Mother, poet, and organizer of Unidos Homeschool Cooperative, a local alternative school, Marlha shares wisdom and humor about the importance of immigrant and Indigenous identities, and about how, in the end, it’s OK not to be in control.
“Ana Tijoux: the political and the personal” (https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/la-xpm-2012-aug-23-la-et-ms-ana-tijoux-20120824-story.html)
“Ana Tijoux: Addressing Global Unrest in Rhyme” (https://www.npr.org/transcripts/146694189)
“Chilean Musician Ana Tijoux on Politics, Feminism, Motherhood & Hip-Hop as “a Land for the Landless” (https://www.democracynow.org/2014/7/10/ana_tijoux)
“For Ana Tijoux, hip-hop is home” (https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2016/04/for-ana-tijoux-hip-hop-is-home/)
“Chilean Musician Ana Tijoux on Politics, Feminism, Motherhood & Hip-Hop as "a Land for the Landless" (INTERVIEW) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJ3Gr58dpWM)
“The Most Slept-On Indigenous Album of 2014: Ana Tijoux, Vengo” (http://rpm.fm/news/slept-indigenous-album-2014-ana-tijoux-vengo/)
“Ana Tijoux: "El neoliberalismo va a morir en Chile" | Entrevista completa” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sy9DvlM0PhY)
“En La Makinita "Versos Migrantes" Ana Tijoux y Shadia Mansour, Capítulo # 9” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDGsbGHddYU)
Greetings and welcome to the latest episode of “Si yo fuera una canción” -- “If I Were a Song.” We are a community-based podcast and radio show, in which people of Santa Ana, California, tell us in their own words about the music that means the most to them.
ELG: I am Elisabeth Le Guin, your program host, and Director of this project.
This project is based on my conviction that we people in the modern world need to learn to listen to one another; and that music, and all it brings us, is the perfect place to begin.
DAVID: My name is David Castañeda, music researcher here for the SYFUC podcast. I am so happy to be a part of this project, using my scholarly training and my performance experience to bring you the stories, music, and lived experiences of those living right here in Santa Ana.
Like a number of our interviewees, Marlha mentions El Centro Cultural de México in the course of our conversation. I’ve talked about Centro before, but for listeners who have joined us more recently, I’ll take a moment here to introduce it again. Centro has been a Santa Ana institution for almost 25 years.
It hosts free or low-cost classes and events in traditional Mexican arts and culture, and it also has served as a hub for community-based activism on behalf of immigrants, workers, and the undocumented.
Centro’s physical location has been closed for a year and a half due to the pandemic, but its spirit has remained strong. Preparations are under way to re-open as I record these words.
ELG: All right. Welcome, Marlha! So delighted that you've agreed to do an interview with us, and I'm really excited about the music you've chosen, and just about having this conversation and getting to know you a little bit better through the conversation. So…just tell us your name and what you'd like people to know about yourself in a public context, and how it is that you are in Santa Ana. What brought you here? What keeps you here?
Marlha: Yeah, sure. My name is Marlha Sánchez and I am a mom of two really amazing LGBTQ kids. And what brings me and brought me to Santa Ana was my grandparents. They were farm workers in central California and really wanted a different life for their kids. And so they moved here, and our family stayed here. My uncles and my tías live here, my parents lived here, my mom's sisters kind of moved here. And we just kind of set down roots. And actually [I] spent a lot of time trying to get out of here because I felt like there wasn't a lot of folks that had the same values or vision of what life should be like. And I moved away shortly to Napa to go to college. And then I came back and found...and found my people!
ELG: Huh. Had something changed in Santa Ana during the time that you were away, do you think?
Marlha: No. In fact, it's really funny because I had had friends tell me about El Centro, and I could never find it before I moved. And I was like, "Oh, that's a shame. You know, I can never find these people!" And then when I moved away, my brother started going to punk shows at El Centro.
And I still didn't find it for a few years after I came back. But when I did, I think it was just the right time. I had kids by then and...it was just a good moment for us to find the space, we really needed it at that time. So it was, I think it was really just perfect, divine timing. [both laugh]
ELG: So interesting. Just a couple of questions. You said your grandparents moved here. Is that correct? Did I understand--
ELG: And approximately when would that have been?
