Chile has yet to produce its Frank Ocean or Mary J. Blige (as has the rest of world, for that matter), but that is not to say that it has no R&B history. Back in the late 1980s, when the Pinochet dictatorship was still in repressive operation, singer Pedro Foncea and his group De Kiruza unexpectedly began utilizing the language of new jack swing to push human rights narratives. When Pinochet was finally, democratically ushered out of power, Foncea continued on this regionally idiosyncratic course, bringing R&B plus the tones of Stevie Wonder to Santiago and beyond.
Perhaps this early genre forebearer — and later R&B luminaries like group Mamma Soul — played a role in inspiring Chile’s current rhythm and blues surge, which is largely made up of artists who see no need to confine their sound to one genre. But for many of this wave, which counts among its marquee members Gianluca and Princesa Alba, R&B and neo-soul have become notes to be utilized in symphony with cloudy trap romántico, which has spawned its own, relatively massive scene in the country of 18 million. Others, like solo act Estasi Assoluto, work R&B chords into “future pop” orchestra, pushing the genre into places where it may have never found itself, aided by a cohort of producers enraptured by the emotive powers of a slowed-down beat.
This experimentation could have stayed a regional obsession, but it’s becoming clear that Chilean R&B may soon be able to coalesce behind an international star. In 2018, 19 year old Paloma Mami — who was born to Chilean parents in the United States — gained major label representation, and started releasing a string of bilingual solo tracks that center R&B vocals in an appealing blend of dancehall, reggaeton, and trap sounds. As her profile rises, it seems inevitable that others from her homeland will find new industry openings. Here’s some of Chile’s players who are putting their own spin on R&B stylings.
Often referred to as one the first Chileans of her generation to sign to a major music label, Sony’s 19 year-old Paloma Castillo is cannily laying the groundwork for a star moment in 2019. For proof, look to the first two singles following her turn on Chilean talent search TV program “Rojo”; last summer’s dancehall-inspired “Not Steady” and the DJ Luian and Mambo Kingz-produced “No Te Enamores De Mí.” They tell you exactly what to expect from Paloma Mami; a wonderfully assured young vocalist armed with an angelic voice and a moment to claim.
Last year’s Del Cielo mixtape seemed to draw from Yung Lean’s sad boy trap-isms — but Princesa Alba has become an important figure in Chilean space age soul. An early Gianluca-produced song “Mi Only One” hyping working class Santiago soccer powerhouse Deportivo Colo-Colo earned singer Trinidad Riveros early controversy, but these days, her legions of fans have been inspired by Alba’s feather-light vocals — not to mention vulnerable sense of body positivity (she’s been forthcoming about her adolescent struggles with bulimia). An aesthetic queen, she’s honed her skill for expressing the trials of a “digital babe” — but she actually didn’t put that makeup on for you, at all.
We’ve been clocking this young vocalist-producer’s experimental trap antics for years, but as he slides further into R&B heartthrob territory, things are getting more interesting. Gianluca has long eschewed a tough guy stance in his lyrics or visual narrative, slinging plush crocodiles slung around his neck for music videos (“PK Me Odias?“), or pumpkin-colored buzzcuts and garments akin to an elementary school art teacher’s smock (2018 Princess Alba duet “Summer Love”). We are living in the Bad Bunny era, and he will be well compensated for such sartorial risks. Indeed, his earnest drawl romántico is booked for this year’s Lollapalooza in Chile.
With more than a decade of music under her belt, Santiago’s Gissel Trujillo Roga hails from Chile’s hip hop scene. Her first role was as vocalist for Santiago’s Arte Project Crew, and she subsequently spent key years collaborating and globalizing with Barcelona’s mid aughts rap set. You can still catch her delivering evenly paced flows on her increasingly R&B oeuvre. Last year’s J.L.X. EP collaboration with Tombe easily updates traditional soulful babymaking chords for 2018, without Auto-tuning her vocals out of their vibrance. Yih Capsule is a slow-down Sunday evening special, more apt for Jill Scott diehards than fans of fusion R&B astronauts.
This trio is composed of singers Kidpoison, Baby J and Mlshbts a.k.a. Malos Hábitos. The latter is one of the producers who has defined the sound of the trap-R&B mélange in Santiago over the past few years, working with many of the big names on this list to yield their breakout moments. In Nvscvr, his crew is free to craft trap-tinged tales from their everyday walks, a line they developed fully in last year’s debut EP New Bois, which featured a pair of collaborations with rapper Polima Westcoast. 2018 single “Honey” is another standout, a monetarily-motivated reaction to love’s shadow.
Singer Nicolás Caris covered a lot of ground before his current artistic incarnation, making appearances in projects as diverse as hard-edged band Naves to unconventional rap-dubstep crew 847. In Estasi Assoluto, Caris commits to exploring “future pop” via tracks like the TOTAL90-produced “So High” and the trap pillow that is the mlshbts-produced “Blue Girl”, both off last year’s Blue EP. A set for excellent Santiago live series Sintética Sessions underlines a catalogue that ranges from footwork to alt R&B; Estasi Assoluto’s smoothly licking the edges of the genres he’s pulled together to craft his most recent chapter.
WH’s “Juego”, a track produced by Venezuela’s Bagner, is as close as you get to modern-traditional R&B sound in Chile, blessed with a bridge that is able to communicate that kind of rapturous lust, a flirtation rally cry. Formerly of Chilean reggae group Shamans Crew, WH only got his solo career going last year, but the two singles he’s dropped — with an additional acoustic version of “Juego” — are enough to convince that he’s got the vocal power to justify releases geared towards R&B sounds. Last year’s “All Night Long” makes use of soft reggaeton beat structure, run through with a vibrato that keeps the focus firmly on WH’s notes.
“Soy tu enemigo y tu necesidad. Tú eres mi fuego y mi complicidad.” Another crossover from Chile’s vast galaxy of cloud trap singers, collective Met Music’s A.S.A.H (the EP’s title stands for “Always Sad and Horny”, the crew’s name itself echoes the melancholic thirst; “Mañana Es Tarde”) from late last year runs piano notes down your spine, approximating the bars of heartbreak. The group features a selection of Santiago hitters; Caese, Mlshbts, Kpbts, Airlaps, and Trackdee, whose excellent Met-released song “Tu Cara” showcases a hook from Flowyn, a vocalist who has been less active in recent years, but whose queer R&B visions never faded far from Santiago’s memory bank.
Aside from certain tracks off 2018 album Aqua – like the despondent “No Vuelvas” – it may be tough to qualify 21 year-old Claudio Montaño Ceura’s sound as a fit in the R&B universe. Perhaps his work only shows the length to which trap artists have embraced the languid romancing that was once upon a time was more properly the territory of R&B singers. Rhythm and blues are a tertiary note in Drefquila hits like “A Fuego”, which yielded the singer mega Youtube views despite having its visuals being a simple loop of the fateful kiss of Adventure Time’s Finn and Flame Princess — but he gives a certain taste of modern soul. Having signed with Warner Music, Drefquila is currently Chilean trap’s biggest player, and will be joining Gianluca at this year’s Lollapalooza Chile. Given the vocalist’s own assertions that his releases go beyond any one urban sound, it stands to reason the genre agnostic signer will continue to post up in many corners of Chile’s soundscape.