The beatific Argentinean singer/song-writer Juana Molina began playing music in 1996, after she abandoned a very successful television career as a comedic actress in Buenos Aires. Since then, Molina–who performs this evening at Central Park Summerstage–has released five albums. Her latest, Un Dia, is an airy album, rich with acoustic guitars and fluid, echoing chants. Molina is without a doubt a global figure–her music is frequently compared to fellow globetrotters Bjork, Beth Orton, and Lisa Germano–who, after growing up in Paris (her family fled Argentina after the 1976 military coup), returned to her native country and started not one but two major arts careers. But don’t call her multilingual, guitar/synthesizer/laptop/keyboard compositions “world music”–she hates the tag. We caught up with Molina on the phone from Argentina in advance of her show in Central Park to talk about the joys of collaborating with other musicians, the pains of leaving TV behind, and just how exactly she likes to think of her own stuff.
Will you be performing alone at Central Park?
No, it’s going to be a trio. I will be playing all my machines, but I’m adding a bass player and a drummer.
Do you feel more comfortable performing on your own or with a band?
I really enjoy both. It depends on the case. I think for Central Park it’s nice to have more people to share that with and to be on stage with. I mean to have someone to look and to have some, like a friend to look at when you notice something, Some shows are best played with other people.
You’re now on your fifth album, and have been doing this for a while. How do you see your music evolving?
I don’t know if this is going to happen at all, but I’d like to be freer–well, not freer–but I’d like to play the same way I’m playing with loops, but with people, so I’m not stuck. You know there’s something about playing with others that grows better. But there’s a contradiction there, because I also think that when I’m on my own, I create a universe that is deeper, and the fact that I’m on my own and I’m doing everything by myself makes me go deeper and totally go for it. Sometimes you need to compromise when you’re with other people, because you can’t really transmit exactly everything. I don’t know. I don’t really have a very large experience with playing with others.
People sometimes describe the music you play as “world music,” which seems like a pretty lousy characterization.
I think the “World Music” is a label that doesn’t fit anyone. I don’t feel very comfortable with that label. People have already an idea of what world music is. I may be completely wrong, but when I hear “world music” that’s what I have in mind–music from some tribes anywhere in the world or very small groups of people doing their thing. That’s what I understand by “world music.” And I don’t think it’s a good label for anyone, because sounds that are made with similar instruments in different parts of the world sound totally different. It’s like the label of “folk.” Sometimes I get labeled as a folk musician because I’m playing with an acoustic guitar. If I played exactly the same music with an electric guitar, then there would be no room for me in folk. Sometimes it’s necessary to label music in order to help people to know what it is. But honestly, I think that confuses them rather than help them to know what’s about. I’m talking about everyone, not only what I do.
Have you experimented with using guest vocalists?
Yes. I’ve been doing this for the past two years. I love it but also it depends on the musicians, of course. When the musicians are the right ones, everything’s happy and perfect and it grows and grows. I think, in music, like in love or other artistic things, you just need to find the right person. When you’re in love, it could be love with anyone. But in my music it didn’t happen many times. I haven’t found many musical husbands, yet. I’ve been married once, with one guy. We played for three years and we really couldn’t stop playing together. It was just heaven. But, then one day that just disappeared. I don’t know why. I mean, we’re still very good friends, but we can’t play with each other.
That’s a very lovely idea, though.
Yes. Or maybe I should call it a musical boyfriend. Maybe that sounds better. It’s like love sometimes. It comes and goes. And sometimes, it’s just a crush, and you can’t make it go on forever. I mean, to play with that guy was something that really made me go much, much further away than if I hadn’t met him.
Did you ever feel like you had to really prove yourself in order to be successful in your music because you were already an accomplished actress?
Yes. Absolutely, especially here [in Argentina], because in other countries, people didn’t know about me, so that was easier. They just knew me from the music scene. But here, it was very, very difficult. Though that didn’t stop me because, I mean, if people thought that it was a whim, and it was something I wanted to do just because I was a whimsical TV star that wanted to do music now–that was their problem. So, they could say whatever they wanted. That was not going to change what was happening inside me.
Did you acknowledge that struggle in your music?
Not at all because I wasn’t trying to defend myself through my music, I mean it was a personal concern, not a musical concern.
Would you ever consider getting back into acting?
I really hope that I don’t have to. But if I did I think I would be very welcome on TV because people still ask me “Oh, when are you coming back on the screen? We miss you.” Blah, blah, blah. But I wouldn’t feel very good if I had to do that again.
Juana Molina plays at 6, Central Park Summerstage, 69th Street at Fifth Avenue entrance. The show is free.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 8, 2009