Words by Ian Morales. Photos provided.
Natalia Ann Yepez, more famously known as Maluca, is an artist to get on your radar if she isn’t already. With a musical family and New York City outside her door growing up, it is no wonder Maluca’s music is a sofrito of Latin, house, funk, drum and bass, reggaeton and R&B. While Maluca’s video for her hit single “El Tigeraso” is now getting airplay on Latino music networks MTV Tr3́s and Mun2, it’s only a matter of time before non-Latino audiences start getting down with Maluca.
Having made a splash at last year’s Latin Alternative Music Conference, and at South By Southwest this year, the newly signed Mad Decent recording artist’s star is sure to rise in 2010. We can trust producer Diplo, who is also Mad Decent’s label head, to do for Maluca what he did for M.I.A. and Santigold. I caught up with the self-proclaimed “half Dominican, half pain-in-the-ass” recently and chatted with her about where she comes from, her family, her music, acting aspirations and what she is up to for the rest of 2010.
How’s your life changed since the success of “El Tigeraso”?
Maluca: It’s amazing. I’m still living with my moms, though. It is just easy that way, so I can travel and entertain.
Were you in a group of any kind before you started performing solo?
Maluca: I was in a rock ‘n’ roll band called The Bowery Riots. I played the tambourine and I was a backup singer. We played out and, our first show, Erykah Badu was in the front row. It was at this awesome lounge called The Gold Bar and she was there cheering us on. She’s so tiny, too. I heard she’s really cool. To see her at a random bar was cool.
It’s nice to see you still get starstruck, because I’m sure you will be doing that to people if you aren’t already.
Maluca: Oh, honey let me tell you, Lizzie (Bougatsos) from Gang Gang Dance—I love Gang Gang Dance. To me, Lizzie is the new Shiela E. She goes off. She came up to me at a show with Amanda Blank and handed me this piece of paper. Mind you, she’s crazy and really tiny. She’s from Brooklyn and has this thick accent and tells me “Maluca, I just wanted to tell you your show was so amazing.” Yeah, I still have that note in my wallet.
I know it’s out there in the Google-sphere, but I want to hear it from you directly what your name means to you. I know the word “maluca” isn’t just a word in Spanish.
Maluca: In some Spanish countries, when you google “maluca”—not so much anymore, but when I first started—it was a picture of this woman in black face. In some Latin countries it means “ugly black woman.” In Portuguese it means “crazy woman.” In Arabic it means “a queen.” So, Maluca can mean “a crazy black queen?” For me, it’s not that deep. My uncle called me Maluca as a kid; it was his pet name for me.
Why did he choose that name for you? What did it mean to him?
Maluca: He wasn’t really referring to it as “crazy little black chick.” He was referring to it as a “bad, crazy, mischievous girl.” The reason my friends started calling me Maluca was because I was always late getting a cell phone, getting on Facebook and was even late getting on MySpace. At the time, MySpace had been out for a while and they would always tell me that I had to be on there. I would always say it was an invasion of my privacy and I didn’t need that crazy stuff.
So what changed your mind? Was it because you need a MySpace page as a musician or artist?
Maluca: One day, a friend of mine told me that my boyfriend was on MySpace and his status said single. She told me to go on MySpace and spy on him. I then created a page under “Maluca” and then the cat got out of the bag that I was spying on him. Then he started calling me that and it just stayed as my MySpace page. Then more friends of mine started calling me Maluca, Malucs, Malukie-loo and then it just took over.
Tell me specifically about your father and how what he did influenced you musically.
Maluca: My father put me onto the basics, the classics. I am talking about like Babe Ruth, classic house music. He DJed disco and stuff that was happening at that time. He definitely put me on to classic funk, R&B, a lot of disco. Then in the ’80s and ’90s, he started working with Delicious Vinyl. He was a marketing rep. He worked with Tone Loc, Jungle Brothers and Melissa Etheridge.
So where does your musical style stem from, besides your father?
Maluca: My stepdad has an insane Latin music collection. Also, it was growing up in New York. Saturdays, it was Café Con Leche, and Fridays at the drum and bass. Thursdays we went to the poetry café and did the whole spoken word thing. There was just a lot happening in New York when I was growing up that influenced me, including fashion and art. I lived down the block from this punk club called Coney Island High. We used to go to Pyramids (music venue) that was mostly hip-hop, two-step before it was grind, drum and bass, jungle and some industrial kind of stuff.
