- Words Ray Sang
- Photography Christian Saumeth
Colombian musician, Camilo, reflects on his rise to stardom and sheds some light on the plans for his upcoming album.
Logging into Zoom, the only semblance of human connection in this new normal, I was greeted by a cheerful smile which immediately put me at ease. Humble and unassuming, you would never have guessed that this man had recently won a Latin GRAMMY and was on course to win another at this year’s awards. Camilo and I instantly got to talking about his family, passions and life pre-fame.
Born in Medellín, Columbia’s second-largest city, Camilio spent his childhood surrounded by the sounds of The Beatles, Charly Garcia, and Pink Floyd. Driven by his love of music, the singer auditioned for El Factor X (a Colombian music competition based on the British TV show The X Factor), winning the second season in 2007.
Before his own chance in the sun, Camilo spent many years writing and producing some of the biggest Latin pop hits including tracks by Anitta, Becky G and Bad Bunny. His second solo single “Tutu” caught the ear of the international market and solidified the singer’s ascent to stardom, but it hasn’t been all star-studded remixes and flashing lights.
Being commendably transparent about his rollercoaster journey, the thing that hit home throughout our chat was Camilo’s heart of gratitude. Viewing appreciation as a currency and happiness as a measure of wealth, Camilo reflected on each chapter of his story with such fondness regarding every experience as a steppingstone towards a brighter future.
His latest single “Ropa Cara” and its accompanying video, directed by Evaluna Montaner and Santiago Achaga, were inspired by a snapshot of the singer’s past; an area of his life that until now he had yet to explore within his music.
That is in fact where our conversation began.
I guess we should start at the beginning of your journey. It’s taken you 14 years of hard work to get where you are. What are some of the things you know now that you wish somebody had told you when you first started?
Woo, that’s a good one. I love that question. There are a lot of things that I wish I knew as a little kid when I thought what I had wasn’t enough. And, little by little, I was understanding that it was actually those resources that I had on my own that made me special. It took a long time for me to understand and discover that.
Do you feel like you came into the industry with more to prove because you came from a talent show?
I don’t know. We were talking about Harry Potter and how he had two blessings. The first one was that he was invited to Hogwarts, right? And the second and the biggest of the blessings was that he was invited by a huge bird with the card and the letter. I mean if you have that bird in your window flying and telling you this is your opportunity, you would 100% know [that it was]. But for me, when I think what was the vehicle that took me to where I am right now? I don’t know if it was the talent show. Opportunities come in very different and weird ways. [Sometimes] You never come to understand which was the right one. But for sure, that was the first step and I honour my first step. I honour my past, I honoured that opportunity but has been like, up and down. I 100% wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that first step that I took when I was 13 years old. But it’s been a long journey.
What made you want to audition for the talent show in the first place?
In my case, I wasn’t looking for an opportunity, to be honest. And I think that was the most important part, for me to be able to take advantage of that moment. I was just playing, and I was like, this is what I love to do. This is my hobby; this is what I enjoy the most. I just want to go and have fun and see what happens. I was just enjoying it and wasn’t looking at it like maybe this is the first step of the rest of my life. I wasn’t looking for that. And that’s why I enjoyed it so much. When I was a child my parents were like, ‘You are already a champion, you’re the best even if you don’t win or pass the first round. We love you. You’re very talented. Let’s enjoy this’. So, I’m super grateful for the parents that I have who have supported my journey from the beginning, letting me be a child when I was a child.
How did your family and friends respond when you won?
Well, I had the blessing of having the best family. My parents have been there when not even one door was opening, and they treated me like a champion from the beginning. Not only like, you’re the best but also, we love you, you don’t have to prove anything to anybody.
I’m grateful that I have the parents that I have, the sister that I have, the friends and circle that I have. Now that I’m doing huge things and I’m like enjoying some kind of success in my life, I’m honoured that I have a circle of friends and family that are my anchor when I’m flying too much, and there to be my wings when I’m on the floor.
