots on earlier tracks like “Fuego,” On GAZ found Chal diving deeper into his identity. The project resonated with us, bilingual audiences eager to embrace a more organic portrayal of Latinidad, especially as label heads and pop stars scramble to quench the mainstream appetite for so-called “Latino” sounds.
In a year littered with stale takes on dembow and dancehall-inspired rhythms, On GAZ doesn’t feature any lifeless crossover singles. Instead, Chal crafted a universe where guitar solos, A$AP Nast, and Spanish-language adlibs coexisted seamlessly. Chal helped shine a light on the culture in a way that feels authentic and deeply personal.
Plus, A.CHAL has benefitted from a new industry landscape, where traditional gatekeepers take a backseat to the Internet and the inescapable reach of influencer marketing. While On GAZ made the rounds online, Kylie Jenner’s Snapchat featured “Love N Hennessy,” exposing him new audiences. No matter how you feel about the Jenners, breakout artists like Khalid and 6LACK can attest that Kylie’s Snapchat functions almost like a personal A&R, a helpful tool to reach the masses amid the noise. As Genius reported back in January, with millions watching her every move, a 10-second Snapchat clip can launch an artist from local talent to global relevance.
The co-sign also points to Chal’s appeal outside of the Latino market, further evidenced by R&B singer Banks’ call to have him accompany her on the final European leg of The Altar Tour. It’s increasingly apparent there’s widespread interest in A.CHAL’s brand of torrid, confessional R&B.
2018 seems poised to be his year. Still working as an independent artist, Chal has already secured features from rap heavyweights like French Montana and the A$AP Mob. If House of Balloons was The Weeknd’s launching pad from Toronto songwriter to patron saint of drugged-out R&B, On GAZ seems to have A.CHAL on a similar trajectory. This past year marked a notable shift in his career, but still somehow feels like the calm before the proverbial storm. To be sure, 2018 promises to find us all in a matrix of Spanglish hits from one of the Latinternet’s favorite sons.