Hello and welcome Ángela! Tell me about yourself. Where were you born and how many years have you been in Madison? Why Madison?
Well, I’m from Ibagué, a city in Colombia that’s pretty small but with high population density. It’s got about 500,000 inhabitants and is about a 4 hour drive from Bogotá. I grew up there until the age of 16. Then I moved to Bogotá to pursue a career in architecture. I started to make music during this same period. Before I really enjoyed music, but more as a spectator, nor was it my dream to be a singer. I preferred the idea of being an actress! But, I knew that it would be difficult to make a career through music. Nonetheless, I wanted to do something connected to the arts that allowed me to make money and also help people. In a sense, a mix of my passion for architecture and music.
I lived in Bogotá for 8 years as an architect. But, when I finished architecture school, I dedicated myself just to music for 8 months so I could get an opportunity to turn it into a profession. I was aware that it’s more likely for one to become famous when they’re young. What I liked to sing most was rock and pop in Spanish and English. I didn’t really like Latin and Colombian music, perhaps, because my mom (who’s also a singer) sang that type of music, and I wanted to be totally rebellious instead of doing what she did.
In Bogotá, while I studied, I started singing in a rock band that played at bars on the weekends. It was complicated to study and sing, but I was young and had the energy! I would make maquettes, and as one can imagine, this takes lots of time and I almost didn’t sleep. But everything I did was for the passion of it, and I was just as passionate about architecture as I was about music.
Later, I realized that being famous is difficult for lots of reasons, not just because of the economics of it, but also because of the emotional aspect. For me it wasn’t easy to work at night, nor for people to recognize me. I played with the same band for 4 or 5 years and later I went to another band. It was difficult to go beyond playing in bars though. To pass from there to another level is really complicated. Not only do you need money, but also luck more than talent. It’s difficult anywhere, so I dedicated myself more to architecture and thought about doing a master’s in another language. I decided on English. To learn I went to Australia for 2 years doing different jobs to sustain myself while I practiced my English. I had to take an exam called the IELTS (British) and I didn’t want to return to Colombia without passing it, so I spent a long time out there. It was in Australia that I started to sing Latin music. I lived in the Gold Coast, which is the most touristy city in Australia. Musicians there have the opportunity to play on the street, as long as you have a license. I got my license and began to sing and play the guitar. Fact is that it was a very tough environment because you had to deal with drunk people, tough climate conditions, working at night… And for a woman it’s not easy. Out there, I met a band that played Latin music and I performed with them for a year. For me, it was terrible beginning to sing Latin music because my passion was rock, which allowed me to express all these emotions of anger, sadness, pain, happiness, etc, while through Latin music it wasn’t possible. You always project happiness, or, at least, through the music we played. Plus, even if you’re singing sad lyrics, you still have to smile. I love to smile, but sometimes I wish I could express other emotions that rock gave me access to. And, I had to dance! Well, I returned to Colombia and worked as an architect for 8 months. Truth is I didn’t want to stay there, because I kept having to deal with situations I didn’t like. So, finally, I decided to pursue my master’s and filled out an application for a scholarship in Colombia, which few have the opportunity to get. I was a good student in college, very serious (unlike in school, where I was very undisciplined!) so it wasn’t hard to get.
That’s how I got to madison. To be honest, Madison wasn’t my first option, I wanted to go to Great Britain. But my brother, who studied in Milwaukee, suggested that I come to Wisconsin. According to him Madison was the best city, so I listened to him. I came to Madison in 2013 and that first year was a disaster. It was very exhausting, difficult, with little money, and the culture was a shock. With no friends, no speaking Spanish, without being able to sing, it was truly a nightmare! Finally, I got my city planning degree and after began my internship with the city of Madison. They hired me and I’ve been working for them for a year now in the Planning Division office.
Speaking of music, I remember that I began asking everybody I could meet if they knew bands I could sing for, including Dante Viscarra! I was desperate because I missed music. I needed it. One day, I went to an event called Dane Dances on the Monona Terrace. Grupo Candela was playing. Edi Rey was right there as a spectator, and, through conversation told me that he was looking for a singer. It was a coincidence, but that’s how I began to sing in Madison. Edi and I became good friends and now we play together in two bands. Edi Rey y su Salsera y Son del Atlántico. That’s my abridged history.
As I mentioned before, I began at 17, playing and singing in Bogotá while I was in college. But because my mom is a singer, I grew up surrounded by music.
Is singing a profession or a pastime?
I’d say it’s a second profession. If it were a pastime I wouldn’t take it as seriously as I do. We have practice every week, at least three times a week. I take it very seriously, not as a primary profession because it isn’t what feeds me, but yes, it is a profession.
What, then, is your main occupation?
I’m a city planner by day and a singer by night!
How much does singing impact you emotionally and what’s the most satisfying part about music?
It impacts me a lot and what’s the most satisfying is seeing that an audience appreciates it. What provokes me to play and sing in front of a crowd is the adrenaline that comes out, because without it I would just play and sing in my house alone.
What do you enjoy doing most in life, besides music?
Well, dancing! I like to go to the gym, do cardio, be active, I like to sleep.. And, well, I have my boring side, in the sense that I can’t go out partying every weekend! I don’t have enough energy, because I work all week long, practicing and going to the gym. I prefer to spend my energy on everything I do during the week more than going dancing for 10 hours! Plus, I value a lot to what and whom I dedicate my time to. Not because I discriminate against people or things, but because time is precious and health is important. Because of that, the perfect sunday for me is to sleep in late!