Marlha: It was in the early nineteen fifties.
ELG: Wow.Marlha: So like:
ELG: Yeah, I...Yeah, I'm trying to imagine Santa Ana in the early 50s. I know it was very different from what it is now.
Marlha: Yeah. They tell me it was very, very different. Even when I was little in the early 80s in this neighborhood, it was very different from what it is today.
ELG: Yeah, I hear that a lot. I am often
told by people that the neighborhood that I live in, which is kind of in the southern part of the city, that it was actually really quite a dangerous area, or that's that's how they put it. And I certainly don't feel that now. So obviously, they're have been big, big changes. Yeah. And there continue to be changes, of course.
Marlha: Yeah. Actually, my parents live kind of near you. That's where I grew up, is more over there towards Main and Edinger. And I remember like, drive-bys and like friends, just so many people died in the nineties, you know, in the neighborhood.
ELG: Wow. Wow.
Marlha: It's very different.
ELG: Yeah, it is very different. Wow. That's something... Another thing that I wanted to ask you to go into just a tiny bit more was, you, as I understood it, you said you were you were kind of looking for something here in Santa Ana and not finding it, and so that you felt that you had to leave. And you did leave for a while. Can you tell us a little bit more about what it was you were looking for?
Marlha: Yeah, I'm not even sure I really knew at the time! [laughs]
Marlha: I just... What I knew was that I didn't fit in anywhere. Even in my own family I felt like I didn't fit in, like people didn't really understand how my brain worked, or like my feelings were so...so much and I knew that there was so much more to life and so many things seemed wrong to me, that I think that at that time, the way that I could identify it was kind of more like... How hippies were. You know?
Marlha: It was like, "I want to live more free. I want to be more in connection to the Earth." And [I] didn't have a lot of reference points for what that meant for me, from where I come from, because I had always seen it through a Eurocentric lens, where it's like... Where it's like this hippie movement or like "New Age." And I didn't have a clear understanding of what that meant for for me, in my family, and what our roots were in that kind of way of life.
Marlha: So I was looking for something outside of myself in my community; and then I had to come back to my community to find my roots and my...you know, that that thing that I couldn't name at that time. Because I think I wouldn’t call it any of those things, now. [laughs]
ELG: Right, right. And, you know, I'm not sure it's a great idea to even give it a name because it's like a like a complex of values, right? I actually... I suspect, given the the music that you've chosen for this interview, that we're going to get a little closer to what that complex is, just kind of through talking about the songs that you chose.
ELG: So tell us a little bit about the first song that you chose and why you chose it, and maybe, you know, like it when it came into your life and how it came into your life.
Marlha: Sure, sure. The first song that I picked was "Vengo" by Ana Tijoux, which... I don't remember exactly when it came into my life, I know it was several years ago. And, umm... what was the other question?
ELG: Maybe just a few words about why you chose it.
Marlha: Oh, okay. Yes. I chose it partially because of the way the music mixes. So part of it for me is very much this, like, rap. Like that's how I, that's the music I grew up with in my neighborhood. And my family was, you know, hip hop and rap was like all we listened to. So that for me is very much like the side of my family that is from the United States. My dad is Chicano, so he's also, like, kind of in the same vein of music. We have like similar tastes. My mom is an immigrant from Veracruz. And so I also really liked that there was, like, this kind of like Indigenous and, like, Mesoamerican sound mixed in with the rap.
ELG: Yeah... Yeah, yeah, I --
Marlha: And then the words are just, like, so on point.
ELG: It's amazing! It's como un chorro de palabras, you know, it's like this stream of words that come out of that song. It's... I mean that's true of a lot of hip hop, of course.
Marlha: Yeah. [both laugh]
ELG: But there's something about the way she delivers those words. That is... I mean, I, I totally agree with you. It's really compelling.
ELG: So, yeah. Lots of words. And what are the things that she says in this song, what are the things that she tells us that, you know, really like drew your attention early on, when you were first hearing this song?
