A Long Path Through Grief: La Chica on Writing New Album ‘La Loba’17 February, 2021
La Loba is the new album from Venezuelan-French musician La Chica. The result of a spiritual awakening after the loss of her brother, Sophie Fustec wrote the album in just a month using nothing but her voice, her hands and her piano. There are surprises around each turn of this long path towards healing, as the multifarious piano leads La Chica’s storytelling through many different moods and states. La Chica weaves pain into popular music with unpredictable artistry, proving her incredible affinity with her instrument of choice, and a personal understanding that makes for rich and complex production.
I spoke with La Chica over Zoom, from her place in Paris, where she’s adapting to this new pace of life in a pandemic, “allowing time to do its work”.
How have you found it working in the pandemic? Does the calmness of being at home help you?
I have to keep my mind active. I read a lot, try to watch inspiring movies. I try to stay creative, but it’s not exactly work. Sometimes you have to refresh, go out for a while and think – or not think! – then come back and you might have another vision. We need to use this special moment, this new proposition of time, to not be so stressed by the productive side of our being. It’s good sometimes to rest the mind.
Definitely. When you were writing La Loba, was it like this? Did you write the album over a long period of time?
It was a short period of time. I’ve never made music so fast. I had all these emotions inside of me and I really needed to get them out and to transform everything, so I felt the urge to do it fast and not spend months and months in the process – everything was done in a month.
Wow. Did you write the album alone?
For the creation process of writing the music and lyrics I was alone with my piano. After that I decided to work with two guys who also play in the band Form. They are excellent producers. I knew that if I asked them to work with me it would feel like family, it would be an easier process and I wanted to share the music with them. They were absolutely beautiful with me and helped me a lot. It was a huge process, trying to allow the death to transcend into music and light. I had a lot of strong emotions; they were there to help me in the process of transformation.
“La Loba” is an incredible song about transformation, based on a legend that Clarisa Pinkola Estés writes about in Women Who Run With the Wolves. I actually couldn’t read this book, I couldn’t get into the way it was written, but I really feel the story in your song, through pace and volume and its various stages. Can you talk more about the different stages of the song?
Yeah, she has a special way of writing; she’s not so easy to understand. I can understand her because I’ve connected with a lot of oral stories and legends. When I saw the book for the first time, and that it was written by a woman, I felt so happy that someone was telling these stories and memorialising them in writing. She makes a special interpretation of the legend, and I have my own.
“La Loba” is a song about healing, so I’m calling – maybe to my ancestors, or to the forces and energies I need – because I’m going to give myself to life again. First there’s the preparation of the ritual, the first verses and chorus. It all starts to happen at the second chorus, when I bring this person back to life and it’s painful, it’s hard; it has to be intense which is why there’s screaming. And after the screaming, after the pain, after this complex step of transformation, then comes the light – the bridge and the voices [she starts to sing the high notes]. But it’s not finished. Because after the light we have to give strength to the body and help the body to evolve, to maintain its strength so it can keep good energy around. The second part of the ritual, which is the second part of the song, is full of intensity, dance, I’m calling the elements so it’s chaotic. It’s the real chaos that will help you to be reborn. That requires a lot of energy! All these energies are mixing and creating a huge ball of sound, which then explodes. And then comes new life.
The piano plays a really important role in the storytelling of the song. Sometimes it’s a bass line, sometimes the melody, almost always the foundation.
The piano is such a nice instrument because it’s complete. I can use it for percussion, it’s melodic, it’s harmonic and it’s rhythmic. I feel that the piano is an orchestra – I don’t need the rest. I thought initially that I was limiting myself when I chose to use the piano as my playground, but it was perfect because limiting myself actually opened me to a lot of liberty; I felt really free with just the piano, my hands and my voice. I loved it.
There’s a real variety of rhythms on the album and the beats often sound homemade, like the palmas, kick drums, sticks, the piano pedal, maybe a heartbeat?
Yeah, all of the rhythms were made on the piano. Every bit of percussion you hear is made on the piano. It might be my fingers, my palms, my knuckles; it’s my hands. It’s the perfect instrument as there are so many ways to use it for percussion. Every sound in the album comes from my voice, my hands and my piano.
The backing vocals and harmonies add so much nuance to the songs. Are these all your vocals?
Yes, it’s all my voice. I had the skeleton with piano and keys, then we got in the studio and had some fun with production, inventing things without limiting myself.
