Kali Uchis' Spanglish Roots Bring the Sabor Latino

Kali Uchis
Kali Uchis Photo by Kathy Rosario
The Spanish language and Latino culture are basic to Miami. If you cruise down Calle Ocho, you’ll run into papis with a mean mambo on the patio of Ball & Chain, and if you walk the streets of Wynwood, you’ll quickly learn the bachata at El Patio. For Colombian-American singer Kali Uchis, español played a huge role in her upbringing and music, but it's Spanglish that she speaks fluently.

Uchis has a way with words. She rolls her tongue softly over her Latin-infused beats, making the bedroom the perfect place to speak Spanglish. Her debut album, Isolation, is a seductive blend of groovy soul sounds and Latin flair. It is an ideal introduction to the millennial Latin-music scene. She employs features from hip-hop and has been influenced by the R&B of Tyler the Creator, Jorja Smith, and Steve Lacy. She has also tapped into the Latin vibrations with Reykon, a reggaeton staple. But though rolling her r's is natural to the soulful singer, mainstream music has a habit of jacking what's native and exploiting it in all the wrong ways.

“The positive aspect of it is that so many Latin artists who can only speak Spanish are able to bring their talents to the forefront, because people are actually accepting them in mainstream music now... We just need to make sure the people who have actually been doing it for a long time are the ones who are being put to the forefront for their talents, and not just people who trying to ride this sudden trend of being Latin,” Uchis said in an interview with Genius.
Her single “Nuestro Planeta” stands out as one of the hard-hitting Spanish tracks on her album. With help from Reykon, an influential artist in Colombia, she is able to bring her childhood to the present day. “Reykon has a lot of influence on the culture in Colombia... Being Colombian-American is such a big part of who I am and has always been part of my music, my art, my inspiration, my aesthetic, everything,” she says.

Uchis plans on staying true to herself and representing where she’s from, which doesn’t include hopping on a Latin wave simply because it’s hot right now. Uchis spent her pre-album days covering classic Latin tracks. Her cover of "Sabor a Mi" enticed her Spanish-speaking fans, which opened the door for her first original Latin track, "Tirano." It was translated into English and accompanied by Jorja Smith for her album. Though Uchis is dominating the pop and R&B scenes with sweet whispers and bouncy beats, there's no stopping her from sprinkling a bit of Spanish in her upcoming music.

Kali Uchis. 7 p.m. Wednesday, October 3, at Revolution Live, 100 SW Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale, 954-449-1025; Tickets are sold out.
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