Our current KEXP Documentaries series is The New World. The artists in this series are changing the face of world music today.
Juana Molina was a little girl when she started experimenting with acoustics in her grandmother’s old elevator. It was a slow ride to the ground floor, and she would hope that her grandma would send her out on errands, and that the elevator would be empty so she could sing all the way down and up again.
Her father was a trained samba player, and Juana loved all types of music. But she became famous in her 20’s as Argentina’s top female comedian. Her plan had been to work in comedy to pay her rent and to take music lessons, but becoming a celebrity took over her life. She even had her own hit comedy show Juana y Sus Hermanas. That’s her in the blonde wig and fake fingernails.
After 7 years as a comedy star, Juana was faced with a choice. She could keep the money, the prestige, and the career, or she could follow her original dreams to pursue a career in music. In 1996 she put out her first album, mostly just guitar and vocals. On her next few records she started experimenting with samples, keyboards and live looping. She became obsessed with sounds in nature, especially the random notes that birds sing. She believes that random notes sung in an unusual order create a feeling of constant suspense. These sounds, layered over her earthy vocals and guitar, create a sound like nothing else.
For years Juana felt plagued by her former celebrity. Her fans would come to her music shows and yell out requests for her comedy characters. They would walk out of shows in disgust. She had been such a big star that the audience didn’t take her music seriously.
It was in the United States, a country where almost no one had heard of her, that she got noticed for her music. Her 2004 album, Tres Cosas, was named one of the top 10 albums of the year by the New York Times. And she started to do big shows like Coachella. She also toured with David Byrne and Belle and Sebastian. Her 2008 album, Un Dia, continues to surprise critics all over the world with its unclassifiable blend of odd acoustics, random notes and earthy, computerized textures.
What does Juana Molina herself have to say about her journey from top comedy star to internationally respected musician? Find out in this KEXP Documentary:
KEXP Documentaries are produced by Michele Myers, with assistance from John Felthous and Leah Pogwizd. You can hear all our KEXP Docs series including: Punk Evolution, Masters of Turntablism, The Heart of Soul, Pop Goes Electronic and more in the On-Demand section of kexp.org.