That explains so much now. It’s no wonder your music sounds the way it does.
Maluca: Oh, yeah. I never really rolled with a crew. I wanted to see what was out there. When you grow up in a Spanish neighborhood, everything is merengue and salsa. I wanted to venture out. My parents always encouraged me ask questions and see what else is out there.
So your parents were not the Latin parents many of us have, where they find anything but the music of their native country to be “noise,” as we say.
Maluca: No. They encouraged me to listen to a lot of different sounds.
You definitely create some different kind of sounds with your music. We first got word about your music when we were reading about LAMC artists and then saw you in Latina Magazine. That lead us to your first single, “El Tigeraso.” After that received a lot of buzz, we kept waiting for the next big single or maybe even an EP with more songs to drop. Instead, we saw new versions of “El Tigeraso” coming out. Why is that?
Maluca: My dad told me that you don’t rush anything and you put music out when it’s good. I know with the internet and technology now, you have so much music out there. A lot of it, though, is not that good. My dad knows the industry. It’s still the same in many ways. You need to put stuff out when it is good, not just because. So I took my dad’s advice. I took a year to work with different producers and experiment, to really figure out who I am as an artist. That’s what this year has been about. I got a mixtape with a bunch of new music, everything from bleep house to R&B to playero. It’s just a hodgepodge of working with producers in Amsterdam, working with producers in New York and L.A. That’s coming very soon.
I assume your new stuff will sound different from “El Tigeraso” then?
Maluca: Well, yeah. After “Tigeraso,” people were just sending me fast meringue beats. I don’t want to be pigeonholed. I want to experiment and just try new things out. I’m not sure if all the songs will work on an album, so why not put them out on a mixtape?
Way to take a page our of the hip-hop book. That totally works for testing new stuff. Will you be poking fun of yourself the same way you did with “El Tigeraso,” with the gold coke cans in your hair and all? That’s what kind of won me over besides the sound, the way you don’t take yourself too seriously.
Maluca: I think that’s the just the style of the song. That is my style, but I have multiple dimensions to me. Some stuff is more personal, but some is more fun. It will be all the stuff I’m inspired by—people that I’ve met, movies that I’ve watched, countries that I’ve seen. I have a song I play out called “Jungle Violeto” that is basically reggaeton with drum and bass. It’s Spanish vocals over bleep house.
What about all the rest of the songs that are out on YouTube of you performing live? Can I assume that if you have performed a song live, it will be on the mixtape?
Maluca: Not all of it, but it will be fun.
What are you going to be up to for the rest of 2010?
Maluca: “El Tigeraso” recently debuted on MTV Tr3́s, so that’s a big deal. I’ll be going on tour. I’m opening up for Kelis in May. We’re doing some shows in Europe. There’s some merchandise coming out as well.
I know you’re also from the fashion world. Will those be your designs?
Maluca: I colaborated with my friend Oscar from 1982. To me, I come from a different generation. For example, I don’t know why Madonna never came out with a clothing line. She would have sold so much. I guess she wanted the kids to work for it and do it themselves. A lot of musicians now want to be a DJ, have a perfume, be a fashion designer and be a phat vocalist. Me, I just want to be a bomb-ass musician. Okay, maybe I want to be in a John Waters film, or Spike Lee. That’d be hot. Oh, wait, I hear they are making Junot Diaz’s book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, into a movie. I just want to put it out there. Junot Diaz, holla at your girl Maluca.
You want to go ahead and tell him—because we all know he’ll read this—what part you want to go ahead and play?
Maluca: Yes, I do. Junot, I want to play Oscar’s sister.
What were you hoping to accomplish by coming out to SXSW this year?
Maluca: Try and fuck everybody’s shit up. I just kind of wanted to have my dancers and choreography. Some of the new stuff is what I’m performing at SXSW. I am Latina; I’m from New York. I just wanted to showcase that. Just because we (Latinos) speak Spanish, that doesn’t mean we sing in Portuguese or English. We can do rock or whatever other music we want to do. Latin music is really taking off and I am really honored to be part of this whole movement that’s happening. God forbid, if this were to end today, I’m content. I’ve traveled all over the world, worked with the most talented musicians and producers. But it’s not going to end here. Please.