Queens native duendita is necessary. In a time of Kaepernick kneeling and Trump in the White House; an educated, brown, hood queen is an essential part of the unravelling story. duendita contributes with old-soul R&B tunes laced with emotive lyricism about the power of prayer, losing loved ones and unrequited love. But beyond that, there’s a cultural nuance and undaunting self-awareness that sees her calling out social injustices. “I wish you a long, long, long black life,” she sings in ‘Blue Hands’ and it’s not lost on us how, in today’s America, that’s a much-needed prayer.
Her latest EP direct line to My Creator channels retrospection, spiritual energy and complex artistry. It’s a body of music that shows us duendita’s sheer prowess but also hails the 22-year-old as a rising star. Schön! catches up with the songstress to pick her brain about everything from Cardi B to spirituality. She tells us “only references to God/My Creator/The Simulation get capitalized in my work”, so here is duendita, in her own words.
First off, for those unfamiliar with the name ‘duendita’ could you tell us a bit about the meaning behind it and why you identified so strongly with it?
duendita was a high school nickname i got after we read The Theory and Play of The Duende by Federico García Lorca. in the text, he describes “duende” as a mystical spirit that lives inside each [artist], and provokes to express ourselves in the moment.
When did you say ‘okay, I’m gonna be a musician’?
i am still telling myself this, daily. it’s an everyday decision to ride off into the night.
Were you confident that music was going to work out or did you ever consider doing something else?
i felt like i didn’t have many options. i am insecure about my intelligence and dexterity. the few office experiences i’ve had always included changing a part of myself to be more “acceptable”. like straightening my hair or something… i also don’t know what it means to have music “work out”. is this what it looks like? i can’t tell yet.
For a lot of artists, pursuing music and education are mutually exclusive. Why was it important for you to make university part of this path?
my family has been poor for generations, in the research i’ve done. my grandma stopped studying after the 6th grade, my dad didn’t get a high school diploma. meanwhile, i got friends whose grandparents established whole towns and had their property value triple over time all out of access, luck and at the expense/exploitation of others in the grand scheme of colonizing, capturing American land. so, i think about my lineage and what it means to have a degree, even though it’s a piece of paper… i can use Ableton and work on recording consoles double the size of my bedroom now. young queen of signal flow. i can flip this knowledge into generational wealth, and that excites me. the idea of contributing to industry excites me, although i want to hide on a farm and never say hello… part of me wants to publish books by black women and get into the marijuana industry. not sure yet. i have no money right now still… but access makes the difference and i shouldn’t be the exception.
Drawing on your education, musical influences and a strong sense of self, what are the music-making and songwriting processes like for you?
my process relies on living… being safe, free and open. although i create every day, sometimes my songs are super weird. me, groaning into the mic or just three hours of pure improvisation. i don’t have much control over when a banger comes. the best songs are revealed to me, whenever they want. the words form out of the melody almost instantly. my biggest responsibility is to take care of my body, mind and spirit, and make room for that moment. create opportunities for expression by loving others and letting myself be loved.
How would you describe your music?
weird and emotional
This year you released your EP direct line to My Creator. What do you want listeners to take away from this project?
i always want listeners to do what they want. to feel what they feel, and have complete space, freedom.
Your work is rife with spiritual and religious themes. What role does God play in your life?
i am still figuring it out, but i feel something inside of me that won’t give up. a deep, river of love, fountain overflowing, reflecting on this beautiful opportunity to live. i look at the birds, trees, and i know that whoever made this place is strong, the most creative and undeniable.
Your song Magdalena deals with the passing of your aunt. How is it bearing such a personal experience in your music?
it was weird at first and i never thought i would share this song. now i am at peace, and the response has helped me heal in ways i didn’t anticipate. when we sampled the first half of the track to make the second part, i was like “nahhh, we dropping this.” collaborators make me brave. we be walking in the dark together.
Who are you currently listening to?
April + Vista. L’Rain. Mereba’s Planet U (my favourite track right now, on tour i would listen every 5 hour car ride on repeat). Santangelo, and always Ariana Grande.
You’ve said that Cardi B is a personal hero of yours, there are a lot of parallels between you two. Aside from being outspoken, you’re also navigating the music industry while owning being both latina and black. What does being afro-latina mean to you?
being Afro-Latina, and from New York City, is a very specific intersection. i say to myself often, “this is just the way colonization has unravelled.” i’m so happy that i understand the weight of this identity a bit more, but i also spent many days confused, and i’m still not done discovering. the more time i focus on it, i notice the ways my family erased themselves in order to assimilate. i see these behaviours within me. it’s left me in a peculiar position, especially in terms of recognizing and accepting myself… or even feeling like i belong. i don’t think many understand these terms describe how bodies were physically stolen, transported, enslaved, forced… from one geographic area to another, to be a labour force. America wants to take aesthetic cues from blackness and the diaspora while ignoring the brutality behind our arrival. Cardi B has been a huge help in accepting myself, publicly and privately. Her expression sets me free and in my eyes, she broke many glass ceilings during this dark time for our people in America. my life’s work is to heal this pain, to unearth/understand the missing roots. to digest the journey my blood has taken, so i can figure out what is next for this spirit.
You’ve got a lot going on right now, with the release of your EP and touring Europe right now. How do you deal with people’s expectations of your career and manage your own ambitions?
i take great care of my heart and mind. more than anything, i find time to be alone, to be with the birds. i don’t pay much attention to what others expect unless they are my collaborators, extending parts of themselves. they depend on me, so i show up for them and our art. but, expectation and result are not huge parts of my creative process. i am focused on intention.
How did you envision your music career and have your dreams come to fruition?
i imagine complete isolation, safety, creativity… with my loved ones around, respecting my boundaries. or, if i come up in a huge way, i want to publish books.
And for the final question, I want to reference your song ‘Pray’.
How would you explain the power of prayer and what are you currently praying on for the future?
our minds can be dark, powerful and so focused on suffering. i heal that pain by affirming personal power and expanding my curiosity each day. i love this place, even though it hurts so much, i do love sentience and i’m grateful for it. to me, prayer is any expression of gratitude toward existence, and there are many ways to share this love… currently, i am wishing peace and stillness for people who feel restless, torn or destroyed by this place. i pray for our minds and hearts, that we can find the calm.
Listen to duendita’s latest EP, ‘direct line to My Creator’, here.