What type of music do the bands you sing in play?
In the band Edi Rey y su Salsera we play more Latin pop music, while the band Son del Atlántico plays more Afro-Caribbean music, and Colombian music like Cumbia, Porro, and Cumbión.
How difficult is is to be a woman, worker and singer all at the same time? Can you manage everything without getting stressed out?
I think that, without a doubt, being a man is easier in many ways. First of all, speaking about music, I don’t like putting on high heels. Although I’ve been able to compromise by putting on shorter heels, and even singing barefoot! Dancing without shoes is the best!
I feel that, being a woman, people see me more as a physical figure than as an intellectual. It shouldn’t be like that. Often, off-stage after a performance people tell me, ‘oh, you looked so good!’ more than, ‘oh, you sang so good!’ Of course it’s important to look good, because we as musicians are selling something. Which is why I say it’s fair to get dressed up. But it can be heavy at times.
Secondly, speaking of work, women don’t have a lot of authority. But they won’t tell you that. Perhaps because I grew up in an environment that was too conservative, I tend to always be flexible towards men. To put aside my own ideas and opinions, to follow instead of lead, especially when I’m in a group of men. Being a woman is complicated! And for women to be strong isn’t something inherent, it’s an extra quality, so it can be intimidating to the opposite sex. When a woman has all of these traits, of being strong, hard-working, etc, they are seen as bossy, while men are seen as leaders! So yes, I can manage everything, but it can be stressful at times.
How do your Colombian origins influence the music of your bands?
In everything. Colombia is very rich in rhythms and traditions that aren’t found in any other place. For example. Salsa has different styles, and among those is Colombian Salsa. One can also say that Cumbia has different types, and in Colombia we have Colombian Cumbia. I didn’t grow up singing this music, but I grew up listening to it as far as I can remember. Another element that I bring to the bands is the Colombian attitude of being friendly. Without generalizing, I think that’s a really strong cultural component. You can tell that in a party with Latinxs of all parts, the Colombian is the most friendly. And they’re naturally, sincerely friendly. So, I bring the good and the bad, the Colombian sayings, the music and the joy that characterizes Colombians. A Colombian laughs at everything, including tragedies. In front of death, we dance. So, I suppose, my roots influence the bands through all aspects.
The music of your bands has a connection to the pop culture of your country, like that you play Cumbia, for example. Do you feel the need to represent Colombia?
Of course! I’m a Colombiana and I bring it to the stage.
According to the dictionary, Cumbia is a dance with origins in Colombia and Panamá, but, now, is popular throughout the rest of Latin America and there are numerous variations. What is Cumbia to you? What do you know of it’s history?
As I mentioned earlier, there’s different types of Cumbias. Colombian Cumbia is very different from other types of Cumbias, in the sense that although the rhythm is the same, the instruments are different. Like the tambora, which is Colombian, perhaps with African roots. Colombian Cumbia is fuller, richer. For example, Chilean Cumbia has very sad lyrics, while the Colombian kind has happier lyrics.
How is Latin music received here in Madison?
Americans really like it. They enjoy it, but, most the time, they just stay seated watching. I think that, in part, this type of music intimidates them. Perhaps they ought to listen to more Latin music and get used to it, so that they can dare to explore it. It’s an exotic music and intimidating at the same time. So they’re receptive to it, but they’re missing the cultural exposure so that they can begin to understand it more profoundly. To understand the Latin roots and involve themselves more with this type of music. They don’t need to understand it completely to be able to feel it..
Do you have any new upcoming music projects?
Yes! We’re thinking of a new project right now. A trio with Edi, myself, who will be playing the guitar and singing, and another person playing the cajón. I wanted to create this trio that’s going to play rock music so that I can finally express myself in a different way. We’re ready to play, but we haven’t performed anywhere yet. The trio is called “Los Parces” which is a very Colombian word and would translate to English into something like ‘The Dudes”. The three of us are Colombianos! The idea is to start playing at bars during happy hour.
Tell me about one of the things that best represents Colombia. Do you identify with this thing as a good Colombiana?
Joy and that attitude I was telling you about, of seeing a problem through laughter, even when it’s a serious problem. In Colombia, it’s normal to see the positive side through laughter, it’s part of the culture. This irony is useful so one can laugh at life in the hopes of living well. A Colombian celebrates any problem through celebration, because there’s nothing else one can do. So this positive attitude is what I Identify with as well and what’s allowed me to face life. It’s not easy for anybody, to appreciate the good things and to laugh at the bad, because all we have is laughter. That doesn’t mean that I’m always laughing at my problems, but I try to maintain this attitude. And that is Colombian!
Thank you Ángela, for a fun interview full of laughter. Thank you for your positive and constructive humor. I’ll leave with this lesson learned; laughter helps us distance ourselves from our problems, to be more dynamic, always respecting ourselves and each other, to laugh together at the contradictions of life and to make the world laugh, ‘because all that we have is laughter!’
I want to end by reminding everybody that Edi Rey y su Salsera play the first Friday of every month in the Brink Lounge, at 701 E Washington Ave, Suite 105, Madison 53703. Come enjoy one of the best Salsas, Merengues, Cumbias and Bachatas in Madison!