Let's talk Latin America

Sol Okarina’s music for environmental change

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BristoLatino Music Editor, Zara Huband talks to the multifaceted musician Sol Okarina, about fighting for the environment, supporting women and thanking our ancestors through music.

Sol Okarina’s music is unique. She achieves a kind of plenitude through taking inspiration from many different parts of the world. While the sound is rooted in her Latino-Caribbean upbringing, she considers influences as diverse as zouk music of the French West Indies, to the style of David Bowie and his ability for transformation, to the voice of Billie Holiday.  As a Colombian-Venezuelan, the richness of influences in her own region adds to the variety of sounds she creates. She mentions Venezuela’s link with Caribbean soca and calypso with the inspiration of Trinidadian singer, Lord Kichener permeating through her style. These influences seep into diverse sounds creating an eclectic mix of jazzy pop but with the noticeable base of calypso underneath it all.

Her music has a positive feel and is unmistakably bailable (danceable). But as in calypso music there is a political undertone, with an aim to raise awareness about the world and our place in it. The song Planet4, which is featured on her new album of the same name, is dedicated to the environment, with an aim of reaching people and making them more conscious of the effect of their actions on our planet.

Believing that we are all responsible through our individual actions, Sol, through music, wants to impel a movement of change that begins with the individual.

Looking at what she has produced, you can perceive diversity in the subject matter and style of her music. Comparing Flores y vestidos which is about female empowerment, a topic which is hugely important to her (she also works with a platform for promoting women’s roles in the music industry, Mujeres en la música), to Planet4, which shares her environmental concerns; she proves herself to be an artist with universal considerations, who uses music to touch people as well as to make them dance.

There is also a kind of spirituality in her music, an appreciation of her land and the people in it.  She describes the song Gaia as a repayment, part of a ritual of the indigenous people of Colombia. Through song and dance -a meditation- she presents a way of appreciating and giving back to the ancestors of the land. Such appreciation can also be seen in the soundtrack she composed for the documentary, La eterna noche de las doce lunas (dir. Priscilla Padilla), about the menstruation ritual of the indigenous Wayúu people of Colombia and Venezuela. Despite giving back to the land that she lives on, Okarina doesn’t see herself as specifically Colombian or Venezuelan but rather as being connected to both and more universally to the world around her.

Her songs come to her in different ways, sometimes she’ll write thematically with an idea or a feeling in mind or sometimes the song comes fully formed in her head. One thing she will always stick by however is the importance of rhyme and of following a metric system. She thinks this might come from her habit of constantly writing as a child and following traditional poetry forms. But it could also be from her love of llanera music, a traditional style of music from Venezuela and eastern Colombia, which follows a specific system of songwriting with a strict metric style and a very poetic lyrical style.

I asked about her choice of instrument. The cuatro, an instrument associated with llanera music, is a is a four-stringed guitar with a distinct high-pitched twang. It became her instrument of choice through a process of discovery, she was attracted to it for its unique voice and sound but it is an instrument she has known since childhood. Later on life it began accompanying her on her travels around Colombia and it felt like the most authentic sound.

Having just returned from playing in Amsterdam and Berlin she will be promoting her new album in Colombia but hopes to return to Europe again soon with new music.

Header image: YouTube