Juana Molina

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Juana Molina
Juana Molina. © Promo

Article

Juana Molina: Carmen Miranda undergoing shock therapy

Juana Molina became an accidental celebrity, she says, and it took pregnancy for her to realise the error of her ways. Leaving behind the glittering world of TV sit-coms, she pursued her musical muse and is responsible for the creation of some of the most sublime, undefinable music of the present decade.
Born in 1962 in Buenos Aires, her family fled the dictatorship and moved to Paris. Returning in the eighties, she joined a variety of local bands as a singer before finding herself cast in a TV sketch show which became a hit across the entire Spanish-speaking world, ‘Juana y sus Hermanas’. Dissatisfied with her life as a celebrity, but unable to pinpoint the reason, it was not until she spent an enforced two months in bed during her pregnancy that she decided to turn her back upon TV-celebrity in pursuit of a musical career.

It was not an easy transition. Audiences expected the character from the TV show; she forgot lyrics and performed with a wildly-out of tune guitar, prompting audiences to leave in droves. She swore that she would never perform live again. Depressed, and without a clear plan, she moved to Los Angeles on a whim, after hearing that there was a local radio station which was playing her debut album ‘Rara’ (‘Strange’, 1996). And it was in California that she finally came across her modus operandi – unconventional guitar tunings and all the technology that she could afford. The technology, however, serves only to support her vision, and a unique vision it is.

Her father Horacio Molina, a noted tango singer and guitar player, introduced her to the unconventional at an early age. He wanted her to be aware that ‘everything is music, from the sounds of birds and dogs, to the chime of a clock or the click of heels on the pavement’. Her introduction to Debussy, Ravel, King Crimson and Weather Report was a formative experience for the young girl. Later in life, she noted that she heard music right from the beginning as ‘soundscapes… it was a whole thing, not “oh, what a wonderful guitar or keyboard part” ‘. She doesn’t see why music has to conform to pre-defined structures: ‘I never understood why you always had to have verse, chorus, bridge, because music has infinite combinations. I always played things that were different, but I worried that they seemed ridiculous and that people would think they were junk’.

Her vision became focused on her second release ‘Segundo’, in 2003. What appears on the surface to be melancholic Latin folk is soon revealed to be a unique form of folk-concrete. Loops simultaneously spin out of time with each other, birds and other shapeless creature chirp and twitter, drums pound and disappear, keys modulate, the whole dissolves into a myriad parts. While looking for a CD by ‘some odd Icelandic act’, David Byrne bought her second album on impulse, thanks to a list of recommendations. When the CD arrived chez Byrne, he was moved to invite her to join him on tour.

Her current release ‘Son’, from 2006, sees her refine her ethereal creation. Described fittingly as ‘too real to belong to this plastic era, yet so innovative it seems to come from tomorrow’, there is no one who sounds quite like Molina. Those who have strayed into this musical ballpark might include the UK’s Robert Wyatt and Iceland’s Bjork, but another point of reference would be Robert Fripp, her incidental mentor from King Crimson.

These are all techniques which come from the same well-spring of inspiration drawn upon by Steve Reich, Harry Partch and Claude Debussy, and Javanese gamelan is certainly in there somewhere. In the hands of Juana Molina, the result is as startling as it is idiosyncratic. In ‘Malherido’, by way of example, the ethereal Spanish vocal is supported by a shifting bed of atonal chords, massed harmonies float in and out, a solo soprano wails in the distance, a beat-box kick drum drives the whole along and suddenly a wild boar grunts out of one speaker. The effect is both disturbing and playful – imagine Carmen Miranda undergoing shock therapy.

Now based in the UK, her audience is mainly in the US and her homeland of Argentina, although she has a small but dedicated following in Japan. Her Berlin date in the Haus der Kulturen der Welt is part of a European tour.
Author: Martin Gordon

Bio

Juana Molina, born in 1962 in Argentina, started an acting career in the 80s playing various comedy characters.

In 1991 she had a major breakthrough with her own comedy show ´Juana y sus Hermanas´ (1991-1994). 1996 her first music album ´Rara´ appeared.

Works

Un Día

Published Audio,
2008
Domino Records

Sound of the World 2007

Published Audio,
2007
Producer. By various artists

Son

Published Audio,
2006
Domino Recording

Sounds Eclectico

Published Audio,
2005
Guitar, piano, vocals. By various artists

Semper Satago

Published Audio,
2005
Producer. By various artists

Soul Sauce

Published Audio,
2005
Producer. By various artists

We Will Become Like Birds

Published Audio,
2005
By Erin McKeown, Vocals by Juana Molina

Sálvese Quién Pueda

Published Audio,
2005

Tres Cosas

Published Audio,
2004
Domino Recording

Segundo

Published Audio,
2001
Domino Recording

Rara

Published Audio,
1996

Projects

This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

LifeLines No 3: Rubén Rada

(08 April 10 - 10 April 10)

WATER MUSIC

Summer Open Air Festival

(10 July 08 - 27 July 08)

Www

The official homepage of the artist

Juana Molina´s profile on YouTube

Interviews with the singer, songs, impressions