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On Kali Uchis' soulful new album, love has many dimensions

Love, good karma and a bit of old-school funk are ingredients for a happy life, says Kali Uchis.
Cho Gi-Seok
Love, good karma and a bit of old-school funk are ingredients for a happy life, says Kali Uchis.

Love, good karma and a bit of old-school funk are ingredients for a happy life, says Kali Uchis. The Colombian performer gained prominence in the U.S. after releasing a mixtape in 2012, and her Latin-infused take on R&B has since earned millions of fans, top spots on global music charts and a Grammy.

Kali Uchis just released her third album, Red Moon in Venus, and she spoke with NPR's Scott Simon about it on Weekend Edition Saturday.

The following interview has been condensed and edited. To listen to the audio version, click the link above.

Scott Simon, Weekend Edition: A red moon, sometimes called a blood moon — isn't that sometimes considered a bad omen?

Kali Uchis: Not in my book. I think it's sexy. The music is very feminine. It's about love, so Venus felt, like, obvious for me. And then red moon — it just felt like the energy. I felt like red encapsulated the entire body of work. And the moon — I'm guided by the moon. I see what you're talking about, you know, the end of the world ... with the red moon. That just made me want to do red moon even more because I was like, I'm about to end the world with this s***.

There's a lot of romance on this album, isn't there?

Very romantic album. Erotic, some might say. That was definitely what I wanted to get with the album. I wanted to put more love into the world.[Singing] What the world needs now is love, sweet love.

How do you think of some of the influences that are in this album — funk, soul?

I would say a lot of soul is in the album. I look at soul as an underlying term for my music. I sing and I write from my soul, and so I just look at all my music as soul music because of that. I don't really think too much about genres when I'm creating. It's more so what I wanted to give. I wanted it to feel timeless. I wanted it to feel romantic. Something very important for me was showing all the different dimensions of love — you know, the downs and the ups and the times where you're at peace, the times where you're in pieces, all of it.

Can I get you to talk about your childhood?

Uh-oh. [Laughs] I was waiting for that. So you said you didn't have love in your childhood? Yeah, no. True story.

I gather you grew up between Colombia and Virginia in an immigrant family. Would you mind talking about it?

Growing up, I never really felt the love and the support that I feel like kids should have. I think that that follows you your whole life. Like, having mommy and daddy issues is hard.

So there you were.

There I was with a dream.

May I ask, your mother or father didn't see that in you? Or...

I don't think anybody saw it in me, not just them. [Laughs] But, yeah, just a dream. No plan, but a dream she did have.

You made your first mixtape in your car in 2012 after you'd been turned out of your house?

When I first started making music, I just had my laptop, a USB mic, a MIDI keyboard. That was something that I loved to do. I always loved to make music. I was writing poetry since I was little. I was in jazz band. I played piano. I played saxophone. I always had a strong desire to just always be creating. No matter where I was or what situation I was in my life, I always created.

Is a lot of your music at the moment about what amounts to the importance of knowing yourself and being comfortable with yourself?

I would say self-love is definitely a dimension of love that was very important to the making of this album.

You seem to be in a happy spot now.

Yeah, I am happy. I would say I'm happy.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Andrew Craig
Andrew Craig is a journalist from Denver, Colorado. He loves to learn about the world, and tell stories that raise critical questions and inspire empathy. A graduate of Yale University (BA '14) and The University of Texas at Austin (MA '18), he began working for NPR in 2019. His hobbies include reading, people watching, and exploring new places.
Samantha Balaban is a producer at Weekend Edition.