Marlha: I just felt like a lot of, the way that she delivers it and what she's saying is so raw, and like powerful and vulnerable at the same time. Which is exactly how I feel. I really identify with that, like wanting to come and looking for answers. Coming in with this knowing that is coming from somewhere else. It's coming from, you know, our ancestors. It's coming from our lineages that came before us. And trying to reimagine the world, you know? Seeing that things are not quite right, and that there's a different way to go, to go through it. And bringing art into it, you know? "Vengo con la palabra." I write a lot, and so for me, poetry -- and just any any form of the written word is really incredible and powerful, and her voice in the music and the lyrics are just like... They give me chills.
ELG: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Me too. Me too. Yeah, I... I was, you know, listening to it again this morning and I was just really... Really struck by the urgency of it. I think I think that's the word I want. I mean, a lot of hip hop is urgent, I think. But sometimes I feel like with hip hop, the urgency crosses over into aggression. And there's some very good reasons for that. But in this case, she doesn't. That's not where she goes with her urgency. So it's it's more just... Like very pure. I don't know.
Marlha: I find it like a... Very sacred. It's like very sacred, this song. Like it's almost like a prayer.
ELG: Yes! Yes, you're right. It, there's… A real prayer, that's really coming out of the heart, you know, there's going to be urgency there! Because you really want--.
ELG: Why don't we listen to the song:
MUSIC CLIP # 1
Ana Tijoux, “Vengo
Marlha: Made me cry. [laughs]
ELG: Awwww. Cool. [both laugh] I mean, not that I want you to cry, but...
Marlha: It's a good cry. [laughs]
ELG: Uh-huh. What...what grabbed your heart in that way, this time around?
Marlha: I feel like she opens it so powerfully! "Vengo en busco de respuestas." I feel like... like, I came into this life with a certain way of feeling and thinking and wanting to question. That's one part of it, you know, wanting to find a different way. But then there's a part to where she's talking about the histories of our ancestors that aren't told, y el orgullo indio, and just that disconnection from...from my heritage, from my lineage... My mom's mom, who's from Veracruz -- my mom is from Veracruz -- she's the last native speaker of Nahuatl in our family. And we have no information about, you know, our family's native history. And same thing on my dad's side, you know, my dad's family has been in the United States prior to it being the United States.
And we have lots of rumors, you know, that this relative was Apache, or we have Apache [heritage], or we're part Navajo. But we don't have any real connections to those communities and we have lots of lost... Lost knowledge, I feel like, in so many ways, and not even just native, but just with my mom being an immigrant.
When she came to this country, she really wanted to give herself and her family and her kids a better life, and so she tells me, like, "You know, I really wanted to name you Xochitl, but I just felt like that would make your life so much harder. So we decided to name you Marlha 'cos it's easier to pronounce." You know?
Marlha: And so there's so much culture that was lost because of religion, religious changes, or just trying to be more "American" and fit in. And I feel such a strong connection to more ancestral ways and more traditional ways, and so it feels like a loss.
ELG: Yeah, yeah. Well, yeah, there's plenty of reason to cry about that... You know, but what's so striking here is that Ana Tijoux is not crying. She is marching.
ELG: I mean, this song it has...the beat is just pretty much exactly, I think, the speed and the swing and the feel that you'd have if you were kind of marching along, you know, if you were walking a long way, like maybe a thousand miles. You know, you'd want to have a rhythm to your walk to just keep you going. And that's the rhythm I hear in this song, is it's just marching forward.
ELG: You know, when she says "Vengo," it's like, "I'm coming!"
Marlha: Mm-hm. And we're bringing it. [both laugh] We're bringing all the ancestors. We're bringing all the elements.
Marlha: And we're building something. I feel like it is so, such a hopeful song. Like it does give you a sense of strength and, like, purpose.
ELG: Yeah. You know, and...a pesar de todo, you know, despite all these losses that you just mentioned, the... you know, beyond heartbreaking, what's been lost, what's been destroyed. I think about this a lot from my positioning just as a historian, and... The further you get into working with the histories of peoples who, you know, didn't necessarily write books of their own histories. They kept their histories orally or through practices that were handed down through generations, you know, and that stuff has been kind of decimated in a lot of cases. A lot of... Emigration is a big part of that. And just, you know, various genocides are a big part of that.
