After spending the last few summers on the road touring, singer-songwriter Mariana Vega has recently tried to live a bit more en cámara lenta, as the lyrics of her latest single emphasize. Working on her upcoming album has kept Vega plenty busy since returning from tour, but perhaps a bit less harried. We recently spoke with her about how things have evolved since winning the Best New Artist Latin Grammy Award in 2014. The conversation delves into what we can expect from her next and which artists she hopes to collaborate with in the future. Contrary to the current trend in lots of Latin pop songs, it doesn’t seem like she is going to change her style as she moves more into the mainstream—she doesn’t have plans to start shouting her name, her producer’s name, or her DJ’s name at the beginning of her songs #SorryReguetoneros. Here’s what she had to say.
HipLatina: Hey Mariana! I wanted to start out by asking where you first start performing and recording. I know you grew up in Venezuela and moved to Toronto during high school.
Mariana Vega: I started performing as a solo artist in Toronto. But I went to a musical school growing up in Venezuela. I sang in the choir and I used to play the piano and flute. We usually performed twice a week every week. Performing is something that I was used to doing, but it had always been with a whole group of people. Toronto is where I started writing my own songs and performing by myself.
HL: I haven’t been to Toronto in a while, but it’s not somewhere I immediately associate with any kind of Latin music scene. What was it like to start recording music in Spanish outside of Latin America?
MV: It’s funny because Toronto is not necessarily Latin, but it’s very multicultural. The people there are very open to whatever you want to share from your native country. There were many multicultural festivals in the parks in the city where it would just be a matter of signing up and singing. That’s what I usually did. There wasn’t a Latin music scene at all really, but I wouldn’t say that I sing typically Latin music anyway. I sing in Spanish but it’s not what you would usually call Latin music.
HL: It’s interesting that you say that. I love listening to music in Spanish when I can find it on the radio or on Spotify. Though depending on where you’re located in the US, you end up hearing a lot of reggaeton if you’re in New York or South Florida or banda if you’re in California or Texas. I liked your music and it’s a lot different from what you usually hear. How do you think that your sound fits into these more commonly played genres?
MV: Well in the mainstream, you hear a lot of reggaeton—it’s something that you can dance to. But really it’s like saying that every song in English has to be part of one genre and that’s not the case. Just because a song is in Spanish doesn’t mean that it has to be Latin music. And I’m definitely not by myself in that genre, but the mainstream is really just a lot of dance music with tropical beats—there’s not a lot of variety in what you hear. I think a lot of times it just depends on what’s being promoted by the major record labels and that’s why it sounds the same. Though Spotify is a lot more democratic in that you can choose what you want to listen to if you explore.
HL: Now that you’ve spent so much time outside of Venezuela, have you ever thought about recording songs in English?
MV: When I was living in Canada I started writing in English, but it’s funny because I think in Spanish. What I thought was a beautiful metaphor, my friends didn’t think made sense at all. Lyrics don’t translate exactly and that took me a while to figure out. I haven’t tried to write in English since then, but I think now I’ve learned enough to know that it’s not just about translating.
HL: I think that’s a great point. A lot of times when a Spanish song goes viral then the artist will translate it into English to reach a wider audience, but it doesn’t quite have the same meaning.
MV: I don’t even think you can translate a song. The song needs to be adapted to the other language—it’s like an adapted screenplay. You’re changing something to work with a different format or audience.
HL: So you spent a lot of time touring after you received the Best New Artist Latin Grammy in 2014. During part of the tour, you got to work with Los Amigos Invisibles. What was that like for you?
MV: I grew up listening to them—they hate it when I say that, but I did! And after a few years in the Venezuelan music industry we met and I started singing with them on a few shows they had. They’re super fun and are great musicians. Every show is like they press a reset button. They don’t get tired of playing the same songs and the energy is there with the audience no matter how many times they’ve done the show. Touring with them was like touring class 101 for me—the way they organize everything. They don’t have a manager right now and they do it all by themselves. Touring, booking—the four of them are doing it all. It was super exciting and I learned a lot with them.
HL: How did the tour and winning the Grammy influence what you did next?
MV: I usually say that it didn’t change anything, but it also changed everything at the same time. It didn’t change anything because I was still without a record label and was an independent artist. I still had to work just as hard, maybe even harder because now the whole industry was looking at me. But it also changed everything because I was able to tour Latin America with that Grammy title in front of my name. It was so much easier to book venues and to get people out to listen to me online. I got to meet my current producer Julio Reyes because he heard about me after I got the award. We sat down, talked, and then started writing some music. Now we’re in it together and I’m under his label. That’s another door that the award opened.
HL: Do you think your sound or style changed after you started working with Julio? On my way to work the other day, I listened to your latest single “Cámara Lenta” and then listened to your earlier album Mi Burbuja. There’s definitely a new and different sound from what you recorded in your earlier songs.
MV: So there are two things that happened. One is that usually I took a song to the producer already written. Then we would just sit down and do the arrangement to build out the song. I wrote them by myself. For this album, I went to the studio to write from scratch with Julio Reyes. He also took me out of my comfort zone and brought me away from depending so much on the guitar. He’s an amazing piano player and we started writing on the piano. That’s one of the main differences you’re going to hear. We started mixing piano with the electronic pop element—and you can see the two combined in “Cámara Lenta.” That was really Julio’s influence. It’s a whole new level for me which has really made me a better artist. I don’t know how I’ll be able to get out of the studio now because I’m going to want to write everything with him!
HL: What can we expect from the rest of the album?
MV: That mix between the electronic and acoustic element with Latin American rhythms is what we’re aiming for. The chorus that you hear in “Cámara Lenta” is a chacarera, which is an Argentinean folkloric rhythm. We have another one that is more of a ranchera from Mexico and another which is more of a bossa nova from Brazil. We’re trying to mix those Latin American roots and rhythms with pop.
HL: Is there anyone else who you would really like to tour with or collaborate with?
MV: I would really love to work with Natalia Lafourcade and Julieta Venegas. In the Latin music industry it’s a lot harder for women to get noticed for what they’ve done without having to change their genre or change the way they look to actually get into the mainstream. These two women have done an amazing job, so I really admire them and would love to work with them.
HL: Is there any advice you have for other women or girls who are trying to break into the industry?
MV: I think that the most important thing is for women to support each other. I don’t know why but when I was younger and just in general, there was sort of this competition among women everywhere. And this wasn’t just in the music industry. When you’re competing then you don’t end up helping yourself or anyone else. I think that women need to support each other, be ready to listen to each other, and be willing to collaborate and tour with others. You’ll definitely grow that way.
HL: What’s coming up next for you? When can we hear the rest of the album?
MV: I’m looking forward to touring to promote this new album. We’re going to do a few shows in Miami in November and we’re going to release the second single around that time. In 2017 I really want to get out there and start playing the whole album live.
Check out Mariana’s website for her upcoming performances and news on her album. You can also like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram. And be sure to watch the lyric video for “Cámara Lenta.”