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[Interview] Julieta Venegas: What's So Hip Hop About Folk Music?

[Interview] Julieta Venegas: What's So Hip Hop About Folk Music?

Photos by Samantha Petersen

In the past couple decades, genre-bending has become more and more prevalent. Whether it's a band like Skindred combining the calm, chill reggae sound and mashing it with the high energy, head banging of metal or an underground hip hop legend in Tech n9ne linking up with a legendary rock band of the 70s in The Doors these past few years have been some of the most exciting experimentally for music. At the Eaux Claire's music festival with was very noticeable in a line-up that saw Danny Brown followed by Paul Simon. This festival is where we were lucky enough to catch up with one of the most incredible voices in Latin Folk/Pop music, Julieta Venegas. Before you turn the page or wonder what does Latin Folk have to do with hip hop, let's get to know her.

UHH: So for our listeners, that may not have heard of you or your style of music, can you tell us a little about yourself?

Julieta Venegas: Of course, I am Julieta Venegas. I am originally from Tijuana but now am living in Mexico City. [For a long time] I have been mixing a lot of elements even though my [main goal] is to [write songs]. I mix elements that have to do with Mexican Folk music and [Nortena] (Mexican Polka) music. I think the character of my songs can sometimes go along the lines of Folk/Pop.

This uniqueness is what has allowed Julieta to thrive in the music industry since her breakout album Aqui. Her ability to mix elements also allows for her shows to be constantly changing and evolving with her. For the Eaux Claires festival, she would be preforming alongside two traditional folk musicians. This diversity amongst her style comes from her willingness to branch out instrumentation wise as well. Playing a healthy mix of accordion, piano, and guitar, she showed that her voice wasn't the only thing with range. The element of Folk that intrigued me as hip hop head was storytelling. Hip hop was born from storytelling and has evolved into stories that stand amongst the best poets. For Julieta, this element shines in a personal favorite song of mine.

Bringing you into the realm of hip hop I wanted to discuss a particular song because it's one of my favorite examples of storytelling. The song, Limon y Sal, is a great story and I wanted to know where this story came from and what your process is from coming up with the stories in your songs.

It is actually a song I wrote with a friend. He sent me the song because he lives in Miami and I am in Mexico City, so he sent me the chorus of the song. This chorus is basically saying that I love you with lemon and salt, which is to say that I accept you for who you are. Sometimes [you can be imperfect or in a bad mood] but when you really care for somebody [you accept them] and that's the way the story came about. I was trying to elaborate the story of accepting someone.

For many artists, the search for fame, money or love can take the forefront and these material things can fizzle out, when an artist searches for themselves or their love of their craft the material things fall into place. For Julieta Venegas, the aspect of her music she was enamored with was the ability to write the songs. From her awards in Grammys and Latin Grammys, she has received some of the highest honors for a musician, but her love of song writing was immortalized this past year when she won the Elena Casals Awards at La Musa Award show.

Can you tell me a little about this award and what it meant to you to receive it?

It is an award that they are starting to give in Miami for song writers. It was more like a recognition of my work as a songwriter which I thought was great because when I first started making music the first thing I wanted to do was write songs. I am a classical pianist and I discovered song writing and that's when my life changed and I didn't know if I was going to be a singer, I had no idea that I would eventually play the accordion [or what] would happen eventually, but I [knew that I] really wanted to write songs. So that recognition connected that first ambition to what I am doing now and it was really exciting to receive that.

Having a heavy background not just in instruments but in composing and writing songs allows for an artist like Julieta to have full control over their music. While often times in hip hop there is not just a personal connection to a song, but also a personal truth to it, I wanted to find out if this personification existed in the realm of Folk.

I often write about my own life experiences and how they relate to a topic I am covering or how I connect to music in general, this is what has always drawn me towards hip hop. In your music, do the stories come from personal experiences or are they more based on situational commentary?

I think my stories will [not] represent me [but always] the way I think about things. I have always said that songwriting is storytelling but maybe mine isn't an anecdote. I don't really say like 'oh this happened this morning.' It is more like a feeling or like a picture of what someone might be going through [i.e. relationship wise] or thoughts, you have about what's happening in the world or your country. [My] songs speak about things, now that I have a daughter they may be about my daughter [but] in different forms of emotions that I can represent myself in different stories. It is not about me but it is connected to the way that I think.

[Interview] Julieta Venegas: What's So Hip Hop About Folk Music?

This idea of extrapolating an emotion from a song is the other aspect of hip hop that differentiates that great writer from a great artist. In the twin cities, if you were lucky enough to see Eyedea perform you saw someone that could not just create emotion in a song, but create a song that let the listener create their own emotion. The subtly of letting emotion dictate a song is also explained by fellow Eaux Claire performer Danny Brown who said he will often keep a vocal track with words mistaken or mispronounced because in the moment he created an emotion in his voice that is difficult to manufacture in a studio over and over.

What is so hip hop about folk music? The story. Often times what draws me in (other than the occasion heavy bass party beat) is the ability for an artist to create an image in my head. With Julieta, I have easily transported her Storyland, which is even more difficult since I don't speak much Spanish. A song like Limon y Sal was the perfect example of how an experienced songwriter can be the difference between a catchy song and one you get lost in. Sitting down on a sunny day with this incredible artist taught me a few things. First, that when you truly love what you are doing the beauty in it stands at the forefront and second, that hip hop can be found even in the most unlikely of places.

Connect with Julieta Venegas

[Interview] Julieta Venegas: What's So Hip Hop About Folk Music?

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