ELG: And so, you know, I live in that space of grief, I think I recognize it. It's -- my positioning is a little different than yours, but I think there's a relationship between these griefs, if you will. And, and yet! Here comes Ana Tijoux and all her... her tribe! I see it as just like this big group of dark haired women with high cheekbones, and they're just marching, and they're coming.
ELG: And yeah, it's, it's... I agree it's super hopeful. And that's the trick, isn't it, to pull hopefulness out of a past that has been kind of chopped up and messed with and oppressed and edited...
NOTE: this is not a translation but discusses the same themes in each language.
David: Ok, Elisabeth, so: "Vengo" by Ana Tijoux. Wow, there's so much here, there's so much that it means to so many different people, and it's such an iconic song for so many different reasons.
ELG: You know, I think Marlha actually is so eloquent about this. What I can tell you is that in the immigrant communities and the activist communities here in Santa Ana that I have been a part of for about 10 years, this song and the whole album that it comes from (the song "Vengo" is the title song of the album "Vengo") -- that they're iconic, they're like, the whole thing is a kind of monument to a particular consciousness among immigrant folk who are trying to find a way to exist in the United States of America, [one] that makes sense, that works, and there is something more than just buying in to capitalism. And Anita Tijoux's work has just really, it just goes right to the heart of that for so many people that I know. So. So, Marla, is she she's actually actually speaking very eloquently for a lot of people about this song. She has numerous albums. And in all of them, she is overtly political. And she has made her reputation as a, quote unquote, "political" artist, "political" singer, rapper... She does a beautiful job of it. She says the thing, and she manages to make that more than just merely a lecture. And I'm hesitating here because there's another side to it, I think, that doesn't get talked about as much, and I think it's a very interesting side. And that is that she is also a commercial artist, a very successful one. Her work is, you know, not only poetically beautiful and musically interesting, it's also very highly polished and beautifully produced. And that just -- that doesn't come out of a garage studio! I don't think that Ana Tijoux at any point in her life has been one of the oppressed peoples that she speaks on behalf of.
ELG: And that raises a lot of interesting questions. She's too astute and too smart to just, you know, take the podium and try to speak for other people. She's not doing that. She's making art that speaks to people who are struggling in this world. And she does it very deftly and very beautifully. But I cannot help feeling that there is another step that is not taken here. And that is the step of... If liberation is what you're about, if liberation is what you want your life and your work to be about, there's going to come this moment where you have to step away from the mic and you have to get down from the podium and you hand that mic or that podium or that guitar or that recording studio to the people who need the liberation.
David: Mm hmm.
ELG: And that's a very interesting moment! Ana Tijoux's work as we know it is, it's not about that. She's doing important work in the world with her art. But I just wanted to say that the full picture of liberation involves this other piece, where we who enjoy these platforms and these microphones in society, who have the advantage to be able to produce a podcast like this one, where we need to fold our hands and step back and say, "Here! Here's the mic. Tell us in your own words, what it is you need, and what and how this world needs to be different."
Marlha: Yeah...[pauses] -- Yeah, I feel so much that for me, there's been this call, like this deep -- and I think she even says it in the song -- like this urgency to learn the histories, because we don't want to repeat that. We want to see the world in a different way, we want to create the world in a different way. Like that's for me, that's the call. And that's, I think, what I was looking for when I left Santa Ana and I was trying to find this thing. It was like, "I want to -- I want the world to be different."
Marlha: And how do we do that, and who's doing that?
ELG: Yeah. Yeah. And so... How are you doing that? Sort of fast forward to the present for a moment here. How has your path reflected this, this march, this, you know, the coming, that Tijoux speaks of?
Marlha: I think a lot of it has to do with the work that I'm doing now with the school, with Unidos Home-school Cooperative. And really making sure that those things that I wasn't taught in school, that my kids and these other kids who are doing school with us are learning from the beginning.
That we're teaching them about different types of music from different parts of all of Turtle Island, like Mesoamerica and South America, and all of it!
