The Estéreo Picnic Festival (EPF), which ended this past Sunday on the outskirts of Bogotá, gave Colombians more than 50 hours of concerts. And, like every year, there was a bit of suspense when some artists didn’t make it onto the stage. In 2022, the sad news for attendees was the sudden death of drummer Taylor Hawkins, of the Foo Fighters, who died in his hotel a few hours before performing. And, a month earlier, fans learned that the long-awaited group Blink 182 would not show up that year, due to an injury in the drummer’s left hand.
For a private festival whose admission can cost almost the same as the national monthly minimum wage, attendees are constantly policing the no-shows. This year, the harshest criticism came this past Saturday, directed at the Colombian-American singer Kali Uchis. She is one of the most successful young Latina artists in the United States, having shot to international fame with her 2020 hit song Telepathy.
One day before the concert at the EPF, it became known that she was cancelling her appearance to take care of her physical and mental health. There was widespread fury and anxiety among the fans. Uchis had to ask for some empathy… But after another wave of attacks on social media, she changed her mind. She would perform, she said, but would cancel all other commitments except for the EPF concert. Because first, she insisted, she had to recover emotionally.
“I will do my show with the greatest dedication, despite feeling the way I feel,” she wrote on her Instagram account. “So please, I hope you can understand that, despite [me having] the courage to stand on a stage for you, you can also have empathy,” she added. The singer didn’t specify what was going on in her life, but asked fans to understand the following: she would take time to heal… and it would take “as long as it takes.”
Kali Uchis, 28, is a singer from a Colombian family. She has lived almost all of her life in the United States, part of a generation of Latino singers whose identity is divided between their family roots and the place where they grew up.
Many people know that Lido Pimienta is Colombian, but forget that her passport is Canadian. Many identify the extremely famous rapper Cardi B as American, forgetting that she is also Dominican and Trinidadian. As happens to other migrant artists whose identity is divided, Kali Uchis is criticized over her nationality according to what she says or does, and praised if her words and actions make her followers happy.
“I am Colombian, from Pereira, but I never felt very settled here or in the United States,” she told her audience.
During the few hours that her concert appeared to be cancelled, several of her fans went precisely to the question of her loyalty to Latin America: “You don’t turn your back on your country,” said one. “To be honest, if it were a gringo festival this wouldn’t happen.” Another person added, “As always, [treating] Colombia badly.” “Later, don’t ask why someone gets annoyed with those so-called artists who brag about being Colombian and refuse to perform at a festival or give a PAID concert in their own country,” concluded another.
When it became known that Uchis was finally going to appear at the EPF, the type of comments immediately changed. “As a good pereirana should,” said another user on social media, with an emoji conveying relief.
“Today I feel your love,” Kali Uchis finally said, in the emotional concert that she gave, at times singing with a broken voice.
“Colombia is in my art, in my style, my esthetic,” Kali Uchis told this newspaper in 2018. Someone like her, with a double identity, is easily the object of attacks from both sides. Like many children of migrants in the United States, she is seen as too Latina; while in Latin America, she is often viewed as too North American.
“I didn’t know she was Colombian,” said one of the EPF attendees. Most of her songs are performed in English — she has songs with Tyler, the Creator, Gorillaz and Snoop Dogg. But she has also collaborated with her compatriots, such as Juanes, or the reggaeton artist Reykon. And the title of her third album, Sin Miedo (Del Amor y Otros Demonios), is inspired by Gabriel García Márquez novel, translated in English as Of Love and Other Demons.
Kali Uchis is an artist who hardly has a genre. She isn’t 100% reggaeton, nor pop, nor blues. But it could be said that her musical identity takes something from everyone. Just as her national identity moves between North and South America, she also plays with Spanglish, without fear of being ostracized among South American or English-speaking listeners.
Uchis started making her songs on the computer when no producer would welcome her into their studio. After her parents kicked her out of the house, she lived with friends and in her car. She isn’t afraid of talking about her mental health. “I just want to feel good,” she says in one of the songs from Sin Miedo, in which she talks about how tormented she is and how difficult it is to find a state of mind to “live in peace.” “Is there a world where I don’t have to always be fighting?” she asks herself in the same song.
In 2020, when she wanted to send a message of support to one of her fellow artists, Uchis said on her Twitter account that “women artists must be allowed to be complex, imperfect. A lot of us struggle with our mental health, have been through trauma, and are just trying to do the best we can.”
She is discreet about her traumas, although, in several interviews, she has mentioned how she has had to overcome various emotional wounds alone in recent years. The only thing that she asks of the public while she heals her wounds is some empathy.
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