Q&A Interview: Pamela Rodriguez is Peru’s rising indie-pop princess

Peruvian indie-pop princess Pamela Rodriguez. Photo by Cesar Fe.

“Sometimes we need to feel free in order to feel extraordinary,” avows Peruvian indie pop darling Pamela Rodriguez with such confidence and grace during her Latin Alternative Music Conference (LAMC) SummerStage performance. This is the first time Pamela has been billed alongside with Lila Downs – a personal music idol of hers. As the Central Park field overflowed with Downs’ fans dressed almost identically as the Oaxaqueña vocalist, Rodriguez, donning a shimmery lace shirt and a peachy skirt, conquered the crowd with her quirky pop melodies and all-around allure. She has the vocal intensity comparable to Ely Guerra and a similar pop buoyance as Ximena Sariñana’s, with much more depth. Her piano-laced love ballads touch on her experiences traveling Peru, motherhood, and heartbreak.

Hours before her performance, I had the chance to speak with Ms. Rodriguez and learn about the things that are near and dear to her. It’s known that she has some big career highlights: two Latin Grammys nominations and a recent hit junior record, Reconocer. However, my new findings about her were much more remarkable. She is extraordinary. Pamela is also very intelligent and thoughtful, and has created her own mantra (interpreted here) that overshadows her dark side by bringing in light. Here’s what she has to say:

This is your second time at LAMC. How is it going for you this time around?

I’m doing LAMC with a serious upgrade. Last year I played a beautiful acoustic showcase [at S.O.B.s] and did two songs. Now I’m performing at Central Park SummerStage. It’s very cool to be able to come with my band and do different things. I’m very excited about being able to show more of what I do in a broader sense.

So what inspired you to become a musician?

I’m a musical native. I come from a home of musicians. I never realized at any point of my life that I wasn’t a musician. I was born a musician. At 14 years old, I realized I wanted to do this in a professional way. By professionally I mean it as a craftsmanship and a life dedication – touring, recording, etc. I’ve always been serious about it and it’s been very solitary work. I work my craft as an artisan.

So you’ve also had a musical upbringing. Can you talk about that?

My brother does music and so does my dad. Actually, my dad [formerly known as Pepo Rok Rodriguez] did music during the ‘80s and his videos were recently released [“Lady of the Amazon”]. I recommend watching them. He has a cult following. His music sounds like electro ‘80s pop but with that lo-fi vintage sound. I think it’s hipper today then it was in the ‘80s. I was like, “hell yeah,” dad, that awesome!

Talk to me about your album, Reconocer. It’s received much critical acclaim. What song is the most significant to you and why?

The whole album because I can say that Reconocer is my first album from within, although, it’s actually my third. It is the first one that comes from the gut. I like it because it is really uplifting. I talk about how I see life, about freedom, about light… On that, I believe Reconocer is full of light because I like to be in touch with light, although, I am not always successful at that. I have a very dark side, like we all do. But, I strive to be in touch with light and freedom – to be free, to be happy with who you are, and to enjoy life. Reconocer is about my beliefs in life, and the things that make me feel good in a healthy way. That’s what I like to pour out of my heart.

What about the other two albums, Peru Blue (2005) and On the Shore (2007)? What connection do you have with them?

The other two albums were like my college thesis. I studied ethnomusicology during college at the conservatory. I studied classical voice, vocal jazz, musical theory, and musicology. Out of my ethnomusicology investigations, and my field works, I started to get really curious about my own roots. I love my first two albums, but I feel I have found there are a lot more things outside of them. I translated those new discoveries through music and Reconocer came out of that, from within.

You also spoke about your dark side. What is it for you?

I try to fight fear a lot. I feel I’m a very vulnerable person. I think I’m too sensitive. I have antennas that are way too activated. So, I perceive things in a very intense way and then I get scared. Sometimes freedom is leashed and that’s why I like to talk a lot about that subject because I have leashes in my own fear. Those fears make me feel very dark. I strive to become solid in my own convictions and beliefs, but it’s not easy. I am very happy that I’m willing to go through that fight to become a better and fuller person in a spiritual way, through music. It’s warmth for the soul. If I wasn’t doing music I’d be chanting “shanti, shanti, shanti” – I’d be a Buddhist! I am a few steps away from that. [Chuckles]

How has Peruvian music evolved?

Finally for the first time in Peruvian history, there is a scene. We have plenty of people doing music in the alternative vein such as Kanaku y el Tigre, Francois Peglau, Las Amigas de Nadie, and Turista. What’s cool is that we are all friends and support each other a whole bunch. On the downside, we lack structure in regards to touring and such things. It’s not like Mexico or New York where structure is already there. But, we are all getting together in efforts to change things. We look towards the good examples and strive to reproduce them in Peru. Our music is full of identity and original speech. The best is yet to come in Peruvian music, and I’m very proud to be apart of that scene.

What future projects do you have underway?

I just released a Tom Waits cover titled “No quiero hacerme mayor.” It’s done in a twee-pop version. In the meantime, I’ll be working with Hector Castillo of Brazilian Girls. He’s a great producer and an amazing person. We will be releasing single after single. I want to work singles from now on because I’m really enjoying the universe of one song at a time, along with their own music videos.

How do you feel about opening up for Lila Downs at SummerStage?

I’m in love with her. I don’t know if I’ll be able to sing! Seriously. Lila has been an inspiration for me. When I heard from the LAMC that I was opening up the show, I almost fainted, man. I think she is the most amazing vocalist right now. She’s a chameleon with 100 voices in one. She’s so powerful. She’s like a rich person inside. I’m super excited and I’m a fan. I’m Lila’s groupie. [Laughter]
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Watch the music video for Pamela Rodriguez’s single “No Queiro Hacerme Mayor” below. The track is her cover of the Tom Waits classic.

Isabela Raygoza

Isabela Raygoza is an indie music enthusiast who is on a lifelong search for discovering new sounds. She was born and raised in the borderlands of Tijuana/San Diego, and was exposed to a musical hybridity as a child working in flea markets and also impersonating Mexican pop artists as a kid in carnivals. Fast forward many years, she received her B.A. from UC Berkeley and M.A. from New York University. As a writer, music critic and musician, her works have appeared on MTV Iggy, Remezcla, VICE, NPR's KPCC, Latina Magazine, and Bitch Magazine.

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