It was a rainy July night at the FestiEH when we first saw Valeria Cini live. I recall vividly the exact moment Jorge (yes, our Jorge) leaned in to tell me, “She is great, isn’t she?” I found myself nodding, open-mouthed as a result of her presence, her powerful and versatile sound accompanied by lyrics that enchantedly made their way across the beautiful La Confitería.
With the excuse of the formal presentation of her album (which will take place on October 18 at Caras y Caretas) we contacted her and had the privilege to speak with her.
After confessing she’s not that into coffee and pondering the 100 pesos price tag on tea “when the pack at the supermarket is around 35 pesos,” (crazy indeed, huh?) we got ourselves talking about her new album Buen Gusto y Malas Costumbres.
Tell me about the new album, in what way do you think it is different from the rest?
This is my 5th album which, like the previous records, I also self-produced. It is different from the others, because those were recorded in home studios and, although some of those were also physically released, they were made more independently. While this release is also independent, and will be released on the independent label Elefante en la Habitación, I got to record it in the studio I wanted. Although I played many of the instruments myself, I got to invite many people – both musicians I know and friends – which resulted in very interesting things.
Where did you record it?
We recorded it at Del Parral. I had already worked there producing Susy Shock’s first album, which was perfect for what she was doing and for the quest she was on at the time. I had also recorded a French electro-pop album there called Oh La La with Luca di Silvestro. So, when the time came I wanted to record it there. Feder is a special magical being, an extremely kind and talented white-bearded wizard who has been so generous to me, giving me time and space and respecting what I wanted to do.
The recording was completed in three stages, it took around three years in total. You might think that the process taking longer than expected would cause more anxiety and make you wish it could come out earlier, but in this case it was beneficial for me. The dilation allowed the record to unify as a work of art, building its own sound and aesthetic. It actually had a different name than the one that ended up having.
What is it like to be a part of the Elefante en la Habitación label?
I have known the guys at EH for a long time, but I joined the label about a year ago. It has been very motivating for me as it is a super eclectic group, which is something that I find very attractive. The way in which we get together to work and discuss different situations, how we walk with each other, give each other advice…each of us has a role, we have different abilities let’s say, which translate into natural roles in the management of the label.
Being a part of EH helped me a lot to accelerate the album’s release. In the label they share certain guidelines that are very helpful when you are a musician, because you are taking care of everything. On top of creating, you are also doing your own press, or applying for a subsidy and these things can burn you out a bit as an artist. It is relieving to be able to give and get advice and walk together, it is very heartwarming. I feel I have found the herd. Herd above all, after all, we are elephants.
The oldest matriarch leads her herd of elephants, they are known for their loyalty, cooperation and sympathy. I’m thinking about how much we could learn from them, and that brings me to the evolution of feminism. Talk to us a bit about that.
Well, this is something that has been happening for a very long time and for a long time I have been involved in this current. What I find impressive is how much it has grown in a few years. It is great that one can now rest, surrounded by men who are in the process of changing their perceptions, who have started questioning certain things. I wouldn’t say this is the case with everyone, but I do see it more among the young crowd.
I also believe that, like any movement, it sometimes goes too far. There are certain things that are misinterpreted and it can get a bit extreme. I think that when something blows up, it stains things a bit, but it’s what it needs in order to happen. Back in the 60’s when feminists burnt bras and performed certain actions it was very strong and I think it’s the only way to go about it. I don’t believe the acquisition of certain rights are achieved by asking permission. I wouldn’t plant a bomb, but I know the suffragettes did and I respect them a lot for that. In a patriarchy that has historically mistreated, beaten, and trashed women it is funny that a violent or angry reaction ends up being misinterpreted. That the “Muerte al macho” metaphor is taken in such a literal way is something that scares me and also makes me laugh. No, they are not going to murder men. They don’t expect everyone to be a lesbian. They just want everyone to be who and what they want to be. It is such a flat reading, it’s ridiculous.
What is your creative process like?
In order to write it is vital to spend a lot of time with your instrument. Sometimes, ideas come through writing. Sometimes I have an idea about something or someone and I do a lot of research and read a lot about their production, and sometimes I start dreaming and that turns into a song.
There are songs in which music and lyrics come together, and when I am with my guitar I am pretty vintage about the process. I like notebooks and to write by hand. I work as if they were maps, writing different things and filling them with arrows and stars and symbols as I put the text together to organize later. It’s almost like a sort of a Goose Game board in which I move forward and then go back. And if you think about it, songs have a structure that take you to a place and then bring you back to the beginning to something that can be a chorus or a coda. This is usually how it happens, I create weird map boards full of arrows.