And really recognizing the different tribes, the different languages, the different traditions, and creating relationships here where we are now with the tribes that are the original caretakers of these lands, the Ajacchemen and the Tongva. We go and we spend time with them in their struggles and in their celebrations.
And we have friendships that we're building. Just to create community. I think community is a big part of it.
And I think that's why I've been drawn to the spaces I've been drawn to, because there's a similarity in values and there's this, like, cohesiveness in the community sense of, it's not just the nuclear family that's taking care of their own little group, but there's this larger community and we're all looking out for each other.
ELG: And bringing that forward, sort of front and center in an educational enterprise. I mean -- do the kids in your cooperative, do they feel like they're going to school, in any sense that, you know, that I might recognize? [both laugh]
Marlha: It's very different. Before the pandemic, we were in our home. So it was like, we didn't really have a classroom. We would do class in the front yard or the backyard and we would make lunch together in the kitchen.
ELG: Mm hmm.
Marlha: And there's kind of a loose rhythm. But we also try to be super flexible. You know, and really deal with like, you know -- we're dealing with little kids. So sometimes there's conflict and we will stop everything. We will stop a lesson to deal with the conflict as a group, you know.
ELG: Yeah. Yeah. How different is that, right there!
ELG: Yeah. So that part of what's front and center, it sounds like, is just the health of the collective, of the community, in any given moment, that that's more important than some...program.
Marlha: Absolutely. [chuckles]
ELG: Yes. I'm just standing here trying to imagine a world in which, if that one principle were operating, you know, in our governance systems right now, in any consistent way -- I think we have moments of it, but only moments, and they're pretty fleeting, you know, just -- How would things look? I can't quite complete that thought experiment because I know they [would look] different.
ELG: -- Well, I want to make sure that I get some of the links that you have to your school that are public, and suitable for the public to look at. I want to make sure that we publish them on our website, when we release your episode we'll coordinate that. So people can check out a little bit more in depth what it is you're up to. It's very exciting. I mean, you know, OK, you hear this a lot, but it's merely true: that children are the future.
ELG: If you're going to... If you're going to change things, it's a really good place to start!
Marlha: Yeah. [laughs] For sure. Yeah, that's exactly how I see it.
ELG: Yep. Well, so that makes a great pivot point to talking about your second song, I think, which is the song you chose to express or represent some of your hopes for the future.
And so, you chose Alicia Keys, "Authors of Forever," which... it came out only last year. It's quite a new song.
ELG: And… shall we listen to it first and then talk?
Marlha: Yeah, yeah, let's do it.
ELG: Let's do it!
MUSIC CLIP # 2
Alicia Keys “Authors of Forever”
ELG: Tell me a little bit about when you would be likely to listen to this song.
Marlha: I like to listen to Alicia Keys all the time! In the shower, in the car... And this song in particular, I love the way her voice sounds, I... She's one of the artists that I will, like, always sing along to, because I just... Her words and the voice, the music are so beautiful. This is something that I would listen to when I'm feeling down... I feel like it's a it's a double. I listen to it when I want to cry, I listen to it when I want some strength. I want some hope --
Marlha: -- some peace, you know...
ELG: Isn't it funny how we -- I think this is really common, I know I do it -- how we think that crying and getting strength are somehow different from each other?
Marlha: Mmm. Yeah!
ELG: You know, maybe actually crying is a way to get in touch with some of our strength.
Marlha: Oh, I love that! I had not thought of it that way before.
ELG: -- But you know how when you have a good cry about something, very often, at least, I come out of that feeling renewed.
ELG: And...you know, maybe it's just catharsis, maybe just letting some stuff go, but sometimes you've got to let stuff go for the other stuff that moves us forward to come in.
ELG: So, it seems to me those two functions, they kind of combine, you know. Yeah, so she keeps saying, "It's all right, it's all right."
Marlha: I feel like you nailed it! Like I hadn't really looked at it that way before, but I feel like that's so much of what this song embodies, right? Because it's talking about, like, the duality of being human. And like, we mess up. We, we... We hate, you know, we doubt, we... we're struggling. But, it's all right. We're going to get through it. You know, we still have to love hard, because we're only here you know, maybe once! [both laugh] Who knows?
