Welcome back to Rhapsody Radar, our month-long survey of 24 up-and-coming artists we're excited about. Today, we've got an exclusive chat with giggling Latin-pop diva Natalia Jiménez. For your listening pleasure, please also see our Natalia Jiménez's Ever-Expanding World playlist. Enjoy.
She got famous as the singer for Madrid-born, Latin-beloved band La Quinta Estacion, but it became clear over the course of our interview that Natalia Jiménez was destined to become a diva sola to be reckoned with. And we mean that in the best possible way. On the phone from her current home base of Miami (where she recorded her self-titled solo debut with Emilio Estefan yes, Gloria's hubby), she is fierce, funny and fab.u.lous. She's also bubbly, sweet and earnest, with an easy, contagious giggle and a penchant for saying whatever happens to be on her mind at the moment. In short, she was pretty fantastic to talk to about just about anything, but especially about her experience working with Ricky Martin (she appeared on his new hit, "Lo Mejor De Mi Vida Eres Tí"), her musical "therapy" sessions after cancelling her wedding (on the day of!), and that big, powerful voice.
So let's start off by talking about your first solo album. You spent most of your career, of course, with La Quinta Estacion. So what was it like for you to do your own thing?
Oh, it's been amazing! Like, really amazing. Emilio Estefan did an amazing job. He produced the album, and he pushed me to be the coproducer of it. It's something that I never did before, but I really feel that that's a new side of me that I didn't know that I could do. I've been working on the album the last year. We have around 12 songs on the album, and eight of them are mine. And I've been doing all the musical arrangements for it. I'm very proud of it. That's something that I couldn't do with my band before. We used to do the songs and deliver them to a producer, so we wouldn't be able to put our hands on it. And now I've been working on each song and all the arrangements for the songs. And I'm very happy with it!
Were you also trying to go in a different music direction than you did with the band?
Yeah! That's something that I couldn't do before, either. I've been able to explore different musical styles that I didn't do before, like more Latin stuff. I've been singing in English. I've been able to get, like, that Brazilian '70s sound. I've been doing also things that are more soulful. And I'm very happy, because that's the kind of things that I listen to at home. And so now I feel like I really identify with the album.
So are you based in Miami now?
Right now, I'm based here. But I live between Mexico, Miami and Spain. Because, well, Spain is the country where I was born. Mexico was the country where I've been living all my working life [laughs]. And now, well, I moved here because I was recording the album.
So where do you like the best?
Mira, all the places have things that I love. But really, I love Mexico a lot. I miss the Mexico that I lived in. Because before, the situation wasn't that bad, and now security is an issue. But before, I used to love Mexico so much, and I am dying to go back right now. I hope that I can go home soon, because I really miss the country a lot. But I don't know, each place has its own thing. Like Miami, what I like is the weather. I love the people here. I love the music. It's a very musical city. And Spain, of course, I love Spain for everything because it's my country [big laugh].
Can you tell us a bit about how the countries are different musically? Like, their music scenes.
Well, in Madrid, I guess they listen to more European music that doesn't get here. And also they like rock, too. In Madrid, they're more like Argentineans, they like rock and bands. And here it's more solo singers, and the music here, it's more upbeat. They have this techno new sound that they're inventing everywhere. And you can listen on the radio, like Pitbull and things like that that you don't listen to in Madrid. So I think that it's very interesting for a musician to travel the world and see what people are listening to in each country, you know?
Sure! So you've got a few English tracks on the album. What was it like writing in English after so many years writing in Spanish?
Yes, it's "I'll Take It Back," "I'll Do What It Takes," and "Real." Really, it was easy for me, because when I was 16, I started writing songs in English. Actually, my first songs were in English. And then I started writing and singing in Spanish. Because my brother lived here in Seattle, and when I was 16 years old, I came here to learn English because I wouldn't speak English at all. And he just wouldn't talk to me in Spanish! So I had to learn because I love to talk! [Big laugh] And so I was super-comfortable recording in English. And I think it's super-funny that now I'm doing interviews in English and everything, because I was a little embarrassed, you know? [Giggles] But people tell me, like, "Man, but you speak great English, so why are you embarrassed?" And I don't know why, but I'm still embarrassed.
Well, it's always hard getting totally comfortable in another language, but yeah, your English is great!
Oh, thank you very much! Yeah, no, I still have a couple things there that I want to fix, but it's just minor words, like little words. My boyfriend laughs at me all the time because I'm like, "Why do you guys say Utah [pronounces it like an American, 'you-tah'], and why don't you guys say 'oo-tah'?" [Big laugh]
So you just performed with Ricky Martin on his album and at the Latin Grammys. What was that like?
Oh, that was awesome! He's a great, great guy. And he's very special. I'm very happy that he invited me on this album, 'cause I know that it was a very, very important moment in his life. And it was the first album that he released after a long time. I'm really grateful to him that he wanted me to be a part of it. That song, it's a gorgeous song. And I think that song is perfect for both of us, for both of our moments. Because I had just left the band, and I needed something like that with a positive message. And performing with him was great because, you know, you don't get to perform with Ricky Martin every day! [Another big laugh] It's like, I was sitting there before going out onstage, and I was looking at him, like, "Oh my god, I'm gonna sing with Ricky Martin!!!" [Elated giggle] You know, I still don't get that I'm famous, and that's why I enjoy it so much, you know?
So are you really trying to reach out to a wider Latin American audience with this album?
Yeah, actually, I have a lot of Latin American fans. Like all our fans with La Quinta were Latin American mainly. What I want to do now is, I included the songs in English so all the Latin people that live in the United States that don't speak Spanish, but they're linked somehow to the Latin music, they can listen to Spanish people singing in English. So they can relate to it, too. Because I know many Latin people here that don't speak Spanish at all, but they like Latin music, you know, but they don't what we're saying in the songs! [Giggles]
I know you went through some difficult times in your personal life in the last few years. Does that come up in your music?
Oh yeah, for sure. When I go through personal stuff, I always try to put it on the music and let all the pain or whatever I have inside, just put it in the music. Even if the songs don't specifically talk about what I'm going through. It's like a therapy, it helps a lot.
I found this quote from you that said, "I'm divine, single and stupendous." I thought that was fabulous! Are you a diva?
[Another big peal of laughter] Yeah, that's really how I felt. When you go through something like that and you cancel a wedding, everyone's gonna ask you all the time. But really, I was feeling divina. I was so happy, man, I was so happy that I didn't get married! [Laughs again]
How would you describe your sound?
It's very diverse. Like, I have from rock to pop to boleros to mariachi to salsa to, I don't know, Spanish kinda music. Music from the world. I have something for everybody there.
So this is for our Rhapsody Radar feature artists whom we think people should pay attention to. What sets you apart in music in 2011?
I think that my voice is very different. I don't see anyone singing like me. I know that sounds very cocky, but it's like that! [Laughs] I think that I'm very natural and spontaneous, and that's something that got lost a long time ago in the music industry. There's a lot of people who are like playing a part instead of just enjoying what they do, you know? And I really love what I do, and I don't care! I talk a lot and I say what I think! And I can get away with it!