On July 21, KEXP will host El Sonido Live, a free concert in KEXP’s courtyard celebrating Ibero-American music and community. As we lead up to the event, we’re getting to know the artists performing a bit better. In the spirit of our El Sonido: Cancioneros podcast, we’re asking artists to talk through their personal songbooks by sharing three albums that have inspired them.
KEXP listeners may recognize Pahua as one-half of the great electronic duo Sotomayor. Now Pahua is branching out into a solo career, recently releasing her debut solo album Habita on Nacional Records. The album brings in a host of collaborators across Latin America, including Paz Court, La Perla, Eva De Marce, Barzo, and more.
Talking through the albums that inspire her, you get a better impression of the rich tapestry of sounds and ideas that Pahua puts into her music. Read more of her thoughts below as well as her impressions of Seattle and her favorite Live on KEXP sessions.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
KEXP: So to get to kind of know you, we wanted to talk about three albums that you love, and you sent me some beforehand and really great picks. So let's get into the first one. Gustavo Cerati's Bocanada. Can you tell me about how you discovered this album?
Pahua: Yeah, I guess it was the first album that I heard in my adolescence with one of my cousins. He was also a drummer and I remember that I went through his house and he told me like, "Have you heard of this guy?" He also played me (Cerati's band) Soda Stereo, one of the most legendary bands. And then he put [on] the record for me, and I was like, so shocked because, for me, this was like, "Okay, this is like rock but it's super gentle and also has like an orchestra in there." So I was really surprised of the sound. It was really unique. And also with the texture of the voice of this guy that is also super gentle and super beautiful, and that the main character of all the songs are the guitar. I really love it. And I think that the narrative is also something that is really beautiful. I like it very much.
KEXP: And that was his second solo album after his band Soda Stereo...And you just released your first solo album, Habita. What was it like for you to go from being in a band to making a solo album and was there was an inspiration from Gustavo?
Pahua: Well, I guess that's something that for me that's maybe an inspiration is to have like no fear to have another kind of instrumentation in the songs. Habita, it's mostly electronic, but it has a lot of instrumentation because they are like really autochthonous because they are from all kinds of regions from Latin America. So I used a lot of stuff like with the winds and also with percussion, a lot of woods in there and a lot of stuff that it's like also something interesting for me and really new.
KEXP: Another album you picked was Massive Attack's Mezzanine, another classic album. When did you first hear this album?
Pahua: Okay, So I had a really cool friend whose parents, they were audio engineers. So one of his parents was doing like a lot of events in this place that's legendary in Mexico City, Jose Cuervo Salon. Right now this place does other kinds of stuff, but this was like a really cool venue for the Chemical Brothers, Massive Attack, and many of these projects from the UK. And so I went to the concert and I didn't know Massive Attack. I was a child – maybe 14, 15 – so that was like the first time that I was hearing this. I also was super shocked. And then I heard "Teardrop" and I discovered like, "Okay, I wanna hear like all of this album." All the songs are great. And it also was my first experience with electronic music that was like really dark and also like super urban. I loved that from that from ['Mezzanine'] and also like all the voices that they are like super mystic. It's an amazing album.
KEXP: Definitely. I mean, there are so many iconic songs on that album. What what's one song that maybe sticks out to you most?
Pahua: It's "Teardrop."
KEXP: What about that song do you like?
Pahua: The sound is really beautiful. It has a lot of nostalgia, and it's also melancholic, but with these, like, interesting sounds is super attractive for me. And also, it's electronic. And I guess that also the sound like it reminds me of the music video of the baby that it's like in the uterus. So I guess it's also like super visual for me.
KEXP: I'm noticing a theme with Massive Attack and Gustavo, they both have trip-hop elements. What appeals to you about trip hop and what do you like about trip-hop?
Pahua: Well, I guess it's also like a mix because it has like electronics with downtempo with the trip-hop. It's also something that in Mexico was like really influential. Right now there are a lot of people that is like using trip-hop with other kinds of lo-fi and also with downtempo. And I guess that I really try to implement these kinds of sounds in my first songs when I was like maybe in my twenties. And I started also like to take this kind of structure to music and it's something that has been inspiring me a lot.
KEXP: The third album you picked was Bomba Estéreo's Elegancia Tropical. Can you talk about that album?
Pahua: So I guess that this album is one of the most legendary albums from Latin America, because also Bomba Estéreo was maybe the first Latin American band that had that kind of progressive development in Latin America and also in the world. So for me, this album was like maybe the door or the way to start doing what I'm doing right now. Like, okay, I really like these Caribbean beats but they are like also urban and they are for the party, but they are also like to go and trip. And if you are into nature, you feel the nature that sounds like these kinds of of songs. So it reminds me of the jungle, it reminds me of the mountains. And if you are like just in the woods, it kind of sounds like really "Amazonic" but with this attractive sound – they are like electronic and global bass. And I don't know, I really like everything. And also [vocalist and MC Liliana Saumet] is rapping... it's one of the albums that really amazing in the way that she's rapping. I love each one of the songs and like for me, they are remarkable.
KEXP: I loved all the albums you picked because when I listen to your new album, it's like if you put all these albums together and added your own spin on it. I could I can hear all of it.
Pahua: Yeah, because maybe like with the Mezzanine, there are like a lot of synths in the album that it sounds like what I heard on this album and also a lot of guitars from there. And the way that I am using also all the structures of the voice that many times I am just rapping and other times I am just doing other kinds of melodic things in the voice. And I guess, yeah, it has been a lot of inspiration with these albums.
KEXP: Yeah, for sure. And just to talk about your album again real quick, as your first solo album, you talked about the sounds. Was there a big idea or narrative that you wanted to convey with your, your first solo record? Like what did you want people to get out of this first album from you as a solo artist?
Pahua: Well, one of my first interests with this album was to talk about the errancy, about the roots that are connecting us with the Latin American artists. So that's why I involved a lot of countries in this album and also to do collaborative and collective music. So I guess it was like one of the most points that I really love to have. They are in there – they're in Chile and Colombia, República Dominicana, Cuba, Mexico. So it's also like something that has like been opening for me the doors in other places and also to connect with people that, for me, are admirable in a lot of levels and to have these connections that they are not also like in a collaborative way, but that right now they are my friends. So I am doing a lot of stuff with them in the present. And I guess that maybe the music, it's the way and it's the tool, but it's also something to do a lot of other stuff, not only in the music but also like socially and with these people to connect also with their materials and with their projects. So that's for me, like maybe the best thing.
KEXP: I love that. That's really great. And it comes together so beautifully on the album. So congrats again on releasing that.
Pahua: Oh, thank you so much.
KEXP: I know you've been to Seattle before. You played at the station with Sotomayor. What is your general impression of Seattle? Did it change when you came here? What's your impression of Seattle, generally?
Pahua: Seattle is amazing. The first time that I went, I was super surprised in a lot of ways with the music. Also, I really love Seattle, the city. It's really beautiful. Right now that it's like the first festival, I know that is going to be amazing to connect with the countries that are involved in the project. So I really love this opportunity to be in Seattle again with my new project. So yeah I am really excited.
KEXP: Do you have a favorite KEXP session?
Pahua: Yeah, I have. I guess is the Bomba Estéreo one. And also the one of Helado Negro, I really like.