ELG: This version for sure is only this one time.
Marlha: Yeah, exactly. [laughs]
ELG: Yeah….It's such a great pair with your first song. Because in the first song, she's coming, she's going to arrive, she's on her way, get ready, right? And in this song, it's kind of like, "We're all here. This is where we are." And it's maybe not going so great, some of the time, you know. But...but it's all right.
ELG: It's like an invitation to continue, I guess.
Marlha: Yeah …to be gentle with each other. I feel like it's so easy for me, and I feel like for other people too, to get caught up in blaming other people for their circumstances, or blaming them for not doing what we would have done in their circumstances. And I feel like like in this song, she's like reminding us, like, we're all here with a set of unique experiences that make us who we are. And all of that is valid. And we're still able to bring such beauty and light into the world and again, like, recreate the world in the way we want to, and the way that feels safe and loving for us, while accepting others.
ELG: Yeah. And well, yeah, there's the hope for the future, of course. What is it-- it’s like the second or third line that she sings, and I'm going to misremember it. I don't have it written down in front of me. But about, kind of, loving and welcoming the spaces between us?
Marlha: Yeah. "We embrace the space between us, 'cos it's all right."
ELG: There we go. Thank you.
ELG: Yeah. It, so... I did not know this song. So I've just been getting to know it over the last few days. And I had an interesting experience with it, which I want to very briefly tell you, which is I listened to the version you sent me, which is the version on Apple Music, and listened to it several times. And I thought, you know -- well, I thought all my musicologist thoughts about it, you know -- [both laugh] But it did strike me that in contrast with Anita Tijoux's song, this song, it goes at almost exactly the same rhythm. It's got the same kind of walking rhythm to it. And I thought, "That's really cool." That both these songs are kind of just walking forward. They're not in a hurry, but they're not stopping either. So that, they have that in common. But then this song is sooooo much more spacious. It... You know, she's not delivering a huge amount of text with this urgency, it doesn't have that urgency. It has more, kind of, open space in it somehow. And I began feeling almost a little bit as if that open space where a kind of an emptiness, and that led me down a path of thinking, you know, "Is she really believing what she's saying? Does she really think it's all right?" It's like. It seems like she's saying, singing it, from this really lonely place, like an acoustically lonely place. And I got all worried about that! [both laugh] -- So there's a resolution to this story. But before I tell you what my personal resolution was to my worry, I just wondered if you had any thoughts about that, you know, the spaciousness in this song.
Marlha: Yeah! I always kind of take it as, the silences, the unknown. You know, the question of, "Is it all right?" It's OK to sit in that. It's OK to not know. That doesn't mean that we stop... You know, I feel like a big part of all of this process of becoming is, a large part of it is being OK in those spaces, and being OK with not knowing what is really going to happen.
ELG: Oh, now you're making ME cry. Shoot. That's beautiful.
Marlha: I think, you know, for me, too, it's the part where the other voice comes in, and he's talking about, "If you find love, love like it's the first time, God only knows it will be the last time."
I feel like it's so, that is also part of it, too. Like we enter into relationships with people, and we want it to last forever, but really, we don't really know what turns any relationship is going to take, whether it's a friendship or a romantic partnership, and... I feel like I've gotten so stuck on needing to know, and needing to be able to define, you know, that I'm trying to learn to be OK with, "This love or this friendship is what it is, for right now." And we've just got to try to enjoy all of it, all of life, for this moment. Because, you know, it could end at any moment.
ELG: Right. And so you... You're reading the spaciousness and the empty spaces in this song as just that uncertainty, and it being all right to be in that uncertainty.
ELG: Yeah... I had not got that far. [both laugh] But thank you. Thank you for the reminder of that thing, which... Yeah, being OK with uncertainty.
I -- You know, the voice that comes in, the text that you just quoted, "If you find love, love like it's the first time, God only knows it will be the last time." So that voice, I don't think it's her voice, but it's kind of hard to tell because they're using a vocoder and it sounds really, really, like, mechanical.
ELG: What's that about? Why would those lines, like, sound kind of like they're coming from a robot?
