Ela Minus: Music, the act of rebellion, reflection and sacrifice.
Upon her debut album ‘Acts of Rebellion’ out on Domino Records, Mauricio Atencia spoke with music visionary, Ela Minus.
OCTOBER 30, 2020
ORIGINAL INTERVIEW (IN SPANISH) Mauricio Atencia EDIT NSNS
Profiling the music of Ela Minus is surrendering to her sharp and intimate voice with a set of selected analog machines that function like an extension of her body. Being a crucial part of a sonic manifesto honoring everyday life at speed, she engages herself in music since 2015 as an artist, who moves from making music a hobby with passion and love towards making it her life work. A task that has taken her to various parts of the world, establishing her live performances, that invites us for a moment into the intimate and visceral world of Ela Minus and her music. Her path has led her to become the first Latin artist from Colombia to sign with a big label, Domino Records, thanks to her dedication and as she says “more (in) small, constant, patient and powerful acts than (in) immediate great deeds.”
“Actually, signing with Domino Records came after the album was finished…” Gabriela Jimeno tells me before starting the interview, adding that the answer about the singles that have come out under her Ela Minus project was something that, never occurred to amaze her. “I am not overwhelmed, but I am very excited. The truth is, I had no idea that people would respond that way to my first single”; she notes about her track ‘Megapunk.’ Megapunk, a track she released on her YouTube channel got rapidly known with comments, likes, and listeners from all around the world. Some claim being thankful to Youtube’s algorithm to be stumbled upon her songs and lyrics.
Medellín based, Mauricio Atencia met up with Ela Minus to discuss how it is as a woman with a Colombia background training herself to be an artist, musician, and producer. Starting with piano lessons, going to participate in a hardcore band, earning a scholarship in the US, while playing drums and taking jazz classes. On that journey, she must have bumped into musical barriers. Believe it or not, hurdles made her create her own synthesizer to compose electronic music and build a voice, her voice, the voice of Ela Minus.
Knowing that your album is a musical biography about your life, could you tell me what your musical environment has been and what you were thinking to become part of your friends’ hardcore band?
We performed in the band with some friends from school, but at that time, it was super small. I was in that band from the age of 12 to 18 years old. To be honest, I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking. I just wanted to make music and wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself: a band and the hardcore scene.
In Colombia, it is not typical for a daughter or son to dedicate themselves to music. Parents are nearly scared when they see that their child prefers nothing else but the field of art. Taking that into account, was it a barrier for you and the family nucleus?
For me, it meant being very lucky. I never really said: “I’m going to dedicate myself to music.” I never had that moment of graduating from school, turning 18, and choosing a career because I started from a very young age to be intensely interested in music. From the age of 9, I already wanted to play drums, which I openly told my mother. The response was highly anticipated. It wasn’t like ‘No way in hell are you going to make music.’ It was more like, ‘If you want to make music, we put you in piano classes,’ so I went to piano classes while the band started. Being in a band was for me a hobby, things that girls do after school. It wasn’t something professional but I did it literally every day in my life from 12 to 18 years old. So to get back to my parents, this wasn’t something from one day to another or from one year to the next. I came up with the idea that I would make music and for them it was like ‘Okay, this girl has been rehearsing from 9 to 18 years old, going to piano lessons every day.’ It was already very evident that this was my life.
I was also fortunate with the band because we all wanted to study music, and we applied to some schools. They gave me a very good scholarship, which I won before I graduated from school. With the scholarship and almost ten years of being so judicious, my parents were terrified. Like all mothers and fathers, just as you say about being a girl, playing drums and living in Colombia, they were terrified that I would only do this. However, they told me that from time to time but I think they supported each other a lot by saying, ‘She has been doing this for ten years, she has a scholarship, we are not going to have to pay. There aren’t many reasons why not to let her do that. ‘ I have been very rebellious from a very young age and they knew that. I wasn’t interested in what they’ve told me. Even if my parents said I couldn’t do it, I would go and do it anyway. After so many years with that attitude, not making big mistakes, they finally understood. You have to know that my rebellion was not me leaving to parties and coming back drunk two days later; no, I went to play three concerts, came to school the next day reasonable, and by that, I earned my family’s respect.
You started playing the piano and then went into the hardcore scene. How do all these musical changes happen and what was the reaction of your family? I mean first you studied piano, then won the scholarship and now went for electronic music. To be fair, it is not a well-regarded genre in Latin America and even less in Colombia. How was this for your family?