They’re the people that I go to after having a show or like in May when we won our first Latin GRAMMY. After the noise and the people screaming congratulations, you go to your house to the silence of your people, you know, so I’m grateful I have that place to return to.
Do you come from a musical family? Where did your love for music first begin?
Actually, in my family, I think I’m the first person who is into music. I mean, my parents love music and enjoy everything around it. They have a lot of music. When I was a little child, they had these humongous boxes of long plays and cassettes, so they enjoyed it. They don’t sing… I mean, they sing in the kitchen or in the bathroom, or whatever, but I think I’m the first one in my family to grab a guitar and to write a song.
As you mentioned before, your journey has been very much up and down. You win this show in 2007 but then your big breakthrough arguably doesn’t happen until 2019. What kept you motivated in those up and down periods?
Well, in the first place, I think it’s the love that I have for the music itself. I’m not in love with what comes with the music. I’m not in love with the success, I’m in love with my guitar and the creative process. You’re gonna have that whether you are number one, or no number at all. You’re gonna be able to go to your house and grab the guitar. And I wasn’t expecting for my name to be remembered or whatever. I just felt in my heart that I was communicating a lot of things that were inside of me. I knew in my heart, and I felt that God was telling me, ‘Yo I’m putting this into your heart, not only for you to feel it in that moment, [but] I’m putting that into your heart for you to grow and start taking notes and writing and recording yourself’. For you to share that and impact the lives of a lot of people. So that feeling was what made me patiently waiting for the right moment to go out again.
That said, was there ever a moment during the journey where you thought ‘maybe this isn’t going to happen’?
It happens. Like not only once. There are moments when you say, ‘Well, I want to have a family one day, and I’m gonna have to feed them. I have to work for them to have like a living’. There were a lot of times where I thought, maybe music is not going to be the thing that fills my refrigerator. I mean, that’s what I enjoyed the most. But sometimes you get like the wrong message. The system is telling you, maybe you’re gonna have to live a life doing things that you don’t love for you to make a living and I was like, this doesn’t feel right. I’m gonna just paddle and paddle and paddle on. I don’t know if I’m gonna live in a little house, or no house at all or renting my entire life, or if I’m gonna have a huge house. I don’t know where I’m gonna live or where my family’s gonna live, or where are we going to eat…but I know I’m going to be happy writing songs. I’m going to be happy looking into what God has put into my heart. So yeah, that was like my motivation.
I know you spent a lot of time writing for others before you released your own solo music. How did that help you to find and refine your own sound?
Well, actually, I feel that I was born again when I started writing and producing for other artists. Right when I was like thinking that maybe my project, and me as an artist, and as a singer, songwriter and as the main guy wasn’t going to happen, I was like, well, what I love is my guitar I love to create things. My wife’s family are part of the music industry, and they were inviting me to some sessions. I started meeting a lot of people in Miami, going into sessions, and then the first opportunity to write something for another artist happened. And then another one, and another one, and another one, and then I signed my publishing deal. And I was like, ‘Yo, I’m gonna be able to live from the music. Maybe not being the main guy, but I’m going to help other people to find their sound’. And it was actually that step of helping other artists to find their sound, that made it possible for me to understand what my sound was, and for me to feel ready to start sharing my stuff again.
Is your process when writing for other artists different from writing your own music?
It’s 100% different. Sometimes I feel freer when I’m writing for another artist because I know that what I’m writing is going to be defended by another person. You’re like, braver, you know? But when you’re the one that is going to be in the spotlight, you have to back up what you’re writing and saying. You start to question if you are going to be proud of this in 10 years. Are you going to feel proud of this when you have a child, and that child listens to what you wrote? Are you gonna be happy? Are you gonna love these melodies or are you gonna be tired, because it’s too cheesy? These kinds of little questions started making the process of writing for myself harder than writing for other people.
I get that. So “Tutu” comes out, you win the award for Best Pop Song at the Latin GRAMMYs, and then Shakira jumps on the remix. Please tell me how that happened.
