“Within the Latin music community, we [LGBTQ people] are still very few,” Kany García tells Rolling Stone from Washington D.C., where she recently marched in the city’s local Pride parade. “Not to perform,” she adds, “but to have an amazing time with friends.”
It’s no regular Pride Month for the 36-year-old singer-songwriter; nor for the LGBTQ community at large. This month happens to be the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, and García has a jam-packed itinerary of Pride events to attend. (“I also plan to go to Pride March in Mexico City,” she says.)
Though she doesn’t say it immediately, in the thick of the rainbow-festooned celebrations, García’s also promoting her latest album: Contra El Viento, or Against the Wind, which was released in May. An unflinching, experimental pop manifesta, García dedicates Contra El Viento to Latin America’s poderosas, or powerful women — and what rare moments of softness and reflection they’re afforded in society. Much like a novel, García carefully sorts her 11 tropical folk ballads into chapters, bookended by 11 confessionals: including those by Thalía, Natalia Lafourcade, Sofía Vergara, and even García’s mother. In spite of its conceptual bent, Contra debuted at Number Three on the Latin Pop Albums chart.
“I started watching YouTube videos of women giving interviews,” says García. “I realized that they all had one factor in common — it was that they were powerful women in their most vulnerable moments. When a journalist sits before them, they have to answer without a script, without knowing what they’re about to ask. And so I said, ‘What if we recreated these interviews in relation to the songs that I am singing?’ To my great surprise, they all said yes to the project! It imparted a strong message of union and solidarity between us women.”
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Long before she was Kany García, pop star and queer activist, she was Encarnita García de Jesús: the musically gifted daughter of a former Catholic priest and a choir director. Following her 2007 major label debut, Cualquier Día, García would stir commotion among the Spanish-language press with her songs: she once praised a vibrator over a boyfriend in the country-rock number, “Amigo en el Baño” — a song she said her dad couldn’t help but enjoy. She later joined reggaeton master Tego CalderónY Quien Diría” a confrontational ballad against child sexual abuse. But it wasn’t until 2016, when García revealed her relationship with personal trainer Jocelyn Troche, that she’d be known for much more than her music — she suddenly became a beacon of hope for queer Latinx youth. “I think the good [should not be] hidden, but shared,” she wrote in an Instagram post, “because if something does not suffer from sin, it is love.”
Since then, García has put her increased visibility to good use: She currently serves on the board of directors for the True Self Foundation, an LGBT advocacy group in Puerto Rico. And when Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives approved a “religious freedom” bill in June, García joined fellow stars Ricky Martin and Bad Bunny in amplifying their dissent beyond the island. “This project goes against human rights, perpetuates hate, discriminates, encourages more fear in our community, which suffers a lot,” wrote García on Twitter. “We demand the Governor not to continue with this law.” After facing much backlash from Puerto Rico’s most public figures — and of course, the international LGBT community — Governor Rosselló subsequently canned the bill.
“It’s important to show my commitment to the community,” García tells Rolling Stone. “Not just by offering my testimonies, but to offer whatever representation and activism I can to help our community.”
You are a very flexible pop artist — you’ve done guitar songs and bachatas, but you’ve also recorded with urbano artists like Natti Natasha and Residente. Not to knock any of those artists, but what made you take the more classic, singer-songwriter route in Contra El Viento?
Someone recently said to me, “There’s excellent urban music and there’s bad urban music. And there’s excellent pop music and there’s bad pop music.” And I think of that comment, because I think there is good and bad music in absolutely every genre! I think I love good music of any kind. I love urban music and what is happening with it, but it is true that we are a bit oversaturated and we lack a bit of balance in these times we are living. And if you have the ability to create music, I believe you have a great responsibility to offer people that balance. I use my versatility when it comes to my features, but I think that when it comes to having an album that goes on the market, I do feel a great responsibility to share songs with social context and musical versatility.
There are many dimensions of Puerto Rican music, and you explore that in your new album.
All that we are and all that is our culture — our tradition — is automatically reflected in what we do, in a very direct way. I am not an exception to that rule. In other words, when you’re Puerto Rican, you’re already ingrained with the bomba y plena, the salsa, the cumbia [and the] trova. We also have this relationship with Cuba, with the Dominican Republic, all these Caribbean influences that only enrich our identity. In 11 songs I share a complete musical platter of all those influences, of our tradition and our culture.
When you titled your album Contra El Viento, or Against the Wind, what was “the wind” in this case?
I think it’s several things — on the one hand, what we talked a moment ago about the musical era we live in. I’m going a little bit against being determined what to do because x, y, or z is working. But go against the wind is to go in favor of who one is. What you fill and what you represent and what you defend because you feel it is your path. My record is accompanied by 10 women who make that case. Women have always gone against the wind, throughout our history. All the rights we’ve won were never granted in a natural way, but in a way we had to fight for. That is why women have always gone that way. In 2019 we still have a long way to go — that’s why we look for the poderosas, like these 10 women who accompanied me on my album.
