a conversation with duendita
duendita first emerged on Soundcloud three years ago with the release of her single One of One. Users quickly realized the artist's masterful talent in lyricism and composition--the song is only three short verses but within them it was obvious that duendita had an understanding of love far beyond her teenage years. Flash forward to 2017, and the artist who defines herself as a surreal soul singer has just premiered her latest single Yikes! on Fader, she's just done her first interview with an international radio station, and she has garnered over 45 thousand monthly listeners on Spotify.
It's a Wednesday, late morning in May, when I get to meet Candace Camacho, the Queens-raised woman behind surreal soul project duendita, in an airy, bustling coffee shop in Philadelphia. She's early and greets me with a hug and a contagious smile, mimicking the same indisputable ardor she emoted in her emails that brimmed with exclamation points, smiley faces and where I was promptly nicknamed "sweety". I figured the artist who shares her life so candidly through music and so willingly on social media would be personable and nice at the least, but I was still pleasantly surprised to be met by such undeniable warmth. After ordering our lattes and settling in, we have a chat about defying ideals of perfection, Donna Summer and her unique relationship with the supporters who love her.
Tell me a bit about yourself.
So, I’ve been making music all my life. I studied classical music for a long time and then in high school I started studying poetry and a bunch of amazing writing and I found an artistic voice and began to song write. Then when I was about 15/16, I started writing my own music, scored a few films and was just getting my feet wet in all sorts of things. And then I released One of One on my Soundcloud and people liked it. I had released it under my nickname duendita that I got in high school and it kind of stuck--and now I’m duendita.
You released your single “One of One” in 2014 and three years later in 2017 you’ve just released your single Yikes!. Between these two releases, how have you developed as an artist and what changes will listeners hear in your musicality?
I think the key to it all is giving yourself time to evolve as a person and for me the biggest struggle was having such a great response to One of One I barely felt like a human being or a developed identity. People were telling me that they loved my song but I barely even knew myself. I would say the main difference is I’ve given myself time and space to evolve and I’ve really let go of expectations and all of the things that come on to you when you release something that’s so popular.
Is it strange to release something that so many people identify with and are attached to?
It’s strange but not in a weird way. You expect that to happen because the work is so vulnerable and real and honest. But I’m a kid still. I’m 21. It’s a lot to expose yourself. I’ve done well distancing myself from duendita, but at the same time you can never separate yourself from it.
What do you hope listeners take from your new single Yikes!?
I think the art in itself has multiple dimensions where my intention is important but so is the audience’s. So, I would never hope for their interpretations to be something. I know what my intention is and the only thing I hope is that they engage with the work and that they like it. The song was something that came from my bedroom at 3 AM, playing on my computer and it became the first single for my record. I love the way it came out. It’s different from everything else but it gives a taste of the essence of my record. I’m definitely trying to go in a more pop direction but also stay rooted in jazz and all of the things I love.
One of One and Yikes! are so different but manage to sustain the same soulfulness that One of One has which I think is a quality of a real, genuine artist. So when you’re collaborating with your producer or other musicians, what serves as your greatest inspiration?
You know Solange? She does this in her documentary for her new record A Seat at the Table--she shows herself producing with a microphone in the control room and she’s directing her producer and singing about in the control room and I took that on while recording my record and I was singing along a lot into a scratch mic and that was really fun to kind of experiment. Really, that’s my greatest inspiration right now.
What sort of life experiences influence you when you’re producing and writing?
Everything. I’m inspired by everything I see. I try to create puzzles and challenge myself and step out of my comfort zone. Sometimes I write songs to paintings or get really high and write a really great melody. My album is called Direct Line to my Creator. It has a lot to do with death--inspired after the passing of my aunt--but also coming of age and girlhood and womanhood. It’s not conceptual at all. It varies of theme and genre. It’s an exploration of my mind right now and it’s the most articulate expression of my life that I’ve had so far.
In the past, you've described your genre as sort of surreal. Would you still say you subscribe to that genre or would you define yourself as something different?
I think I’m most influenced by surrealism and surrealist art and just the idea of the conscious and unconscious mind and I still identify with that.
In your live performances how do you prepare and is there a certain vibe that you like to depict when you go on stage?
I’m really into theatre and theatrical looks. My wardrobe is super important to me. From the look down to the band down to the sound, everything is super important. It’s been a struggle finding my bandmates and finding people that you want to play with and that you love and the energy has to really be there to have trust and bond and know that they will catch you and have a connected intuition. I was blessed actually to meet a guitarist out of Philly. His name’s Quintin Zoto, he’s amazing. He’s helped me arrange, helped me lead the band, so since meeting him things have really evolved and we have this perfect band now. We have rehearsals and we play for hours together and just run songs and eat burritos and just hang.
