Iconográfica: Juana Molina, Argentina’s Alt-Folk Visionary

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Iconográfica is a column that celebrates divas that not only bring it artistically on a regular basis but exude grrrl power in the process. It’s a pop culture exploration of Latin icons with original illustrations and animated gifs by Cristóbal Saez.

There are few Latinas that have been able to cross over from being successful actresses to singers with a respectable catalog. Most of the time, the music ends up being cliché, record label-orchestrated pop (I see you, girl.) Juana Molina is one of the few that was able to do it right. Since transitioning from Argentine prime time TV star to the New Age indie songstress she is now, she has maintained a level of DIY integrity that makes her music original and undoubtedly hers.

In the 90s, Juana Molina kicked off her acting career by starring in her own sketch comedy show, Juana y Sus Hermanas. The catch is that all of her hermanas were actually played by her – quirky characters based on Argentine stereotypes, like the Asian store clerk, the plastic bimbo, and my personal favorite, Gladys, the incredibly annoying make-up artist that speaks like a Real Academia Española thesaurus. The show was hilarious and wildly successful, but Juana was bitten by the music bug and bowed out while she was at the peak of her career.

Though she left acting behind, her sense of independence remained – on Juana y Sus Hermanas she played all the characters, and on her albums it has always been just Juana and her acoustic guitar. Her first record, the Gustavo Santaolalla-produced Rara, introduced listeners to a more sincere, folky Juana than her quirky TV counterpart. As she continued to put out records, they became more and more electronic and experimental, yet remained folky. In 2000’s Segundo we were introduced to the synth and keyboard, but her music really became something unique with 2002’s self-produced Tres Cosas, when Juana discovered the loop station. This pedal-operated machine allows for guitar riffs or vocals to be layered and looped numerous times, and just like that, Juana became a thousand Juanas.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Ms. Molina perform in Brooklyn and Argentina, and the audience reaction proves that although Juana’s music is in Spanish, her genre-less approach and genuine voice is not held back by language barriers. She’s even totally huge in Japan. This year, we have Wed 21, a new record, to look forward to. The first cut, “Eras“, follows Juana’s formula of hypnotizing beats paired with eerie imagery, and only proves Juana’s reign of the Latin Alt-folk niche.

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