Interview: Kaleema – ‘The Most Beautiful Thing is When Two Worlds Crash’

It’s not been easy, Kaleema tells us, to make herself a nurturing musical home. Two inner worlds kept colliding. The seemingly disparate areas of her creative life, classical study and electronic production, kept crashing against each other. But Kaleema persevered through her orchestral upbringing. She found her way to the dancehalls of Buenos Aires and Bogota via New York. She is now a one-woman composer and producer taking inspiration from nature and writing Bjork-esque experimental music, fused with electronic, traditional Latin American and classical styles. 

Following her debut album Nomada in 2017, Kaleema’s new single Ololiuqui is out now with Wonderwheel Recordings. This makes up part of her new offering Útera which is due out on March 12th. This is a record that aims to reconnect listeners to the source of nature and humanity. It is an immersive experience. Útera takes a different turn from her previous album (Nómada) in that she has moved from a gentler ethereal collection to one that lands you deeper into a sonic jungle. With strong, clubby beats grounding you to the earth, the reverb-heavy melodies play and sway through different heights of harmony and language. 

Rhythm Passport chatted to Heidi, aka Kaleema, to try and get to know the artist behind the brilliant music. Kaleema described her creative process, where she finds inspiration and how she managed to build her musical refuge.

You studied violin since you were thirteen and had a classical education at a musical conservatory, however listening to your compositions, you have a strong soundscape-y electronic sound. How did this writing journey come about?

I’ve played in orchestras and played in several academic settings. And I really enjoyed the experience of playing with orchestras. But studying in a conservatory is very structured. I used to play for six or seven hours a day on the violin and four hours a day on the piano. 

At some point I was starting to get a bit bored. I mean I love Bach, I love Beethoven and I love Rachmaninoff. In the conservatory I understood that there is something related to the core of how I believe music works and how I believe it has to be done. It doesn’t go well with a music academy. In the academy you do everything with your rational mind all the time. There’s no space for the body to come. But I was like, “no, if I want to feel connected with what I am interpreting or what I’m composing, I need the body to be involved in some way.” 

And I love to dance. So at some point, I was like, “I want to do music for people to dance to, not to hear it in a sober way.” I also wanted to do music with different elements, I mean I love the violin but not just the violin. It’s a jealous instrument, because if you want to play violin you have to play just violin because it’s such a complicated instrument. And I was tired of that. I didn’t want to be a music gymnast. I wanted to create something fresh. 

So I started studying electronic music production and I went to New York. And it was complicated in the beginning because I felt these two worlds didn’t connect themselves.

How did you manage this struggle between your classical upbringing and your love of electronic production?

It was complicated at first because I didn’t know how to unite them. I was playing a lot of violin during the day, and then playing the piano and composing for the piano. And then another day I was producing dancehall stuff, experimental stuff with electronic sounds. But it didn’t connect until about two years of working on it separately. And it opened in a moment of composing and producing, it all fused in some way. It was magical. And the most beautiful thing is when these two worlds crash in some way, I mean it’s not black or white. It took me some time, but it was an awesome process.

How do you describe yourself as an artist and what do you want people to take away when they listen to your music?

Oh wow, that’s a complicated question. I would say that I’m an artist that is continually exploring and learning and trying to expand the limits of my own creativity. When I compose, when I produce, I don’t think “who is going to listen to this?” or “should I do it this way?” It’s just like a flow. It comes and I just use the machines and the instruments to translate it. 

And when you access that state of flow, what does this creative process do for you? Does it allow you to go deeper into yourself or where does it take you?

It’s pretty crazy because being in the studio and working on new music are the greatest moments of my life. I enjoy it so much. And I don’t believe that the muse exists. I believe in being constantly connected with the work and available to sit and to write and to record. It’s not like, “oh I have to find that moment of inspiration,” no, it’s more like “I’m going to make that moment of inspiration by being in the studio or by shutting off the phone.” Maybe I light a kabal, or something to help me move the energies from the day before. It’s not good for the machines, I try different things because I know the smoke is not good. 

I put myself into a situation where anything can happen. It’s like a lot of uncertainty and a lot of adrenaline but it’s always from a joyful place. It’s complicated because at least for me I always get obsessed with the songs, until I finish them. I even wake up in the night to write down ideas.

Wow, so you are really accessing some deep stuff then?

