Kali Uchis Talks Colombian Bad Boys, Juanes, and Her Journey Home to Colombia

Courtesy of Kali Uchis

Over the past year, Kali Uchis has set her sights on her homeland. The 24-year-old R&B artist has released a stream of Spanish-language tracks and collaborations with Colombian giants like Juanes, reconnecting with her roots and finding inspiration in what she calls the country’s special “magic.” Remezcla caught up with her on her recent trip to Medellín, the new throne of reggaeton where Maluma and J Balvin reign, and where she recently shot the music video for her newest single “Nuestro Planeta.” The track features local reggaeton star Reykon El Lider, who complements Kali’s whimsical coos over a catchy dembow beat.

On the heels of her trip, Kali opened up about what home means to her. For so many bicultural kids who’ve grown up with a foot in two worlds, the concept of home remains murky, a liminal space where a sense of belonging is almost always out of reach. Uchis says she can never really sleep on her first nights back in Colombia, as she battles bittersweet feelings of nostalgia and excitement. It’s as if by staying awake, she can catch up on what she’s missed during her time away from home.

The singer’s family hails from Pereira, a city in the paisa region of Colombia with Medellín at its cultural epicenter. She grew up in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. and now lives in Los Angeles, but now she’s looking for an apartment in Medellín to spend more time in the country.

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For Uchis, showcasing the paisa aesthetic and everyday life in Colombia in the video for “Nuestro Planeta” was important – especially as an echo of the “Ridin Round” visuals, which were shot in her hometown. For “Nuestro Planeta,” Uchis and director Daniel Sannwald, who’s also worked with Rihanna and M.I.A., recruited another parade of tatted-up bad boys on motorcycles, but this time, they rocked jockstraps and thongs.

Her debut album, and her first since signing with Virgin EMI, is shaping up to be an introspective trip transcending geography, language, and genre. But the journey to this album hasn’t always been rosy; earlier this year, Uchis faced backlash from fans after the promo images for her single “Tyrant” traded the bleach blonde aesthetics of her Por Vida EP for a darker look; many claimed the shift was an attempt to capitalize on her Latinidad and brownness for her album campaign. Uchis was frustrated with the controversy, and spoke out about it her FADER cover story earlier this year.

Despite the controversy, Uchis seems committed to embracing her Colombian roots. In addition to the Juanes and Reykon projects, Kali has teased collaborations with El Freaky Colectivo, one of the most renowned DJ collectives in the country’s global bass scene.

Read the full interview below.

Update, 9/15/2017, 10:23 a.m.: The “Nuestro Planeta” video is out now. Watch it below.

Did you visit Colombia often growing up? What did it feel like to return?
I visited Colombia all the time after we moved; it has always felt most like home. When the plane lands I’m just really excited to get off.

I myself left Colombia for the West Coast but never felt quite at home in the U.S. and always longed for Colombia as my homeland.
Most all of my family lives in Colombia as well, so the United States definitely gets very lonely for me. With all of the things going on politically, it is feeling less and less like home every day to be honest.

I usually can’t sleep much on my first nights after arriving to Colombia. Does this happen to you?
The first night of this trip I just stayed awake by the window watching the rain at night. Just listening to it, breathing the air, feeling this very conscious moment of the now. There is so much magic in Colombia.

“There is so much magic in Colombia.”

Can you talk about your colombianidad?
I can still remember the moment as a very little girl, thinking, “Wow, I could have been anything and anyone. I’m so happy I’m me and I’m so happy I’m Colombian.” No one can take it from me no matter how hard they try. It’s my blood, my citizenship, my home, my family. I feel hurt sometimes when I go back and realize how many words I have lost in Spanish, or errors I make speaking because of living so long in the U.S. I’m going to keep practicing more because it means so much to me.

Can you tell us about singing in Spanish with Reykon and Juanes?
Both are extremely talented Colombian artists. The song with Juanes was more Spanglish, because it was more comfortable for me at the time to bounce around between the two languages and was a childhood dream of mine. Reykon is so humble and talented; his voice is magnetic. The song is entirely in Spanish.

Why is using the paisa aesthetic in your shoots in Colombia important?
When a lot of people think of Colombia, they only have a couple of things to directly talk about. They judge from the outside only looking at what the media shows them. Colombia is so advanced, drenched in culture and full of magic. I want people to see that.

Talk to us about the use of motorcycles and Colombian “bad boys” in your videos.
Motos are a big part of the culture in both Pereira and Medellín, so that’s always a given when I’m here. Bad boys are a personal preference; that’s just my type.

We saw photos of you working with El Freaky Colectivo. Are you looking to collaborate with more Colombian artists? What’s it like to work in Colombia?
Andres from El Freaky is so so so sweet! A new good friend of mine. So many Colombians are just pure of heart; I love working here. Even when I was doing press or shooting the video, it’s such a different “industry” energy and environment than in the U.S. or U.K. I don’t feel I have to keep my defenses so up or be careful of snakes, manipulators, or people who want to make me out to be something I’m not because of their own personal issues projected onto me, or to use me to push their own personal agendas or headlines. It’s just pure people and pure conversations.