Marlha: [long pause] Yeah! [laughs] That's a good question. I had not ever thought about it.
ELG: I, the first few times I heard the song,
I couldn't understand what was being said. In fact, I had to go and look up the lyrics to get what that vocoder voice is actually saying. And, you know, I'll be honest, so to go back to my worries about this song, this was one of them. It's like, well, those are really crucial lines. Why are they given to this, like, robotic voice? And, you know, what's going on with that? So I worried about that, and I worried about that, and I worried about that.
ELG: And then I went onto the Internet and I found another version of this song. And it looks to me that this is Alicia Keys in her home studio doing a COVID performance of it. So it's just her and her keyboard.
Marlha: Ooohhh. I love it when it's just her and her keyboard!
ELG: It's a whole 'nother experience, and you don't have some of these kind of special effects -- you know, there's the vocoder voice and there's the ocean sounds at the very end of the song and all that stuff, you know -- she's not doing any of that. It's just her and her keyboard. And she sings this song. And when it gets to the place where the robot voice comes in, she just speaks to the camera. And she kind of says things like, "Oh, you feeling it?" you know, "Is it getting better?" And she's just so natural and un--... she's not trying to do anything except what she already does, so beautifully, and... For me it was a completely different experience of the song and all my worries about it, I realized, "You know what, that's not her. That's the arrangers. She works with these arrangers, you know, and they saw fit to do these things to the song." Which are beautiful, but for me, were kind of a little bit off-putting. But --.
ELG: --if you go to that YouTube version, it's very, very warm and sweet and genuine.
Marlha: I want to hear that one! [laughs]
ELG: I'll send you the link. It's not hard to find, but I'll send it to you.
ELG: And it's, you know, among other things, it shows us just how important the arrangement of a song can be.
NOTE: this is not a translation but discusses the same themes in each language.
ELG: OK, David. I want to start by just listening to a little bit of that other version of "Authors of Forever," the one I mention in the interview, where Alicia Keys recorded it [with] just herself and her keyboard. So let's have a little listen to that.
MUSIC CLIP #3
Alicia Keys, “Authors of Forever” Youtube version
ELG: OK. So, yeah, they really are so different, I would almost say that they are different songs, because the sonic face of them is so...is so distinct... I'd love to hear you speak to us a little bit about this, David. Where is the line between composition and arrangement? What makes an arrangement not just recomposition, and how does this work, you know, with an artist [of] the stature of Alicia Keys, how does this work on her end?
David: Well, OK, so that's a pretty big question. Traditionally, composition has to do with creating something, right? So, creating something original. No one else is ever saying that melody with those words, because they came from you first. Typically, we see that as a composition. Arrangement traditionally has to do with the components of the song.
David: Right. So let's say you're using trumpets and trombones. Traditionally, you would have somebody who has focused a lot of their time on just knowing how to make sure that the trumpets and trombones sound great in that song. There's people that go to school just to know how to do this.
David: Right. It's an art in and of itself, away from composition.
David: So, those are the two traditionally the two main parts of composition. Someone makes the song arrangement. Someone understands how to manipulate the components of the song, right? Now, in the pop context, the Alicia Keys context, things get kind of blurred a little bit because...her working with her producer created the version that we hear on the record, with all of the digital instruments.
ELG: Mm hmm.
David: And her voice and the components of that song, the chorus, the pre-chorus, the hook, all of this working in tandem with the producer. So in essence, the producer is also responsible for some of the arranging. So with pop music, everything starts to blur. It's not as cut and dry.
ELG: Yeah, I'm getting that sense. And you know, that old phrase, "It takes a village..."
ELG: It sounds like a village situation. What's so interesting about this, though, is that, you know, when you say to somebody, "Authors of Forever," they're going to say, "Oh, Alicia Keys!" She's the only one we hear about in that whole village situation.
David: Yeah, yeah, and that's why it's so important for people to take the time to really -- I mean, if I'm going to be honest: buy an album! Because usually on the album you'll have the album credits. Or if you buy digitally, make sure that it comes with the PDF.
