About a year ago, an album turned my life around. Its name: Al Vuelo, by the rising Chilean indie-pop star Fakuta.
My uncle had just died, I’d lost my job, and the chance that I’d ever succeed as a journalist seemed increasingly remote. I found myself stuck in a symbol of regression: my parents’ minivan. On the way home from the funeral in the Midwest, past the endless cornfields and pro-life billboards, I could feel the familiar pangs of depression. The initial restlessness, then a twinge of unhappiness, and finally: the creeping sense of despair.
And, as if taking a cue from the moody teenager I had once been in that same minivan with its vanilla brand of liberal bumper stickers, I put my headphones on and decided to give Fakuta’s new album a chance.
Fakuta, or Pamela Sepúlveda, quickly became my favorite artist of the current wave of Chilean indie pop. It’s a musical renaissance, really, the most exciting thing since ’60s folk singer Violeta Parra. While Sepúlveda isn’t the most polished proponent of it — in live performances her voice has been known to crack or go flat — I think she definitely has the most heart.
What I discovered during my sojourn into her latest effort was an expression of some darker, more shadowy feelings. This woman was talking deep, womanly things! She felt alone! I felt so, so alone. And it was all in Spanish, which is the language that most frequently gives me comfort during times of emotional duress. She cooed over heavy synths, her soprano wafted over keyboard riffs like a fairy’s. Through it all: the sense that life is forward motion, that this too would pass.
Classic femmey Fakuta lyrics from the song “Armar Y Desarmar,” (or, “Putting things together and taking them apart”):
- Es mi costumbre analizar
Los detalles en detalles,
Las acciones por detrás
Estos malos hábitos de adivinar
Confusiones e intenciones
Ya me salen mal
I’m always analyzing things
Details, inside of details,
These past habits, this guessing —
Confusions and intentions —
They come out all wrong
Growing up, Fakuta spent a lot of time in her room. She’s from a populous Santiago neighborhood, where “the metro is always packed” and the streets full of people. “I was kind of autistic,” she says. Her worldview quickly turned interior, and she latched onto music and expression. Her confessional style drew me in. I too liked to write songs in my old bedroom; my own writing is clearly self-exposing.
As a little girl, taking influence from the recycled North American culture that found its way into Pinochet-controlled TV stations in the ’80s, Fakuta grew fluent in the language of gringo pop. Madonna and Michael Jackson were her earliest loves, and as she began to move toward new musical horizons — playing with the experimental band El Banco Mundial — she also came to develop her own voice.
It was then that she discovered the deeply personal lyrics of Kate Bush, and incorporated the British singer’s style into her own. “I’ve never been a punk or a vegetarian…it’s hard for me to believe in God, in politics…so I feel like the only truth I can offer to the world is my own.” Perhaps that’s why I love her so deeply — she’s something of a rugged individualist in a country beset by dangerous and seemingly unconquerable institutions: the dictatorship of the ’70s and ’80s, the oft-unquestioned capitalism of the Chicago Boys that so pervades the present day, even those recycled north American pop songs that mix uncomfortably with Latin hits on the airwaves.
Chilean pop’s renaissance happened strangely and all of a sudden. For years, young people and their typical countercultural movements had been discouraged by the fierce dictatorship of Pinochet. Even years after he was voted out of office, the legacy of selling kids cheap candy and setting them in front of the TV stubbornly persisted. This was part of a plan to make them more manageable as adults, but around 2009-10 it became clear the strategy’s effects had started to wear off.
In a rich sociopolitical environment, conditions are ripe for a new musical language — a departure from what came before, but also a synthesis of it — which is what Sepúlveda has said happened in Chile. “The structures are new,” she says. “You have [artists like] Gepe, who mixes pop with Andean folk,” referring to Daniel Riveros, an untrained singer-songwriter with a sophisticated ear. “I feel like what’s happening is something that is very Chilean.”
Miles away, a year or so after she’d recorded Al Vuelo, I felt something in my inner world start to shift. I embraced my sensitivity; I listened to Fakuta’s album on repeat along with Kate Bush’s The Sensual World. A few weeks after returning from Missouri, I went to a party, saw an old friend, and we rekindled a romance that’s turned into a partnership.
“Chileans, we have an intrinsic melancholy that’s different than Brazilian saudade. And I’ve always recognized that feeling and seen it for what it was, and I love it,” says Fakuta of her personal lyrics. Al Vuelo gave me a language to get out some of my own intrinsic melancholy, and let in something else.