Tomorrow, Carla Canales releases her debut album “Duende,” inspired by Spanish folk music, the powerful works of famed poet and playwright Federico García Lorca, and the music she grew up on and still cherishes today. The album – powerful yet dreamy, familiar yet distinct in sound – is “the biggest adventure I’ve ever embarked on,” according to the artist, activist and trained opera singer.
“It’s been a huge departure from opera,” Canales says. “I trained professionally to sing opera and that’s where my work has been. But I also just felt an increasing awareness of the difference between the music I listened to and the music I was performing.”
The resulting record sees Canales marrying her powerful voice with the music that has long inspired her, namely Björk and Radiohead. She notes that while the album may not be what you’d expect from a seasoned opera singer such as herself, it allowed her to learn so much about the production process and to expand her creative talents.
“I wanted to go on a journey and think about my relationship with my authentic self. That’s what really led me on this road that inspired the album. It’s much more tapped into the kind of music I grew up listening to, when the radio played a lot of electronic experimental stuff. I know it’s not for everyone. It’s certainly a big departure from anything an opera audience might expect, but it was a great journey. I’ve gotten to learn so much about creating music in a myriad of different styles.”
But putting together a stunning and cathartic debut album isn’t the only thing that’s kept Canales busy. Throughout her career, she has remained passionate about combining her talents with her convictions to promote social action and justice. Like most of her accomplishments, her resume in this area is impressive. Under the Obama administration, Canales served on the President’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities, with an invitation from presidential hopeful Joe Biden to return. She also lent her skills as an Arts Envoy for the U.S. State Department for over 15 years.
With all of those experiences under her belt, Canales began The Canales Project (TCP), a nonprofit with the following mission: “Through partnerships with organizations and individual artists, TCP enhances messages and concepts relevant to social and cultural change.”
“As I got older, I really wanted to use that moment to create a platform for other artists who I know feel the way I do to come together and work on artistic projects that really explore issues of identity and culture – both through music and conversation.”
Through TCP’s Hear Her Song initiative, composers are paired with impactful women from around the globe and tasked with composing original works that honor the work they’ve done in creating positive social change. Some partnerships include former First Lady Michelle Obama by Carla Kihlstedt, Malala Yousafzai by Sheila Atim and Ariela Suster by Molly Joyce.
“The goal is to celebrate and thank remarkable women from around the world by commissioning songs in their honor written by female songwriters and composers. We’re excited to have an album coming out in early 2021, which brings it full circle for us. We want to be able to share these women’s messages. It’s very personal in that it falls in line with my goal of using my voice, literally and figuratively, to promote this kind of positive social impact.”
Amidst the global changes and struggles brought about by Covid-19, The Canales Project expanded on their V-Pals initiative: a virtual pen pal program that connects musicians to kids around the globe to provide them with remote, professional music instruction.
“When Covid really came to light for all of us, we wanted to do something that would touch young people – especially when they’re halted from their normal artistic or musical studies while of course still employing artists. That’s the two-sided coin. We’re always looking for ways to also advocate for artists and employ artists. It’s very important for us to send a message of creating equitable opportunities for artists.”
V-Pals now reaches children in Uganda, Honduras, Mexico, Afghanistan and the United States. The idea grew from a personal experience Canales had as a child. A French pen pal sent her letters and taught her words in French, and she was always so excited upon the arrival of each letter.
“It’s these very simple exchanges that stuck with me because fundamentally, there was this idea of, ‘Wow, there are other kids like me around the world.’ That’s really our goal – to try to spark that curiosity for the kids who are working with us and using art to do that.”
In the days leading up to the election, Canales finds herself using her voice as a Latina woman to encourage those in her community and outside of it to engage politically and use their voices by voting.
“I’m on the Artists for Biden committee, and an honor of my life was working as a Turnaround Artist during the Obama administration under the President’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities. I really believe that as artists, we deserve a seat at the table. I get very passionate about this because our country does not have a ministry of culture. It is one of the few countries in the world that does not have that kind of acknowledgement and advocacy on a government level. It’s up to us to fight for that.”
Canales’ connection to Biden goes back before he announced his bid for the highest office, while he was still known to most as vice president.
“The vice president usually does an event for Hispanic Heritage Month, and back in 2015, I sang at [Biden’s] home and got to know him. We celebrated this great month together, and brought awareness of what Latinos bring to this country.”
Whether advocating for a presidential candidate she believes in, creating platforms for artists and activists to connect with future leaders and musicians of the world, or stepping out to explore a new creative endeavor, Canales is always using her voice as an advocate – for the world, her community and herself.
Visit www.carlacanales.com to learn more about her work and music, and follow Canales @carlacanalesmusic on Instagram and @carladcanales on Twitter. For more on The Canales Project, including upcoming livestream events and more, visit www.thecanalesproject.org. You can also follow the nonprofit @thecanalesproject on Instagram and @thecanalesproj on Twitter.