It has been a long process. As I said, making music all my life, so nothing just happened from one day to another, which was not the case with electronic music. Everything has been a process. For example, my mother knew that I really wanted to play drums and put me in piano lessons as she wanted that for me. So the moment I switched from playing piano to playing the drums, she saw it coming; it wasn’t a surprise. Once the scholarship came along, they sent me to play the drums while I studied jazz. That was a significant change to be honest with you, from playing hardcore to learning jazz. It was later in college that I got more into electronic music. I started going to clubs, something I never really did in Colombia because I was completely immersed in the hardcore scene. So discovering that world when I arrived in the United States to study, I started to like electronic music more and more.
So then in college, I did a second degree in audio synthesis. It interested me to learn how to make synthesizers; these things fascinate me. Electronics and sounds interested me so much that I wanted to design synths. That was the main reason for getting into electronic music deeper and that was also the time when everything started to make sense. After graduating from both majors, I said to myself: ‘I don’t like computers, I don’t like making electronic music with computers. I’m going to build synths, and I started doing that and contemporaneous making my own electronic music. To accomplish that has been a long process. During that process I was in the United States, so what you are telling me about electronic music being frowned upon in Latin America and Colombia, I didn’t experience it because I was already here between New York and Boston independently and I didn’t have that social pressure of what I was doing, I felt freer there. I was far from my family, the Colombian society, etc. It was much easier to do whatever I wanted without that cultural pressure.
In that process of building your own synths, how was that transition between wanting to compose music, being an artist and finding your own voice?
That has never been a conscious decision. I was just reticent about my life, earning enough to live quietly between work, building synths, and playing drums to record in studios and play with other artists. I was calm, and I think it was just a hobby because of that tranquility, both monetary and other things. I never wanted to do a project, I never wanted to be an artist, I never wanted to be Ela Minus as a serious thing, I just wanted to make songs, to make synths and I did it and that’s it. The truth is that I did not plan anything. I just made those first songs and put them on YouTube and started playing live gigs just to play, as a hobby. Later I realized that I had been playing live as Ela Minus for a couple of years and that people were liking my music, my shows, and I actually enjoyed doing it. I began to take it more seriously, but then as well came a few years where I haven’t taken it serious anymore because I wanted to have fun.
On that level of training in a serious project like yours, what were the challenges you had to face and how have those challenges over time changed? I can only imagine how much time you must have dedicated to it.
(Sighs). Lots of challenges. It is a life of sacrifices because it is not like dedicating a couple of hours or days; it is committing every day to it. From my experience, it was more like a realization of ‘I have been working now one year, every single day only on Ela Minus. Either because I was on tour for up to three months where I can’t do anything but play concerts and work on the project and if I record music, it is the same. It was an understanding by looking back and learning that this has become a full-time job. In reality and from my experience, this has been one of the biggest challenges, to accept that. I have sacrificed everything for this, for the music. It is difficult to have relationships because you are never in the same city. It isn’t easy to do other projects because it consumes all your time. For me, these have been quite big sacrifices. But thanks to the same experience I gained over so many years since I was a little kid, that I know this is what needs to be done to make it worthwhile. You have to put everything you owe into something you are doing because it won’t return to you otherwise. What you put in is what you get back. That was the challenge: accepting that. Now that I have accepted it, I am much calmer. It’s as if you are making a decision in your life, and it’s like, ‘This is my path and this is what I’m going to do. Okay, let’s go with everything ‘, and that’s the moment when you make peace with it and it no longer feel making a sacrifice but life.
Listening to all that you tell me, it sounds that this is where the album’s title comes in. Not literally, but it does propose that you met a lot of things you had to leave behind to dedicate yourself to your project. I sense that all the fears, joys, communion with other people and disappointment meet there.
Total. That moment when I told you to accept that it was Ela Minus, was the moment when I took the project seriously and decided that I was going to make the album. And now that everything was serious, I did everything you just mentioned, to reflect all those experiences of who I am in a long duration. That’s the record I made.
Looking at the lyrics of your album and that for the moment they cannot be enjoyed live. A political stance is evident, and I would like to know how important it is for you to see music as a way to talk about things that happen in the world.
