On an August morning, Kali Uchis speaks to Remezcla from her home in California, sounding for all the world as if she has somehow found a way to be her best self in 2020. The summary of her last few months certainly reads as a study in balance. The singer has spent time digesting and lending her platform to the electric movement for Black lives, remotely planning food drives in her hometown in Colombia, releasing the contemplative four track TO FEEL ALIVE EP, and smoking cannabis to alleviate unavoidable spells of anxiety and depression. Karly-Marina Loaiza has cultivated a reputation for being thoughtful about her contributions to the world. That intuition seems constant, despite seismic societal shifts.
“I’ve found these last couple months to be extremely enlightening and empowering,” Uchis shares. She attributes her ability to roll with the punches to her ruling celestial body. “I’m a Cancer,” she says. “My planet is literally the moon. It’s like that—it’s like every day might be a different thing.” Even a non-believer approves when Uchis murmurs in her feather-soft conversational tone, “The only timing that’s perfect is God’s timing.”
But there are many ways to heal and deal–and now, the time has come for Kali Uchis to drop hits. Though it certainly qualifies as feel-good, Uchis’ take-charge new single with Rico Nasty, “Aquí Yo Mando,” is not quite escapist. Its music video features the women felling machos in a pig snout–visual manna for those living in a post-George Floyd reality.
Most importantly, the track is an ode to reclaiming one’s time, impeccably deployed in the midst of “WAP” summer. “I wanted to make something that made the girls feel powerful and juicy,” Uchis says. In Rico Nasty, she saw the perfect co-star for “Aquí Yo Mando’”s celebration of “the sexy, aggressive side that we [as women] should totally be able to embrace,” as Kali Uchis puts it. The two both hail from the DMV–the tri-state region that includes District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia, where Uchis spent her youth. She says that Rico’s range is what sealed the deal for the collaboration; “I only work with legends, and Rico is 100% a legend.”
The new banger is not the end of Uchis’ good news; despite delays caused by overdue revolution and a global pandemic, her upcoming album will still come out by the end of the year.
“It’s my favorite body of work that I’ve ever done,” Uchis says of the project in her feather-soft register. “It’s my baby.”
After the impressive parade of featuring artists on 2019’s Isolation, from Bootsie Collins to Reykon, the singer pledged to work with a primary collaborator and in a central geographic location on her next project. The plan came to fruition via a close partnership with another wistful shapeshifter; Puerto Rico’s legendary perreo producer Tainy. The two met years ago in LA, and Kali resolved to “lock in” with him for weeks in Tainy’s homebase of Miami. Those sessions produced the foundation for her eagerly awaited Isolation follow-up.
“Tiene un estilo que nadie tiene,” Tainy once opined of Uchis in a mini-doc on the making of “Malvada.” “Es una dura.”
That Kali Uchis entrusted her next major project to Tainy is hardly a surprise. The beatmaker masterminded her 2019 single “Solita,” and deployed Kali’s vocals on his 2020 mission statement Neon16 Tape: The Kids That Grew Up on Reggaeton. That track, “Malvada,” also features Argentinian trapero KHEA, a marquesina beat redux embellished by icy string chords.
In Tainy, Kali Uchis saw a key factor in the making of her first album with all Spanish lyrics. “I’m not going to make a meaningful Latin album without somebody who is actually in our community,” she says. After the two built the LP’s foundation, Uchis took the work to a cast of producers to be finished. She says she’s thrilled with the resulting album and that it will encompass a variety of genres and moods, as is her practice.
Of course, the return of Kali Uchis season does not mean Uchis is taking her mind off social justice. The question of how best to help those around is one that has long rankled her.
“I don’t consider myself an activist at all,” she says when asked how artists can use their fame to support social justice causes. “Just use your platform to help amplify the voices of marginalized people, you know what I’m saying?”
For specifics, one can look to her own track record. In July, Uchis appeared on a Consciencia Collective panel to speak about her privileges as a white-passing Latina. Years ago, she founded a group called Fundacion Visión, Valores y Vida that focuses on giving to marginalized communities in Uchis’ hometown of Pereira, Colombia. She was the sole administrator of the Fundación, and is currently looking to transition to a new project in which the responsibilities are shared among a larger team.
In 2018, the Fundación teamed with Puma for a holiday event in Dosquebradas, an area just outside Pereira, that connected kids in need with food, presents, and an entertainment lineup. In June, Kali deputized her cousins to coordinate a hot food drive that visited some of the Pereira neighborhoods that have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 crisis to distribute meals, masks, and hand sanitizer.
Uchis is currently considering how aid can be distributed in an era in which large gatherings pose a contagion risk. She has learned that moves are best made after much consideration–and the energy needed for such rumination must be guarded at all cost.
“We only have one soul, and there’s so much stuff out there that we have to protect our souls against,” says Uchis.