Alex Anwandter’s highly anticipated new album Amiga is finally here, and it’s tremendous. The Chilean singer-songwriter’s first solo album since 2011 is streaming exclusively via Apple Music for one week. Much has been speculated about the project, particularly due to Anwandter’s increasingly political profile over the last few years; he’s become involved with Chile’s student protests, a vocal advocate for LGBT and women’s rights, and an internationally lauded filmmaker. But now the wait is over, and Anwandter delivers on his promise of dance music with a message, with more than a few surprises up his sleeve.
Few musicians can bring protest to the dance floor like Alex Anwandter, and where we saw flashes of his political intent on Rebeldes, his previous album, the first half of Amiga makes a full commitment to this artistic direction. Anwandter presents us with his most conflicted work to date, writing more than simple social justice songs, but also imbuing his lyrics with soul and empathy. Tracks like “Siempre Es Viernes En Mi Corazón” and “Traición” find Alex pissed off and feeling betrayed by the church, the government, and the patriarchal structures that bind him.
There’s combative and vulnerable duality to Amiga, the best example of which can be found on “Cordillera,” a sweeping portrait of Chile that breaks down the beautiful subtleties of a nation living in the shadow of the Andes, all while airing the singer’s many frustrations and disappointments with his homeland’s sociopolitical realities. This is a song that pleads to Chile’s ubiquitous all-seeing backbone for guidance, understanding, and mercy.
Most songs on Amiga find a female figure at the center of their narrative, like the title track, a platonic memory of a friend wrapped in a Dance Dance Revolution-ready banger. Similar to “Traición,” “Mujer” is a more abstract take on female sexuality that lays out the oppressive dynamics of gender while also strongly alluding to sexual harassment and rape culture. On the feminist nature of the album, Anwandter says, “I was certainly aware of the interpretations and issues flowing through the songs, but to me ‘the personal is political’ is a key phrase, almost a method. Political issues affect the most delicate spheres of our lives — who you get to marry, hold hands in the streets, whether or not you can walk alone at night, if we earn more or less than someone else for the same job, etc., — so it’s not that hard to reveal those issues.”
Themes of gender and sexuality are woven into Amiga’s DNA, and nowhere do they shine more brightly than on “Manifiesto.” The devastating track at the center of the album is an instant trans anthem delivered by Anwandter in one of his most raw and stirring vocal performances to date, underscored by a piano, the song’s sole musical accompaniment.
“There is somehow nothing more shocking to this very day than a man ‘dressing like’ or saying he’s a woman,” he says. “I left the song very sparse on purpose: hearing a man shouting he’s a woman, it is raw, and that sort of self-immolation will have the urgency you can sense in the song as long as women are being discriminated against or kids get beat up for having a limp wrist.” “Manifiesto” will long be remembered as one of Anwandter’s great achievements in songwriting, seamlessly melding his social justice voice with the deep emotional storytelling that has become emblematic of his music.
The second half of Amiga is wildly different from the first, and lightens the mood of the record considerably. This is where the best production moments on the album happen. From the tropical balladeering of “Intentarlo Todo de Nuevo” to the Phil Spector-esque “El Sonido De Los Corazones Que Se Quiebran,” Alex is eager to show off his musicianship and compositional expertise. “Caminando a La Fábrica” is a simple, beautiful duet with Julieta Venegas, and the only other guest feature after Ale Sergi and Juliana Gattas of Miranda! on “Siempre Es Viernes en Mi Corazón.” “Qué Será de Tí Mañana?” is a stunning piece of acoustic, guitar-driven melancholy, and album closer “Te Enamoraste” is a soulful send off to every fan that misses the classic Teleradio Donoso sound.
“One of the things that has defined my generation of fellow musicians in Chile is the complete lack of self-imposed limits regarding genres or styles,” he says, describing his influences as “everything from Burt Bacharach to Juan Gabriel, J-pop to Gustav Mahler and Abba to Violeta Parra; it’s all wonderful and very rich. If you allow yourself to connect deeply with your own story and with the context and issues that surround you, you’re bound to create something special.”
Alex Anwandter has showcased his range and every song lends insight to his complex psyche, and though the wide array of themes and musical influences can leave the impression of a lack of cohesion, the powerful emotions behind every song are as good a unifying thread as any. As a final thought, Anwandter sums up the album as “these things that appear to be binary, black or white, man or woman…they’re not. There’s a whole world in between.”