The final track “Hoy (Lobo)” sounded to me like healing, and there’s mention of rebirth, but the sound is very different, much calmer, like you’re giving yourself time to heal.
Absolutely. The album is like a camino through grief. I open the album asking a question: ‘My brother went through another dimension, so what are we gonna do now? We have a new context to make things happen, What’s the key? I need some answers!’ [On the opening track “3”, La Chica sings “Mirando a la muerte en los ojos, sembramos, Nos toca elevar el nivel de consciencia”]
The second step is healing, with water – in “Agua” I’m getting rid of some heavy energy I don’t want any more. I’m going to the river to clean myself, it’s currents carry away the pain and suffering. I need to be clean so that I can understand what’s going to happen to me and my brother.
Then I have to die to see my life. I have to accept I’m dying. This is an ordeal, what I’m going through, I’m dying inside, but I have to search for the light. For this, I need rebirth. This happens in “La Loba”; I’m feeling all the pain, lamenting, mourning, releasing. In this last song I’m telling my brother that he’s not gonna suffer anymore. I’m releasing him of any responsibilities to me. He’s free to elevate and change dimension. I don’t need him like this, I just need his energy. I’m telling him it’s okay; I’m healing myself so you can do what you need to do.
Is he the Lobo?
It’s his surname. His name was Pablo Lobo. It also echoes La Loba – they complement each other.
“Drink” is also on your previous album Cambio, reimagined here. Why did you choose to reinclude it?
Yes, “Drink” is a huge part of the process too. It’s a canto por los muertos – a song for the dead. It comes from a spiritual connection through trance. In Venezuela, we connect through rhythm: with tambores, cigarro and alcohól – rum. We enter a trance, celebrate the dead, forget the pain and can then be in harmony with everyone, no matter which level they’re on, which realm they’re in; we’re all connected in this moment. When I first released this song it was for dancing, for celebration. But I wanted to offer a calmer, more soothing version, because the connection I’m feeling when I play it now is with the sounds, not the rhythm. It’s another level of depth. I feel I’m more grounded playing it on my piano.
Do you dance a lot?
Yes! It’s important.
Do these concepts come to you first in Spanish because of the context? You sing in Spanish on almost all of the tracks, with some English. Was this in order to sing to your brother?
Spanish is the language connected to my emotions. I’ve always composed in Spanish because it’s more natural. Sometimes in English because it’s easier to make a sound in English than in French. French is so closed. For me the sound is more important than the words. The words come after, in resonance with the music. I can’t sing in a language that isn’t resonant. I need to express with my whole body but I can’t do this with French.
French is special to me but it’s not one of my influences in music. I’m a huge fan of the whole UK vibe. From the ‘60s, pop and rock, to electronic music, rap, hip-hop, dance and garage. Everything that’s coming from the UK is stunning. I don’t know why but I feel it, and I feel more inspired by what’s happening in the UK than in the US.
What about in France?
My second influence comes from the Caribbean: Venezuela, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico. I’m not so interested in what’s happening in France. I love Serge Gainsbourg. I love the way he sings and speaks. It’s such a pleasure to listen to that kind of French. But he’s unique. And he worked with English producers and musicians on these albums! French music is sometimes more interested in imitation.
Is there a modern Latinx scene in France? Here in the UK it’s really growing and becoming more visible. Is that happening in France?
No, that’s why I want to travel again! Here there is a kind of clichéd vision of what Latin American music is – they’re not aware of everything that’s going on now. There’s fuego! It’s burning up. There’s tremendous energy. But I know many good producers and musicians here and many brilliant groups, they’re just not really famous. They’re underground.
So what’s next? Are you taking a break in lockdown? Will you make any more videos for the album when it’s possible to do so?
I was in Mexico in December and January. I went to connect with my brother’s energy, so I had to go back to Mexico. I came back with a lot of ideas and some shots from the Pacific Coast I recorded with my iPhone. I’m going to make a homemade video for “Agua”. Then I’m going to call a Venezuelan friend in Berlin and we’re gonna make a video for “3” or “Hoy”, we’re not sure which yet. And I would love to play this album live, because it’s gonna be my therapy, it’s gonna be catártico, I have to do this… I don’t know when it’s going to be possible, but it’s ready!
La Loba is released by Zamora in the UK, and available on digital platforms
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