Kali Uchis may be an aesthetic icon but she also has the skills to follow. Colombian by blood but born just outside Washington DC, Uchis is one of those truly respectable artists who not only sings but writes her own lyrics, produces her own tracks and even directs her music videos.
In her teen years, Uchis could have been considered rebellious, however could not have been described as lazy. She began writing poems and making music in high school while producing music videos for other artists as a form of income.
Uchis first began making waves in the mixed genre of soul, R&B and indie pop, when she released her self-produced mixtape Drunken Babble in August 2012 at the age of 18. The mixtape introduces her unique style perfectly. Her influences of reggae and doo-wop, are exemplified in the syncopated chordal piano part in “Mucho Gusto“, and in the sampled backing vocals in “Pay Day” which is ultimately a more modern take on Bob Marley’s “How Many Times”.
The mixtape understandably, but surprisingly for Uchis, had a hugely positive reaction and gave her opportunities to collaborate with acclaimed artists such as Snoop Dogg and Tyler The Creator.
Despite Uchis’ extremely distinctive sound, she’s very flexible in regards to collaborations and manages to create excellent tracks with artists from different genres, from the two hip-hop legends above to latin rock artist Juanes, all the while keeping hold of her originality.
Following the mixtape, 2015 saw the release of Uchis’ debut album Por Vida, which translates from Spanish to ‘For Life’. The album consists of nine tracks and though she set the bar high with the blissful vocal layers in the opening tune “Sycamore Tree“, none of the posterior eight disappoint.
One of the most popular songs on the authentic record is the uplifting track – “Know What I Want“. Old school 60’s style backing vocals can be heard in the bridge and lyrically there is a sense of honesty, “I brush it off and try to act nonchalant, I notice everything I just act like I don’t“. Both these aspects of the track represent Uchis well, she is honest and stands by what she believes, whether people disagree or not, and also has a sick taste in vintage clothing.
Female empowerment is a significant theme associated with Uchis. While working with Tyler The Creator, many fans concluded they were dating or involved sexually somehow – when asked about this rumour on ‘The Lily Mercer Show’ (Rinse FM), it was clear from her reaction that she had experienced sexual inequality in the male dominated music industry. She said that the assumption that she was giving some form of ‘sexual gratification’ to him for excelling her career as an artist said a lot about society.
Social issues such as racial prejudice, mental health and environmental problems are also very urgent in the eyes of down-to-earth diva Uchis. On her Instagram story, she was seen picking up litter from an American highway with her boyfriend – rapper Yung Gleesh.
Uchis also spoke in an interview with Fader of her sensitivity towards people who have suffered from abuse as she and many she knows are also victims. Despite this partly unstable upbringing, Uchis is climbing higher and higher in the ranking of head strong and influential musical goddesses.
Uchis recently released two instantly catchy singles – the first being “Tyrant” featuring upcoming R&B/soul artist Jorja Smith, and the second, “Nuestro Planeta”, featuring Reykon, a Colombian artist signed to Warner Music Latina.
On “Tyrant”, Uchis’ edgy pronunciation and vocal harmonies are exaggerated through the doubling of voices and a relatively empty texture in some sections of the track, for example in the first verse. Smith appears in the third verse with her bold vocals, which compliment Uchis’ petite and delicate sounding tone perfectly.
Words by Hannah Rodriguez