It must feel really good to have that friendship.
Exactly. It has to be a family. If you have an out of town gig, you’re staying overnight and you’re spending every second with these people. I’ve been playing with my drummer since I was 15 and playing with Quintin now for like two years and I’ve been working with my producer for 7 years. So all of my people are super day 1--been there from the beginning and people I can trust with all of my heart. My only qualm is that I wish there were more girls in my band. I’m trying to get some more women. I also love playing live. I black out. It’s so freeing. I don’t even remember it half the time. I spend all day emptying my soul for something else to kind of shine through me. It’s dope. I feel the best and safest when I’m up there.
I’m sure the audience must feel that as well.
It’s funny. Lately people have been coming up to me after shows like, “that was so emotional!” And it’s funny--it’s not that I don’t feel emotion--it’s just such an exhale for me that it’s hard for me to even be in this reality. When people say it’s emotional I’m like, really! I can’t really remember anything! It’s always a good time--even still I love performing One of One and it’s much different now live. I love the direction of it all. I’m still developing all of it which is great for me because I feel as though a lot of artists try to put this idea of perfection--they’re perfecting their brand, their music, their sound--but I’ve released my drafts to fans, and I’ve linked my Dropbox before because I want people to see that I’m a work in progress. I welcome criticism and I welcome advice and it’s really important to me not to dissect this idea of perfection because no one’s perfect--anyone in media or entertainment shouldn’t project the image of perfection like that. It’s dangerous, especially when you have young people looking at you. I try to do my thing every time and that’s what it’s about.
You are a young, Afro Latina woman working in the music industry. Even though the industry has made great strides in combating toxic masculinity and racism in many ways, artists of color are often ridiculed for taking pride in their identities, especially in mainstream music. Why do you think that is and what is your attitude towards this sentiment?
I take all of the constructs that we’re bound by in this world as something to destroy [laughs]. Sort of like a puzzle, like Tetris or some shit. That’s why I use social media and why I have such a strong presence where I’ll post selfies and my day and long emotional rants is because social media empowers us a certain level of visibility that women of color and other marginalized people wouldn’t otherwise have. I think there are obviously people who have authority that want to erase our stories and I think everyday living your own life is a revolutionary act--I will not be erased. I’m gonna post this selfie because this is me, this is my story. And I think it’s important to not only project who you are online but also to seek out representation. I don’t subscribe to the things that get me down. I change up my timeline so it’s like Serena Williams and all of my idols who empower me to be who I am, who look like me and who share my values. You can empower yourself through that and social media gives us the tools to combat head to head with those systems just by being ourselves and being beautiful people. I think all women and marginalized people, girls, everyone should just keep posting their stories, gathering information, keep making art and support other artists who you see yourself in. I am lowkey dying to make a book of girls who are my idols--girls who live in Queens and who are just the most beautiful people in the world to me. I think the more that we push the idea of inclusivity--in not only the idea of beauty and aesthetic but from a human perspective--pushing inclusivity is what’s going to make the world great to prosper. Not to get political, just the fact that Donald Trump is president is a sign that this shit isn’t just about to blow over--we’re gonna get rid of these corporate structures and start empowering the independent. My role in facilitating that in this cultural shift and the revolution that’s about to happen is to be myself and make good art and tell my story and that in itself is a revolutionary act.
And in every revolution art has always played a massive role in the change.
Yes! I also think especially being Latina, it’s like, all of these changemakers and the stories are all told from the masculine perspective, masculine hopes, masculine dreams and the men who led the charge but the more that we continue sharing the complexity of womanhood--people always blanket over this idea of womanhood--but it’s like a very complex thing to grow up in America as a woman. Especially being black. But I just take it as an everyday challenge to just not give a fuck!
Representation for minority races still often lacks in the entertainment industry. Did you have any idols or role models growing up who you could identify with?
Oh my gosh. Donna Summer. Everyday. My mom used to play her vinyl Donna Summer Live and More. There was applause in it so I used to lip sync and then bow to the applause. I love Nina Simone too. I love her relationship with the piano. It’s something that I strive for. With my music I did want to evolve from that sort of binary of the piano and the vocal but I had to do it on my new album! I just have such a special relationship with the instrument too. I also love Christina Aguilera, my queen, and Aretha Franklin. I just love popstars--glamorous and just so iconic!
And they’re so uninhibited in who they are!
Yes! Because of that fact they’re just undeniable. I strive for that. Like, how can I love myself so much today that no one can fuck with me, that no one can tell me shit? That’s something that this world doesn’t tell women and girls enough--you can love yourself so much that you become invincible. That’s what my idols have taught me. I’m just so happy to be a live and to be a woman. For a long time I didn’t want this body and to be who I am and I think a lot of kids grow up wishing they were someone else with different circumstances. But now that I’m growing up I’m realizing this is my destiny and I have to fight and I always want to do good in this world through my work. It’s just the way I live.