David: Because on there will always be listed the composer of the song, arrangers, personnel, which are the people who actually play the instruments; the producers, even the beat producers, and any other people that worked on these projects, right? So usually people just say, "Oh, I love Alicia Keys' album." Well, Alicia Keys didn't walk into the studio alone and then come out with an album. She worked with many other people. Some of those songs for sure weren't her own, which isn't bad, because it's her performances that touches so much.
David: But there's also a whole, like you said, a village behind the product that we attach so much meaning to.
Marlha: Yeah, I think it's really interesting, too, how like, how different the delivery lands for us. As different people, you know? Like when I'm thinking about that voice that comes in, that's robotic, for me, I can still see it in a positive way, because I feel like that's a hard message for us to hear, as people.
So I feel like it's almost, like, kind of cool that they did it that way? Because it's like, it's this voice of, like, wisdom. But it's a hard message for us to hear. And them doing it that way, like literally makes it hard for us to hear.
ELG: Wow, that's super cool. I like that a lot! Yeah! Yeah, like maybe if God were to decide to actually, like, speak directly to us, maybe it would be that hard to understand. Because, you know -- [both laugh] Who knows? But that I like that a lot. OK, that helps me. Thank you! [both laugh] -- I don't like struggling with songs, you know.
ELG: But sometimes -- and I know I'm not alone in this -- sometimes I hear things that just put me off or they disturb me, or they hang me up, and that's one reason I really like talking about music with people, is sometimes, you know, you just talk to someone who's got a different set of ears, and they can just help you get past something.
Marlha: Yeah, it's so cool! To hear, like, the different perspectives and like... It's so cool that you notice that the beats are kind of the same, you know, that it's a march, that's so cool.
ELG: I mean, that was...that was just pure chance. I played one song and then I played the other and I was like, "Oh! They're almost exactly the same tempo!” So that's... And that's very cool from my perspective, that both the songs you chose to represent these differently facing aspects of your own life, that they had this kind of rhythmic unity to them. And actually, that sort of leads to, I think, a good wrapping-up question. So... There's this kind of constant rhythm that is going through these two songs that represent two different aspects of your life. At the same time there are...there are very obvious differences. Just the intensity, you know, the density and the intensity of Anita Tijoux's song, and then the calm, spacious, "Just let it be the way it is" kind of non-intensity of Alicia Keys. And -- does that describe a progress in your own life, would you say? Or are both qualities kind of present at the same time?
Marlha: I think that... I think that it has been a pattern. I feel like... I don't know. I don't know when this shift happened. I'm turning 42 this year, so I feel like it's maybe kind of recent, maybe it was when I turned 40. But previous to being 40, I felt like this incredible urgency, and just like my energy is, "Go hard, go strong, go hard, go strong. I need to know!" Like, "I have to know, I have to know!" And now, I feel like I have very much settled into this place of "I don't need to be so forceful, I don't need --" There's not such an urgency, you know?
And I think also my partner has really helped me with this. Like, we're not trying to get it all done right, right now. Like, it's a journey. And we should enjoy the journey. And it's OK to just kind of slow down, and make space for what is happening in the moment instead of always rushing to get X, Y and Z done, you know, for whatever reason...Yeah!
ELG: Ah, those are wise words. And, and you know, quite often when you manage to do that -- you know, to just unplug a little bit -- the things that so need doing, they, you find that they kind of magically do themselves!
Marlha: Yeah, it all ends up all right!
ELG: There you go.
Marlha: For the most part! [laughs]
ELG: Well, yeah, except when it doesn't, of course. But we are only individuals and we can only do what we can do. We cannot do everything. And yeah, I get you there. I mean I struggle with that one every day! And I really appreciate, Marlha, just your…the wisdom that's coming through your words, and the openness, the openness to... empty space maybe, or the openness to incompletion. That's a lesson I'm going to take away from this interview, and just be kind of digesting it.
Marlha: Thank you so much. This was so fun.
ELG: It's SO fun. I just love doing these interviews. My gosh. Every single one of them. And yeah, this was a beauty. Thank you, Marlha.
Marlha: Thank you.
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For now, and until the next interview—keep listening to one another!
I’m Elisabeth Le Guin, and this is, “Si yo fuera una canción -- If I were a song…”