[Laughs] That was mind-blowing for me, not only because Shakira is huge, and I love her, but for me as a Colombian artist, having the biggest of all Colombian artists looking into my songs and being like, ‘Yo, I actually love that song, I want to be part of that song’, was huge.
I was in my house having breakfast, and my phone started, like, exploding. And I was like, ‘What happened?’ And I opened it, and everyone was like, ‘Yo, go to Instagram’. I went to Instagram and Shakira had posted a video saying I love this song and singing the song. So, I commented, “I love you. And someday, you and I are gonna do something together”. And she was like, someday? No, let’s do a remix right now. And I was like, ‘Yes!’
So, I sent everything, and I was like, crossing my fingers talking to her through FaceTime. Then there was the opportunity for me to go to Barcelona. So, I travelled, we met personally, we finished that song and we released it and it was beautiful. I think that collaboration helped me to win my first Latin GRAMMY.
Let’s talk about your latest single “Ropa Cara”. What was the driving factor behind you delving into the past for that song?
“Ropa Cara” is the third single from what’s going to be my next album, which gonna be out very soon. I promised my people, like my community the people that are following my music, that I was going, to be honest with them. And this song is a very honest story of my past. I’m a storyteller. I’m passionate about telling stories. And I’ve been talking about my present for a very long time. So, it was the right moment for me to share something from my past, you know? I love that the ending of this song goes into like a Cuban kind of song. For me, that exploration was very important to do on this album. My wife, along with Santi and other friends, directed the music video. It has been like my biggest production in a music video to date, so I’m proud of it.
What was it like to shoot a music video during the pandemic?
It was challenging, not only for me as the artist but for my wife and Santi. There were a lot of people. Everybody had to be tested before shooting. I had to be in the music video with this moustache on point and with a mask that’s impossible. It was a challenge, figuring out how I was going to look right for the music video whilst following the mask procedures, but it was refreshing and beautiful to see so many people working together for one main goal. The production and the visual industry have been struggling a lot with this pandemic. So, it was beautiful for me to [be able to] record in my country and give people the opportunity to work again. We took the risk, following all the health procedures for us to be safe doing it. It was a challenge, but it was worth it. 100%.
So how long did it take to grow your famous moustache?
Well, I don’t know…like two years, I think. I mean, I trim a lot. I love it. I love that my wife loves it the most. I mean, I cannot take it off …she loves me I think because of the moustache [laughs].
How often do you have to trim and stuff?
Oh wow. That’s quite a lot of upkeep.
I know. I know. I know. I mean, it’s not that hard. It looks hard to maintain but it’s easier than you think.
Where does the inspiration come from for the style actually come from?
Four years ago, when I moved to Miami to write and produce for other artists, I was not shaving at all because I was tired, and I didn’t want to shave. My moustache started growing. And then the two little arms of my moustache started growing. So, I used some wax, did it up, took a picture and I posted it on my Instagram with the caption “my new look” as a joke, right? And everybody on Instagram was like, “I hate it. It’s horrible. You look awful. I’m gonna start unfollowing you. Oh my god. You’re crazy. I hate you.” People were so passionate about hating it, that I loved it. And I don’t know, I looked into the mirror and I was like yo this is part of me. I didn’t know I needed it and now that I have it, I can now take it out. It’s part of my aesthetic. I don’t think aesthetics are only superficial things. They make people feel and think a lot of things. So, I feel identified with my moustache and with whatever I wear.
You previously mentioned that there’s an album coming soon. Do we have a date?
Yes…we already have it. I don’t know if we can say right now but it’s gonna be later this year.
[Laughs] Right, before the album comes out. We’re gonna release another single that is very important for me. A collaboration that I’ve been waiting for a long time to release. I can say that.
Okay… I’ll let you off the hook. Finally, what can we expect from this upcoming album?
Well, this album is a very honest exploration of all those colours that make me who I am. I come from one of the most diverse countries in the world and all that diversity of sounds and feelings are in the music on this album. Everything written, produced, recorded, delivered was played with my hands. So, it’s a very honest album, and I really feel the best songs I’ve ever written in my life are on this album for sure.