Meet Sofía Valdés, Panama’s New Princess of Dream(y, Dramatic) Pop

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Water is a persistent theme in Sofía Valdés’ offerings thus far. It’s the quiet in between storms as she taps in from a beach house in Hawaii; the Panama-native made the space her home for a month during a brief window of loosened coronavirus pandemic restrictions in Panama––her home country.

“It’s really important for people to know that I’m Panamanian,” she asserts, perhaps aware that her current body of work doesn’t scream so. Her lineage includes the likes of renowned Cuban singer Miguelito Valdés and Panamanian “reina de la tamborera” Silvia de Grasse, but the artist palette she draws inspiration from includes colorful soulfuls like Aretha Franklin and Bobby Womack. Her roots aren’t lost on her, though.

It’s really important for people to know that I’m Panamanian.

“I hope to one day be able to write songs in Spanish,” she notes ahead of her latest track’s debut. “Hopefully the day I have an album out, a couple of songs will be in Spanish.” In the meantime, an EP (a mostly English-language, sweet collection titled Ventura) is sitting stovetop, ready to serve come February, with “Handful of Water” being the appetizer of choice. In fact, it’s her second official song out in the wild, period (college renderings and bandcamp uploads aside).

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“Handful of Water” was written while Valdés was en route to Liverpool a while ago (she lived and studied at LIPA—Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts—prior to the shitstorm that is the now). Movement—in and out of Panama, at once to Michigan in the U.S. for earlier studies, then to the UK in hopes to shake Paul McCartney’s hand come graduation day at their alma mater—is a familiar notion to the blooming artist. Though fluid in its delivery, the smooth track is about the all-too-familiar internal resistance one can have with the part of ourselves that gravitates toward romantic love.

Lo que resiste, persiste.

“No matter what I do, the intention’s slippin’ through,” she sings. “Lo que resiste, persiste.” The latter bit a phrase her mom would tell her growing up. Love, the protagonist realizes, leaves its cohorts no chance to get a grip. The video premieres at Remezcla, below.

Writing and creating has, perhaps relatably, been difficult for the dream-pop princess lately. Although the pressure isn’t necessarily “on,” she’s already begun to work on her second project. In between beach dips and virtual production sessions, to pass the time (or fill it justly), the recent college dropout’s been listening to a lot of Brazilian music. When her boyfriend isn’t inundating their shared space with the Beatles, Valdés taps into the likes of Marcos Valle and Jorge Ben Jor.

Estuarine in nature, her sound is a developing endeavor that’s yet to be defined (as if anything is). “I think if you were to put [it] in a blender: soul, Motown, pop… I mean I wish I would sound like [a] Motown artist,” she giggles. “But if you put like Brazilian music and maybe a little bit of Spanish music, and songwriting [that’s] kind of like a Bob Dylan, Nick Drake kind of style… that’s what I think would come out,” she says of Ventura.

More simply put for now? “Dreamy and dramatic,” just like our early 20s.

Resounding throughout the likes of her introductory track, “Little Did I Know,” and upcoming poetic ones like the promising “Amsterdam” which sits atop the comforting voice of Argentine write Jorge Luis Borges’ “El Mar,” is a mostly blue yet blissfully, haphazardly-gathered hope that comes with lived experience of youth or inherited wisdom. For 20-year-old Valdés, it’s a winding combination of the two.

“I need to be close to water to feel fine,” she processes out loud, attempting to understand her affinity for water once I bring it up. “It brings me back, always, to home and I think maybe a part of the melancholy of the entire sound in the back of my mind (of my subconscious) is maybe ‘cause I miss home so much.” A reminder that love, in life and when celebrated through music, isn’t always about a person but often found in a place or a thing.

In each lifetime, we’re here “por vez primera, siempre.” As quarantine expands and shifts our musical inclinations, Valdés is one of Panama’s artists to watch and play to float through, and to, the next now.