Yeah, it’s really personal but also something from the collective mind. I don’t believe the music is mine, I am just simply translating what I receive from the world and from my own experiences and of course the inspiration is always nature, Mother Nature, travelling and meeting people from other realities. And talking with my friends.

So interestingly, you wouldn’t describe your main inspiration as other musical artists, it’s much more a translation of other types of connection, and you use music as a way of sharing it with other people?

Yes absolutely. Of course I do listen to music, but when I am in the process of doing an album I try to listen to as little other stuff as possible. I prefer to hang onto the sounds, textures, harmonies and melodies that I’ve been working on myself. It’s a really solitary process because I do everything by myself. I would love the experience of working with another producer but I also think it’s important to do it in solitude. This way I am more able to connect with this time and space, and the reality which is out of my thoughts. 

Do you ever struggle to trust your own intuition, you must have a lot of trust in yourself to do it alone?

Oh yeah. With this album I didn’t share it until I’d finished it, with friends and colleagues. I prefer to not have feedback, maybe from one or two friends, but not about the composition itself. I prefer not to have feedback before it’s done entirely. 

So do you find the actual creation of the music as important as the finished product? You have these tangible creations, albums, singles, videos that you are able to share with other people, what happens then?

I think the creative process is beautiful and sometimes it is painful, because people like me, we get a little obsessed. But it’s like being in the kitchen, you are working with all these flavours and things. It makes me so happy. I feel like I’m vibrating high and I try to be the most available I can in all the ways, in all the senses. 

However, when the work is done I think the most beautiful part is that it doesn’t belong to me. I’m really protective when I’m working on it, because for me it’s sacred. But when I’ve finished it, it’s no longer mine. I hand it over.

And how have people received your music? How do you want people to feel when they listen to your music?

I don’t have expectations about what people are going to think. Of course I would love for people to love the album. But I don’t have expectations around that. I do desire that people are open to hear something that is something that you cannot listen to in mainstream radio. I hope that they will be open to understanding lyrics that are really personal. I write and I compose from a place where I am in touch with a deep fibre inside myself. So I hope it gets into others the same way, that it touches them from deep within.

You’ve mentioned that your connection to nature is a big inspiration, do you think listening to this music might form a part of helping change how people interact with their environment?

That would be a dream come true. I don’t know if the music is that powerful. I hope so. It has to do a lot with the change in the paradigm that I believe we are in right now. And with this paradigm shift, it is the time to acknowledge and realise that we are part of nature and not thinking of ourselves as separate from nature. The album is all about that. If you feel connected, if you feel part of nature, then there are many things we wouldn’t be doing. Like hurting Mother Nature in the way we are. Extracting and consuming and destroying and burning and everything that we do. So I share my perspective in how I feel connected and how it makes me feel alive. 

And the name of the album Útera, it comes from a place where God came from. We all have different devotions but we share our mother’s womb. We all came from that place that is so related to Mother Nature. But we have forgotten and we are so lost right now. 

Did you have an inspiration growing up from your family roots?

My parents are really open-minded people. We used to listen to a lot of music, a lot of salsa, meringue, cha cha cha, also Beethoven and classical composers. My father used to take me when I was twelve to electronic music concerts in the Goethe-Institut. And I remember it was something amazing to see electronic music being performed live. I was little but I was like, “oh my god, I want to do this.” My father was a big inspiration, always going to see dance and theatre or reading philosophy. I’m really thankful for that.

What’s coming next? If this was one chapter, where do you dream the next chapters may take you?

Well I have a tour, I’m going to Mexico in March and April to showcase the album there. It’s crazy but I’m happy I was invited to do it. I’m grateful because many musicians don’t have the opportunities to play or perform in these times. 

I already made an EP last year. I don’t know when it’s going to be released. I’m excited because it’s different. The sound is changing all the time so it’s material that I want to release soon because it has to do with this moment and the experience that we are all living now across the world.

I also want to start a new album in a couple of months. I would like to see if I can work with another co-producer. Someone who helps me elevate the songs to another level or someone who helps me to explore something different. I think this would be another chapter, not just me, working with myself, talking with myself creatively all the time. But it’s going to have to be someone with a lot of patience because I am so used to being in control of everything. So I think it’s not going to be an easy process, but I would love to do it!


Photo ©: Guadalupe Miles