Yeah, and it’s definitely important for young women to have a role model within their age group who’s offering them what your idols did to you.
Most of my fans are creators themselves and with my EP, I want to release a second album of just stems for them to use. And I want to create a website with a 24 hour chat room because I know what it’s like to just be a lonely kid. I want to build communities and spaces for women, girls and for men too and everybody who feels left out--when we notice the intersectionality of our hardships that’s when we make progress.
What advice would you give to other young women pursuing a career in a creative industry?
Be yourself. That’s your superpower. Growing up you don’t know that but the moment you just forgive yourself for all of the things you think you did and you realize there’s nothing wrong with you--it’s just the world telling you women are supposed to be a certain way--you begin to live and be your most brilliant self. There’s room for everyone at the table. If you’re open and you’re honest the world will make room for you and they’re waiting to celebrate you.
Perhaps the scariest thing for creators is believing that no one will like what you put out.
Yes! But that’s such a lie. You never know how you’re going to affect someone. You might not remember someone’s name or what day of the fucking week it is but you remember how people make you feel. You don’t forget that. I’m here with you today because I put out One of One thinking, I’m just going to create. And all of this amazing stuff came from it. It’s like, taking risks is important, but in the end it all comes down to loving yourself. That’s what’s going to drive it all.
Are there ever moments of doubt in your career thus far? And if so, how do you overcome them?
I welcome doubt because that’s how I know I’m doing the right thing. My mentor taught me that. You know, when I’m feeling down I step away from the work. I try to take a day or two just to hang out with my friends, be a kid, eat a Popsicle. I’ll just do things to rejuvenate my soul. My process is very much spent making music alone, but I also spend a lot of time with friends and filling my life up love--people who really care for me and who I care for a lot back. That’s another thing they don’t teach you in school, how to be a human being, how to take care of yourself! Truly. What are you putting into your mind and your heart? When I’m down maybe I’m just not watching the right things--maybe I’m watching too much reality TV, you know? Or maybe I’m sitting on Instagram comparing myself to all of these girls who I’ll never be. Why am I up at 3 am obsessing over the size of my waist? It all comes down to focusing in on the things that make you special.
So, you’re new album is coming and you’ve taken a few years to progress creatively. Where do you see yourself going in the future?
My goal for the next coming years is to be where the people are, to go wherever my fans are and wherever people will let me bring them the music head on. But ultimately, I want to build libraries when I’m in my fifties and sixties, you know? [laughs] I want to use my resources from my college degree and my connections in the music industry to just help people. Or I want to continue making art that provokes people reflect on their purpose in this world and the conversation they’re having with the world. As long as I’m creating, making music, seeing the world, finding my tribe--I want to find my people and just spend some time having fun before we have to go, you know?
Now that you’re having interviews internationally, those goals seem to becoming much more of a reality, right?
Yeah but it’s crazy like, I’m not trying to be the next Drake or the next Rihanna. I don’t want to be an artist who goes to one show a night. I’m looking for human connection you know? I don’t care about numbers, I just want to connect with the people who are connecting with my art and not only that but connecting with the “thing” that’s channeling through me--the universe or whatever people believe in. I want to connect with the people who have the same theories about love as me--the one’s who message me about One of One til this day about their lovers and their girlfriends. That’s what I live for, that discovery that happens between us when I make something and it provokes conversation about things people are normally scared to talk about.
Does the current political climate play into the way you interact with fans--or more so, has it made it more imperative for you to forge those relationships you value so much?
Kind of. I did a show on Inauguration Day just to create a safe space. But I’m not so combative. I pay attention to the news and I pay attention to Trump and the people around him but sometimes you just have to stop. It’s just so negative. You have to give yourself time and other opportunities to experience something else. Of course, I don’t want filtered news and I want to be a part of the political discourse but there needs to be some sort of distance or else you’d never survive. At a certain point, if you’re engaging with that rhetoric so much it’s detrimental--it’s not good for your mind, for your body or for your spirit. For me, I think about what can I do for my people right now to help them through this hard time, you know?
What has been your greatest success so far?
I think just being to express and articulate my feelings each day is just such an achievement. I have so much anxiety. But anytime I communicate and can communicate well, that’s an achievement. But also just meeting the fans (friends) in person is just an amazing feeling. I feel limitless. I guess the greatest success is that I truly believe in myself and people believe in me and I feel so empowered by love and by joy.
I’ll end this with something light. Who are the top artists that you’ve been listening to right now?
SZA, Warren Wolfe, Kiah Victoria, Latasha Alcindor.
You can stream duendita's latest single Yikes! on Spotify now.