Kali Uchis wants you to know that a language barrier doesn’t prevent you from enjoying her music.
Earlier this month, the 26-year-old Colombian American singer released her first Spanish-language album, Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios). Though highly anticipated by the majority of her fanbase, some English-speaking fans voiced their apprehension for the project — they felt it would fail to remain relatable and personally meaningful in a different language. Seemingly in response to these concerns, Uchis tweeted with the release of single “la luz” in October, “today i drop another song in spanish which i know means another day of disappointment for my english speaking fans who do not wish to make the attempt to listen to music in languages they can’t understand.” Despite the R&B princess’ unabashed celebration of Latin language and culture on prior projects like Por Vida (2015) and Isolation (2018), many of her American listeners are still resistant to embracing foreign-language music. It represents a larger issue in our industry, which though steadily diversifying, has only just warmed up to breakout multilingual acts like Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny and Korean boy band BTS. On Sin Miedo, Uchis reminds us that good music transcends these bounds of language.
Known for her sultry California-glam aesthetic, Uchis’ lush vocals feel right at home on her latest project. Yet opener “la luna enamorada” may be surprising to some fans, both for Uchis’ uncharacteristically deep register and the song’s bolero-style structure. Bolero, a type of slow-tempo music first popularized in 19th century Cuba, is just one of many different Latin genres that make an appearance on the album. “la luna enamorada” sets the tone for the rest of the project, as Uchis presents the listener with a microcosm of modern Latin music, incorporating everything from reggaetón to bachata into the soulful R&B pop that made Uchis famous.
With the project’s release in mid-November, Uchis tweeted, “this album is full of so many genres that made my childhood & i am very proud of its range of emotions & nostalgia. i hope it brings you any bit of the joy it has brought me.” Growing up in both Alexandria, Virginia and Pereira, Colombia, Uchis has fully embraced her multicultural upbringing on Sin Miedo, citing influences like Panamanian reggaetón group La Factoría and Cuban bolero singer La Lupe.
Her ability to master both traditional Latin sounds and newly developing ones is further testament to Uchis’ artistic growth since Isolation. She gives us a velvety cover of “Que te pedí,” La Lupe’s most famous work from the 1960s, while also infusing elements of neoperreo, a burgeoning experimental subsect of reggaetón, on tracks like “la luz(Fín)” and “te pongo mal(prendalo).” Uchis’ roots in pop and R&B are not lost on Sin Miedo either, with infectiously fun synth ballads “telepatía” and “aguardiente y limón” and the luxuriously seductive “vaya con dios.” It’s evident that Uchis is becoming a savant of a variety of different sounds, all the while developing a self-assured voice absent on earlier works like Por Vida.
On the track “¡aquí yo mando!” Uchis makes her inviolable confidence known with the help of a bilingual feature from rapper Rico Nasty. Uchis declares on the song’s chorus, “Mando, aquí yo mando, si quieres conmigo vete acostumbrando,” translating in English to, “I command, here I call the shots, if you want to be with me get used to it.” Gone are the “Loner”-era days of solitude and introversion in love. On Sin Miedo, Uchis now demands respect not only in her relationships but in the ranks of American R&B stardom. Even Uchis’ vocal range has flourished since her last project, with soul-clenching contraltos on “la luna enamorada” and shimmering high notes on tracks like “vaya con dios.” Uchis invites you to kindly refrain from putting her in any type of box, a clear departure from earlier days of consistently marketable mainstream hits.
In honor of Uchis truly owning her sound on Sin Miedo, its production presents a refreshing switch-up from her previous works. Puerto Rican producer Tainy, who’s churned out mega hits for Latin talents like J Balvin and Daddy Yankee, shines through on the record (in major contrast to the industry heavy-hitters that have collected production credits on Por Vida and Isolation). In much of Uchis’ older music, underlying influences from collaborators like Tyler the Creator and Kevin Parker have peeked through and, at times, drowned out her own voice. Yet on her latest release, Uchis has fully taken the reins, refusing to bend to the will of what popular American culture is comfortable with. While Sin Miedo places less emphasis on storytelling and vulnerable lyricism than Isolation, it remains a deeply personal work by embracing the elements of Uchis’ sonically diverse adolescence.
Sin Miedo is by all accounts a success for Uchis, widening her career trajectory and proving that the artist is able to charm listeners in both English and Spanish. Never does Uchis dilute her Latin roots in an effort to appeal to American audiences, instead injecting these cultural foundations with the ethereal candy-colored elegance that earned her popularity in the first place. Whether you’re fluent or relying on Google Translate to understand Uchis’ words, Sin Miedo reminds us that in expanding our musical palettes to include multilingual works, we are opened up to a whole new world of beautiful art.
Daily Arts Writer Nora Lewis can be reached at email@example.com.