When Karen Freire breezes into the Remezcla offices on a steamy late summer day, she brings an effervescent energy with her. The singer and songwriter, who makes music under the name Kablito, somehow looks sleek and elegant in silver-gray basketball shorts, chunky white sneakers, and a ruched pink tube top, and she’s implausibly un-sweaty for having walked to the interview in this weather.
The Los Angeles-based artist exhibits a similar effortless chill in her music, her cool voice sliding over retro-futuristic R&B production like windblown satin, however, underneath the smooth surface lies emotional turbulence. On “Puto Colchón,” Freire pleads, “Dame pasión, dame peligro, dame más,” with serious passion of her own. Once settled in a conference room, the singer makes it clear that’s not the kind of request she would make in typical conversation, or even most songs – but the premise of her avant-pop EP Telenovela gives her license. After all, who says things like that? People in telenovelas do, of course.
“Last night, I was hanging out with a friend and we were watching clips from telenovelas and the things that they say are so extra,” Freire relates. At one point during the novela binge, a woman exclaimed, “¿Porque no puedo tener todo?” “So, extra,” she says, laughing. Still, isn’t there a certain relatable honesty to that question? Who hasn’t wondered why they can’t have everything they want, at least privately? The singer has to agree, confessing, “That’s one of the reasons why I chose the title. I was like ‘I want to write music that is so honest, where I just say what I feel. The theme allows me to be as honest as I can be, because telenovelas are like that. They’re dramatic.”
Telenovela cycles through the stages of romance as they unfold on shows like Rebelde, the mid-2000s Mexican series that is Freire’s favorite. It’s starts with infatuation, but next comes jealousy, betrayal, closure, and, finally, a new love. That last part is represented by the dreamy dub reggaeton of “Amar.” “It’s about when you are in a relationship and you come out of it and you are really hurt and you don’t want anything with anyone,” she says. Then you find “someone who makes you feel comfortable, who you feel you can learn to love again with,” she explains.
She doesn’t mind admitting that she’s totally been there – that she’s lived the things she sings about as well as watched them on TV. “That’s why I like the theme. I can, say, ‘Oh it’s the theme,’ but it can also secretly be really personal,” she reveals. “Puto Colchón” is very fresh and very personal – but that’s all she’s saying about that.
Freire loves to rewatch old telenovelas, but it’s familiarity that draws her, not drama. Born in Ecuador, Freire moved with her mother to St. Paul, Minnesota as a teen. “I was really removed from being a Latin person, apart from being at my family’s home. I didn’t have any Latin friends. I was completely removed from who I am in a way, because I lived in a very white place,” she recalls. Telenovelas were a rare aspect of Latino culture that she could access. “It’s just this comforting feeling. It’s what I would do if I was at my mom’s house. The TV would be on and there would be a telenovela playing, and I would feel comforted,” she explains.
The pop artist reconnected with her identity as a Latina when she moved to New York City following the break up of her first band and the end of a long-term relationship. About that time, she says, “I remember being like, ‘Whoa, there are so many more Latino people here!’ Walking around the streets and speaking Spanish, that all came back. I felt so happy just being surrounded by that.” The 28-year-old credits living in New York and now L.A. with giving her an extra push to sing entirely in Spanish on her debut. She sometimes sang in Spanish with her old band – to mostly Anglo audiences – but her re-immersion experience made her want to go full español. “I just felt this sense of [pride]. I just felt inspired. I was, like, ‘I can do this,’” she recalls.
Her current home city’s vibrant Latino scene continues to feed her creativity. “There’s definitely a movement happening in L.A.,” she confirms, citing club nights like Rail Up and Late Night Laggers. Though she made the EP with non-Latino friend Jesse Schuster producing, she’s been working on songs with LA-based Latino artists like MLKMN, who is now her manager, and Nite Jewel, with whom she is currently touring. She says to expect at least a couple of new songs before the end of the year and that they could sound very different from what we’ve heard so far. For now, you can be sure that – theme notwithstanding – the Kablito on Telenovela is absolutely true to life.
Kablito’s Telenovela EP is out now.