We caught up with Colombian bassist, singer and songwriter Soy Emilia to celebrate the release of her debut album ‘Reconstrucción’.
Written by Leni - 15 July, 2019
Soy Emilia is the alter ego of Colombian bassist, singer and songwriter Juanita Carvajal. Her career in the music industry began professionally in 2010, when she performed as a bassist and backup singer for popular Bogota-based artist Esteman. In 2017, Carvajal was inspired to launch her own solo project, Soy Emilia, and recently celebrated the release of her first full-length LP, ‘Reconstrucción’, a 12-part album inspired by several years of failed loves and the adventures of everyday life as a strong and powerful woman.
We caught up with Soy Emilia to chat about her career, new album and life as an independent female artist.
You’re not only a singer and artist, but a renowned bassist and composer - how did you first start making music?
I started singing when I was seven years old in the school choir, and learned to play the guitar when I was 10. During that time, I used to experiment with the guitar and melodies and inventing some lyrics. At the age of 12, my school bought some new instruments, and one of them was an electric bass and since I saw that instrument I wanted to learn how to play it. I’ve been playing bass for 14 years.
You spent seven years working in the music industry before launching your own solo project in 2017 - what made you take the leap?
While I was studying music at university, I was also working on a few music projects. It wasn’t until 2015, when I graduated from music, that I decided I didn’t want my future to be in someone else’s hands. I took some time to get to know myself and the kind of music I liked. I took inspiration from artists like Ibeyi and Mitú and built a concept for my solo project Soy Emilia, taking a risk for the rest of my life.
You recently released your new album “Reconstrucción” - what was the inspiration behind the record?
The music was inspired by artists like Ibeyi and Mitú, but the concept of the project was inspired by powerful latin american women projects like Javiera Mena, Franciasca Valenzuela and Elsa y Elmar. The result was an album of powerful and colorful music for dancing, with lyrics speaking from the mind of a strong woman.
Is there a story behind the lyrics in your album’s lead single “Estallar”?
Yes, Estallar is a confession of love for someone you like, but for some reason you have never been together. In the lyrics, I invite that person to leave everything behind and stop worrying because we can not resist being apart any longer.
The album has been a huge success - what do you think contributed to the growth of the record?
It is not a secret that releasing an album today needs to have a strategy behind to minimize the risk of losing the music in it. It's better to have single releases so that you can get to know your audience and start experimenting with what may or may not work. I decided to build my album by releasing a new song every two or three months, testing each song until we had the right final track listing for the album.
What was your promotional strategy for the album?
I try to focus on the thing that makes my project different from others, so I focused on building my image as a bass player while releasing each single. I produced a lot of live videos of the song showing myself playing the bass. It’s really important for my career that people see me more as a musician than just a pop singer.
You performed at the 25th anniversary of “rock al parque”, the biggest rock music festival in Colombia. You were the main bass player playing alongside the Philharmonic Orchestra and a number of rock icons from Latin America. What was that experience like?
When I first was invited to perform at the event, I didn’t realize how big of an opportunity it was. After I accepted the job, I asked for the music repertoire and started to learn everything about the music, with a playlist that I listen to every day. Then I learned the bass, did like five rehearsals with the band and three with the Philharmonic Orchestra.
When I saw all the people (more than 150,000) on the day of the festival, my heart was beating so fast and I was really excited. I didn’t have any fear, because I always trust in my preparation and know that I know the music. The only thing that's left to do is enjoy, smile and sing with the icons that I admire so much like Ruben Albarran, Aterciopelados and Pedro Aznar.
What advice would you give other independent artists trying to book their dream festival gig?
It’s hard to reach the festivals at first, and in most of the cases, the public won’t connect to your project in an environment like that. First, you should try to create your own fan community by hosting your own live gigs, and then once you have a dedicated fanbase (that will actually pay to attend one of your concerts), the festivals will be interested in booking you.
Amuse has a mission to support independent artists through their careers, and not just in the shiny moments. What’s your advice for artists who may be struggling with self doubt or balancing their careers with their mental health?
We are in one of the most difficult industries in the world. Each week, millions of artists release new music, and the public is more and more eager to discover new music each day. This industry takes a lot of time and effort, and will take all the energy from you, but you can not discourage yourself just because the song you thought would make you "famous" did not work. Be true to yourself, build a concept for your project and don't leave it just because a different kind of music is working in the industry today. Be patient.
You were part of Spotify’s Women of Music campaign - how did that come about and why was this important for you? What has been your experience as a woman in the music industry?
The campaign was developed to celebrate International Women's Day, and Spotify called me because my project showed a strong and independent woman that is breaking all the barriers. It was very important that Spotify saw Soy Emilia as a woman that could set an example for other women. I have been part of the music industry for 10 years now, playing bass with other artists and with my own project. At first I didn't pay attention to the strength of being a woman in the music industry, but then I realised that some times I was the only woman in a crew of 15, or that it was not that common to see women bass players. I didn't let that guide my career, and yes, sometimes I have to act more like a man to be respected on a stage or in a technical reunion, but I earned my place working hard for it, studying every day and owning my bass performance.
What advice would you give other women building their independent music career?
I think the most important thing is to trust yourself and your music. Don't let anyone’s opinion about you and your project affect what you do. Listen to yourself and the people close to you, study your market so you know what's going on in the music industry and that will guide you on how to go on.
What does the 2019 evolution of Soy Emilia look like? What are you working on right now?
2019 is still a very important year, even though the first half of the year has already passed and my project reached all the goals I wanted to achieve.
The second half of 2019 will be more complex, I'm still working on creating a fanbase who would go to my shows, converting my streaming numbers into real ticket sales. So I will be playing a lot in Colombia, and I hope to be in México in October, and I plan to release new music at the end of the year. This will be the next stage for Soy Emilia!
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