Poetry and literature seem to be a central theme in Buen Gusto y Malas Costumbres, like “Canción Épica” or “Río”.
I think poetry is a wonderful thing, I love it and love going to readings. I read poetry since a very early age, at my family home there has always been books and music.
Poetry is super motivating —finding the way to say things through that language and make it music. There is a double search that it might be clearer in “Buen Gusto y Malas Costumbres” as there are small tributes or references to women and to poetry itself. To me poetry is a female warrior, I really don’t see it masculine at all, I see her as a mythical female goddess. I don’t know if it is something that will be as present in new songs, but it is in this album.
What do you think about the music scene in Buenos Aires? There seems to be so much that does not get enough promotion or attention…
There is a lot of music made by women that I like and that are not really receiving much attention. Luckily, there is a big indie and underground scene which is what I like the most. Those radio stations like Radio Nacional where you listen to mainly mainstream music or old music…I love listening to Los Twist, but I listened to them when I was 13 and that’s that. It would be nice to open space for an indie scene that is more supported by the media. I manage my own press and reach out to radios, but sometimes you get their attention and most of the time you don’t. It is very hard to get in, it seems like they play and focus on just a couple of artists and it ends up being quite repetitive.
What about the live scene?
The artist is very mistreated, well, actually, I’m talking about the musician in particular here. It is not very likely that people will show up late for a play or ask for 2×1 at the box office of a cinema or a museum. The musician is not appreciated as someone who is creating content, entertainment and art, and there are places in which it is expected that you also do the public relations for the venue on top of all of that. There are cities in the world where music has a different value. For instance, there are places where if you have live music they lower your taxes. This type of promotion allows you to show your music and the audience appreciates music more.
Buenos Aires in that sense is completely different. It is very rare to get paid to go to play and people can listen to your music without having to pay for a ticket or pay when they “pasar la gorra.” It’s as if they’re doing you a favor.
That changes when you go to other cities, they will hate me but it is true. I am super porteña and love Buenos Aires, but in cities like Rosario, Cordoba or even smaller cities in Buenos Aires like Mercedes or Bahía Blanca they guarantee you X amount of money and you’re at ease, they are more welcoming.
Another thing that is very evident in you and your music is that you are quite a traveler.
Traveling is fascinating and what made me travel the most was music. And the most unbelievable trip I ever took thanks to music was when I traveled with Patch Adams to the Middle East in 2013. *At this point in the interview my jaw fell to the floor. Yes (laughs) I met him in September and by October I was working at a refugee camp for Syrians in Jordan. All because of and thanks to the music, and you can imagine all the other music I listened to there…
Wow, that is incredible. How did you adjust to such a setting?
I had to evoke an alter ego. You’re making art and music in extreme situations and you think that what you’re doing has incredible value. Then at the same time you think it’s no use at all as a few miles away they’re dropping bombs, and it’s very likely that those people are dying of hunger, or that the kids there will end up prostituting themselves. So, I tried to distance myself as much as I could from the emotional aspect and tried to just make music so that the kids could dance…I sang songs about the world, just to be there and make them sing. We also let them play the guitar in turns, sometimes there were so many kids I had to hide the guitar and make them play a game that involved rhythm and making music with your body, because of course they all spoke Arabic. I also sang old songs to the elderly.
I put that together and did it with a lot of love and dedication. I felt it was a privilege to have been in those places, although there were days when you would feel so much pain, because there is not much you can do.
I have learned so much, that there are people that spend their whole lives doing what Patch and many others who work with him do. I don’t think I would do it again, we lived through some extreme situations which I don’t think I could handle more of, emotionally. I remember that night would fall and the only thing you wanted was to get some beers to shake things off, but we were in Jordan, where most people are Muslim. So when we went to a liquor store we bought the most expensive beers of our lives. And we would drink our beers or share a bottle of wine and hug and realize that even when we don’t feel privileged, we are, and that the world is a cruel place.
All this is part of my musical baggage, so if you feel there are a lot of trips, and dimensions, and landscapes I won’t deny it, because yes, they’re there.
You will be presenting Buen Gusto y Malas Costumbres on Thursday. What is next?
Well there is another album coming out, there will be some surprises related to that on Thursday. I have drafted it in the midst of finishing recording, the cover, the visuals and organizing the show, but it already has a name so, La Bestia Melancólica is coming soon.
This interview has been translated and edited for clarity.