“I feel so positive about everything,” Kali Uchis says before blurting out what we each can only hope is the case: “I think that 2021 is going to be a better year for the world than 2020.”
The end of the most chaotic year in recent memory of the collective human experience also brought on some of its most creative, wholesome work yet. But don’t credit it so—that good juju has nothing to do with its time. On-the-nose concepts of making love through telepathy or seeing light in the darkness and more proved to be completely tangential yearnings that were near to heart a little more this year, but not completely foreign. Kali Uchis landed a particularly striking album on the page with the fearless Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios).
“It’s really easy to get stuck in the mentality of like, ‘how am I going to sell this’ once you start making music and that’s your bread and butter,” Uchis says. “I try to push myself out of that as much as I can… I’m just going to make what I want to make and I’m going to make something timeless that inspires people and pushes people to reflect and push people to feel something.”
To actually put together this type of body of work is… a process.
Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios) is the product of that stealth, bold freedom—and it proved to be rewarding, rendering her most artist-defining project yet. Though her vocals cut through a bit deeper on this album, she’s not about to call herself a singer.
“It’s just the truth,” the artist says. “That’s part of what makes my music so raw and so me is the fact that I didn’t go to school to learn it. It comes from the most authentic parts of me.”
Time in quarantine produced the album’s most textured, defining pieces—with the first half of the tracklist + the outro produced mostly solo at home in LA—, and the more pop-friendly tracks produced in Miami with go-to producer Tainy and crew.
“Anybody could just say random words and make something that sounds cute,” Uchis ponders, “but to actually put together this type of body of work is, you know… a process.” A process that involved a writing camp with flies on the walls who got credit, the discovery of the beauty of letting go and bettering a song through collaborative work with women she now admires, plus a continued pattern of honoring her roots through and through, and more. Here’s a track by track breakdown of what Uchis likes to call a cinematic experience:
“la luna enamorada”
There [are] a lot of different renditions of [this] song. But the one in particular that I really love, and that was a big part of my life, is the one by Los Zafiros.. I would play it every night before I go to sleep because it was just really soothing. And a lot of my inspirations when I first started making music was that Latin soul and those vocal layerings and all of those special textures that they add to their songs… [Those were] things that were part of my roots in making music, too. I’m always kind of trying to do things that are true to where I come from and go back and remember those things [that have] a little piece of you. It’s [also] important for me in the intro to be a little bit more raw and grab people’s attention with just [my] voice.
Jahaan [Sweet] produced it and I really love working with Jahaan because he’s just one of those people [who] I’ve made a lot of stuff with and I was working on a lot of stuff with him for another project at the time.
When he played me the beat, I immediately got inspired. That’s kind of just always how I know that something is going to work—as soon as somebody plays something and I pick up my pen, I just know that it’s going to be [a] song because it can never be forced. It needs to be something that just comes straight from your soul. It comes straight out of you. And this one gave me a little bit more of an Aaliyah vibe… slower and sexier and a little more R&B.
“//aguardiente y limón %ᵕ‿‿ᵕ%”
I really, really was so obsessed with this beat when I heard it, because I love the chord progressions, I love the dreaminess of it, the trippyness of it and Sounwave is someone [who] I’ve collaborated a lot with. He did “Tyrant,” and he did a few things on Isolation, I think, but we’ve made a bunch of stuff together. He played me this beat and I just wrote the whole song immediately and recorded it immediately and was in love with it; but it never felt like a single, it was just something that I loved. I loved it, so that’s why I kept it on the album.
I just imagined this garden… this fruit garden. This beautiful, sexy fruit garden fantasy world was where my mind went [laughs], so…
“vaya con dios”
This guy, Josh Crocker, who lives in London, worked on some of Isolation with me. He’s just really good… He has a band out there and they can just kind of make anything, anything that I want to make. And I had wanted to add something that was a bit more like Portishead… I had wanted to add that vibe to it and he sent me this and it happened really, really easily. That one I just did in the room by myself.
“que te pedí//“
Anyone who’s ever seen me live and stuff [knows that] I’m big on paying homage to artists who inspire me and are also a part of my upbringing, and since this is the album that is based around that, it felt like that was something that I definitely needed to do—pick a song or two to be like interludes or something. I [knew] that I needed something like that, and I picked these two in particular—[la luna enamorada and] que te pedí, first of all, because it was just a song that really is really, really touching and it’s really striking. As soon as you hear La Lupe sing it, it just touches a chord. And I really wanted to invoke some type of emotion.