It is essential, and I think not only in music. In my opinion, for us as Latin Americans, it is evident. It is starting to become more visible to the rest of the world that there is no option but to pay attention, talk and act. Being an active part of a change is necessary because everything is going to shit. I also believe that the responsibility of a human being who is alive at this point in time is to understand that there is no choice to remain neutral. It does not matter what profession one has, but it is more apparent if one is an artist and brings something new to the world. An artist is creating something that did not exist before. At a time like this, I think the only important thing is telling the truth, being a mirror of reality.
To continue with your political standpoint, in your song “Megapunk”, the track’s lyrics saying that “We’re afraid we’ll run out of time to stand up for our rights.” Tell us about the whole message that you’ve put into the lyrics. What was happening at that time when you decided to write the lyrics and use them as a message of protest against the things that have happened in the world. As it says in your song “You won’t make us stop” and that now is the time to wake up?
Honestly, I haven’t considered it that relevant what was going on in my head back then or in that particular moment. I had more the intention to do a protest song with lyrics for any kind of person listening to it and feeling to stand up and fight. It was not meant to be for my fight alone it was a message for the collective. Initially, for me, it was more of doing a feminist protest song. When I was listening to it and finished writing, I thought: ‘Obviously, I want it to be a feminist protest, but I also want it to be the song for other people who have a lot to fight for. I aspire to produce a piece for many causes. On the other hand, one of the biggest reasons explicitly was feminism. The truth is, I feel that, as women, the more one grows the more one becomes an adult, one begins to see all the ways in which the world affects us and tries to separate us all the time. The more one grows and knows, the more anger you feel by realizing what it means to be downgraded as a woman, and the more you want to change everything. At least this has been my experience, being the only woman in a band, when I was little. I was not aware of all the things that were happening in the dynamic of being the only woman, and after a whole life in that dynamic, it just couldn’t continue like that, it must be changed.
By sending messages through lyrics and music, it seems that women have the same and even more power than men in music. What meaning does it have that more and more women come together to share a message with the world, while men rarely do that?
Good point and I think and quite important. First of all, I think, whatever issue a woman has made public (mainly speaking about the art- and specifically the music industry) she is already sending a message. Just by her actions. Compared to a man, the fact that a woman achieves things is already a message in itself. For example, due to the nature of the music I was making in the hardcore band playing the drums, I used to think that I couldn’t have a critical voice about the song we were writing. I felt that the most useful thing I could do for the feminist conflict was to give an example and inspire other women. But now that I am writing my own songs, it is how you say. I have a more authentic voice, which appears very important to me because it breaks that scheme to keep quiet, look pretty, and that’s it.” In other words, breaking that pattern further down with my work is still a challenging idea for me. As you mentioned: the nature of women is that we are much more progressive, we are much more straightforward, realistic, and I think that all of these characteristics are needed in the world, especially in music.
Taking advantage of your voice as an artist, musician and producer, you found ECO. This project exists for women only to set a foundation for the Colombian community and a broader level to reach, including other Latin American countries. Can you tell us how the collective has been essential to you, both as a person and as an artist?
It has been, truly, one of the most beautiful meetings and events of 2020, because I am actually quite lonely and I lived many years outside of Colombia; And although I feel a strong connection with my country, and am a big fan of Colombian music I have always wanted to be more involved, to be able to be part of something bigger, not just from an artist standpoint. I always wanted to participate and share my experiences and knowledge to help grow the scene a little. I only go once a year to Colombia and being away over such a long period made me very disconnected. It wasn’t easy to obtain real friendships and keep up with everything that was happening, even more with women. In Colombia and Latin America, women are used to having to compete with each other instead of coming together and generating sisterhood and supporting each other and taking care of ourselves in a physical and dangerous context like electronic music. Once I met Juliana, Luisa, Melisa, María and Valentina, it was like, ‘This is exactly what I’ve been looking for for years, to be part of something bigger, that it is not just about the individual but of everyone involved and all together. ‘ It’s been beautiful and I’m very excited because this is just the beginning. I feel like it’s a super interesting group with a lot of talent in all areas and they have a lot to say with a massive amount of strength. I feel there is a lot of power, and that, for me, is really exciting.
1. N19 5NF
2. they told us it was hard, but they were wrong.
3.el cielo no es de nadie
2. let them have the internet
4. do whatever you want, all the time.
5. close (ft. Helado Negro)
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