For Puerto Rican artists, packing out San Juan’s José Miguel Agrelot Coliseum – the island’s biggest indoor arena, colloquially called El Choli for its namesake actor’s most famous character – means more than having made it. Performing there is a rite of passage along the route to stardom, but selling out a headlining concert is practically the Boricua equivalent of a Hall of Fame induction.
February 2, 2019 – on the opening night of Soy Yo, the tour named for her recent album – renowned Puerto Rican singer, songwriter and guitarist Kany García did exactly that. And it’s the same gutsy vulnerability and palpable warmth of heart she’s earnestly embedded in her style of Latin pop for nearly 15 years that earned her that welcome by upwards of 10,000 eager fans.
Some thanks, of course, are due to Latin pop great Franco De Vita. Back in 2006, the Venezuelan artist invited García, then a burgeoning but not yet widely known artist, to open his headlining concert at El Choli. But he also brought her to sing on stage during his own set to ensure that a full audience, not only the early birds, would be graced with her talent.
Before the Soy Yo crowd that night, looking simultaneously ethereal and empowered, she graciously recalled: “There are things that one does not forget because you do not want to forget them…I will never forget how that night changed my life.”
Her performance solidified an already in-the-works relationship with Sony that has since yielded six acclaimed albums. Throughout her career, García has absolutely soared, garnering three Latin Grammy wins and a legion of fans that spans genders and generations.
Tests and tensions are part of her journey – a near-fatal car crash in her early 20s, while she was set to compete on a local reality singing competition, could have derailed her career before it even began. But García recovered, and though she missed out on the TV show opportunity, she created new avenues for herself, powering through with bar and small-venue gigs – and the De Vita breakthrough and Sony signing came soon after.
Cualquier Día, García’s 2007 debut album, was widely embraced, earning her Best Female Pop Album and Best New Artist at that year’s Latin Grammys. A few years and a handful of nominations later, production for her third, self-titled record, which she co-produced, earned another win – and, most importantly, for fans, was quickly heralded an essential part of the great and growing Kany García canon.
At this popularity peak, however, came a candid moment that, especially for a Latin American artist, presented a risk of polarization. Just before Valentine’s Day in 2016, García came out as gay. On social media, graceful and authentic as ever, she shared a personal photo with her partner accompanied by an intimate reflection; this public revelation was about opening her heart as a means of being genuine. Speaking her truth was an act of self-love — and her fans reacted by sending their own love, expressing respect and heartwarming solidarity.
A few months later, Limonada, her fourth work was released; it debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart, holding fast for two consecutive weeks.
Growing up in the northern coastal town of Toa Baja, García was steeped in religion: Her father was a Catholic priest, her two uncles are priests, and her mother directed a choir. But her family wholly accepted and supported her upon her coming out – a blessing that not everyone, particularly people of Latinx heritage, is afforded.
García’s upbringing was also a musical one; her commitment to studying music, from cello to theory to guitar, began early in childhood. The fruits of that education delivered not only a masterful musician but also one who understands the dynamics of playing in groups and the electricity that can spark in working collectively with musicians of varied styles. Collaborations throughout her career have included the likes of Argentine singer-songwriter Abel Pintos, Colombian artist Santiago Cruz, Spanish icons like flamenco artist Antonio Carmona and pop singer Melendi, celebrated Mexican artist Natalia Lafourcade, and fellow Puerto Rican hit-makers like rapper Tego Calderón, plus founding member of the hip-hop group Calle 13 and solo artist Residente.
It’s no surprise then, that throughout the Soy Yo setlist, which hits many highs on her latest LP but still manages to run the gamut of hits and cherished deep cuts from her discography, García is joined by a handful of notable guest artists. Some are former collaborators, some are friends, and they represent genres as far-ranging as pop to rap and reggaeton to indie-folk. In the latter category, the two women invited are up-and-coming local artists García aimed to highlight.
“Remember their voices,” she tells the audience. Like De Vita’s gesture of support so many years ago, choosing these musicians to join her now, having come full circle, was a way to graciously repay that life-changing favor, to continue the legacy – a “great responsibility,” García calls it — of mutual support. For the two women taking the stage El Choli for the first time, it represented an invaluable, golden endorsement, and a genuine display of belief in their talent from a respected, long and widely beloved artist.
Between panoramic coliseum views and close-ups of García’s passionate performances, Soy Yo En Vivo a continuous reel of magical scenes. There are open-hearted love songs, empowering anthems, and touching universal tributes – to romances lost, to loved ones passed on, to unforgettable friendships and, of course, the island and people of beautiful Puerto Rico – and all the while, García seems authentically grateful.
Kany García: Soy En Vivo will air on all HBO Latino on October 4 before being available to stream on all platforms (HBO GO/HBO NOW/On Demand).