“quiero sentirme bien”
That was back when I came to LA [too], when I was trying to fill in the pieces… making things after I came back and I wasn’t in this writing camp anymore. So I was like, “OK, let me or you add these textures in there that are a little bit more for me.” So, I had a session with this guy Kurtis [McKenzie] who was amazing and was playing me a bunch of stuff. He played me this, and there were some melodies on there by Yukimi [Nagano] from Little Dragon, which is one of my favorite bands. I worked with her on her album not long before that so I was like, “oh my gosh, I love this. I want to add something to it.” So I added my own melodies and then I added words to her melodies, and that was how the song came together.
I really wanted to invoke some type of emotion.
As soon as I heard it, it reminded me of “After the Storm,” but brighter… It was kind of reminding me of my earlier stuff. So I was like, “This is cute and I’d never done nothing like this in Spanish before. And I never heard a song like this in Spanish before.”
I was kind of always geared towards this concept and knew that I wanted to make a song about when you connect with somebody outside of just this physical realm and outside of just the superficial. So I think being able to do it in Spanish was something really, really fun for us to be able to play with.
“no eres tu (soy yo)”
I made like five of those songs in one day, literally, like my first day that I got [to the writing camp]. It was just song, song, song. I was so inspired when I got there, and then the next few days I tried to make a few songs, but nothing really stuck. “no eres tu (soy yo)” was one of the first ones I made and that was around when I made “telepatía,” I made those back-to-back and really loved both of them, but they were so different so I chose both of them for the album, but I kind of always knew that “no eres tu (soy yo)” was more of a vibey song… more sexy. So I was like, “OK, I need both of these.”
“de nadie” + “¡aquí yo mando!” ft. Rico Nasty
We wrote “de nadie” on the same day as “te pongo mal” for sure. Supa Dups started that beat and then it was really just me and Cristina (Chiluiza) who wrote it. For “¡aquí yo mando!,” I did all the melodies. And then [Cristina] helped me with some of the words and the pre-hook and then I brought it back to LA for Rico to get on it and I helped write Ricos part.
For this project, it was so about where I come from and where I come from is also the D.C., Maryland, Virginia area [DMV]. I’m from Northern Virginia. I grew up in Northern Virginia, and Rico’s from that area as well. She’s from Maryland. And she’s Afro-Latina, her mom is Puerto Rican. So I really wanted to play with that with her. Like “bitch, try to do something in Spanish! This would be fun.” It’s also a powerful girl anthem, and I always loved Rico’s music for that reason: It’s very empowering and it’s very bossy.
“te pongo mal (prendelo)” ft. Jowell y Randy
I wanted it to be true artists who are respected, who are seasoned, who have been doing this… that’s definitely [Jowell y Randy], you know, they’re legends… they’re true to perreo. So I’m like, “if I’m going to make a perreo song, I need to have perreo legends on it.” So that was the thing, like for Jhay it was like “OK, that’s like a little Latin pop song.” This is a little perro song [and] I just wanted whoever was on the song to be true to that.
I really have a lot of respect for them for that because they really didn’t need to do that for me.
I made the song in Miami, but there was no feature for a while. Somebody else had told me that they were going to get on the song, but then I guess they didn’t like how their verse sounded. So I was kind of in this weird space for a while where I was like, “damn.” And then Jowell y Randy just did it. As soon as I asked them, they did it. So I really have a lot of respect for them for that because they really didn’t need to do that for me.
“la luz” ft. Jhay Cortez
I don’t really like to have a lot of collaborations on my projects, so I always knew that I just wanted it to be a few people that made sense for me. So, for Jhay, I knew that I wanted people who were true to Latin music, true to the culture, and also killing it in that space, people that were, for lack of a better word, “seasoned,” and I just really wanted to be able to work with someone who was also just already in that world because it’s is a new world to me.
I had never met him before and he came from Puerto Rico to do the session. So I met him there [in Miami] the day that we did the song and we just clicked immediately. We vibed and that was the song that we made, we just made it immediately.
“ángel sin cielo”
I had met this guy right before a pandemic who plays guitar, [Mauricio Guerrero Jr.]. He’s super talented and I told him [the] style that I wanted. I knew he could do that style because we had kind of been working on other stuff in that vein before. I asked him if he could send me something and he was like, ‘yeah, for sure, send me the vocals and I will just play something around it.’ And I’m like, ‘OK,’ so I did the vocal to no music; it was just me humming under myself, [I] sent it to him as a reference, and then he sent me a bunch of different guitar recordings back and I picked my favorite parts and chopped through everything and picked the stuff that I liked best for the song and put it together.
This is the song that, in my mind, [plays] when the credits are rolling.