You incorporated an array of powerful women, like Thalia, Lila Downs, Natalia Lafourcade. These women all have their own unique sounds and careers. How did you connect with them?
I think about how women are more disconnected than we should be. And we walk more sometimes against the other than in favor of the other. I wanted my album to show that it is not so in the artistic class, and that we should be more united than ever. I started watching YouTube videos of women giving interviews, women like Mercedes Sosa, Natti Natasha, Sofía Vergara — and I realized that they all had one factor in common — it was that they were powerful women in their most vulnerable moments. When a journalist sits before them, they have to answer without a script, or without knowing what they’re about to ask. I started to record bits of these interviews, and I found a very potent theme in their words. And so I said, ‘What if we recreated these interviews in relation to the songs that I am singing?’ It became an exercise. With their additions, each song became something else — it was as if their interviews chose the songs. So I called these women one by one, to have their permission — and to my great surprise, they all said yes to the project! And so I feel very blessed that they joined me and supported the album. It imparted a strong message of union and solidarity between us women.
There’s no better time than right now to amplify the voices of women. It’s much like a novel — with every interlude, a new woman kicks off a new chapter. It gives your pop ballads a more experimental context.
Yes, yes, yes, that was definitely the idea! After you get to a sixth studio album — and to top it off, a sixth album that you release after a year of your fifth album — and you say, ‘Why make new music? When I have a fresh album that has only been one year old?’ And it was through my album’s concept that I began to find an answer: Because we need it. Because we need to give more visibility to women. Because we still live in moments where gender equity is not our reality. Because we have to promote unity between us. We are 10 women — women who people assume live a perfect life, full of absolutely everything with the world at our feet. That’s just not our reality. I kept digging and found more answers: Because the world needs more musical balance, because social issues are not being touched at times when we are experiencing very difficult social things.
Obviously the most interesting detail about you is not that your partner is a woman, but it became the entire story of your previous album, Soy Yo. What have you learned since you made that album, and since you first opened up about your sexuality?
I think that when you’re a public figure, whether you want it not, you represent something bigger to people. And in my case, perhaps before publicizing my relationship with my partner, I believed I that represented women, represented the Latino community, represented anyone who wanted to be a singer-songwriter, represented the Puerto Rican community. And obviously with every step we take, there comes one more list, one more category. The LGBT community needs more exposure, it needs to be normalized. And when I say normalize, I mean to show faces of people like me — everyday people — people who can live a free life, a healthy life, and have super healthy relationships! And to acquaint ourselves with people who did not believe we existed, or perhaps had their prejudices, and maybe to break bread with them. My songs have a way of doing that.
Many Latin pop artists, like Ricky Martin, for example, long kept their sexuality a secret. What was it that finally made you decide to come out to your fans?
I remember being at an awards show; I found myself on the red carpet, next to a great friend with his wife. He gave me a hug and told me, ‘I’m living this beautiful moment, I have so many nominations.’ And I see his wife and she has this incredible pride for him and what he was living. And I realized that it was very difficult for me to experience the same with my partner, to do something so simple as to be together on the red carpet without having to think about it.
Obviously this is something that I hope the next generation does not have to live. I always say it in interviews — my brothers never told me they were heterosexual. I would love it if the next generations had no need to come out, and that an artist could simply be on the red carpet with the partner they want, with the clothes they like, and that there is no kind of statement to make or questions to answer about it. But sadly it is not yet the world in which we live. So for me, to say “come out” seems so unnecessary, because I’ve never felt confined to a closet or anything like that. But obviously it was the only way I could do what my colleague was doing: to be a multi-nominee, to win awards and to have my partner by my side in those moments. To my great surprise and blessing, the response of my audience has been, not only incredible, but they have given me a level of credibility and dedication and absolute love that has taught me a great lesson — about who we really are as artists and as human beings, and at the end of the day it has absolutely nothing to do with our sexual orientation.
Who or what in your life made you feel safe to talk about your sexuality?
In my case there were many factors. I would say that three are the most important: first to have psychological help, to be able to dialogue and prepare, because being a public figure also things become a little more difficult. On the other hand, it was having a partner and a solid relationship you can count on when, Fito Páez says, you’re at the height of a conflict. And third, to have a support group of relatives, some friends, people who love you for who you are. For me those three pillars made things much easier for me.
A big part of the LGBTQ experience [is being] connected to a community. As a very public pop star, how do you experience the LGBTQ community in Puerto Rico?
I serve on the board of directors for True Self Foundation, which is the only organization that works directly and exclusively for the LGBT community in Puerto Rico. We help people access psychological and legal assistance for free. We also provide the transgender community with grants for gender-affirming operations. To be a public figure and part of this foundation seems vital; the LGBT community lives many moments of fear, fear created by society. Having a Ricky Martin, or a Kany García, or any artist use their visibility, helps assure the community that progress will be made. It’s also important to go to [fundraising] events, like the GLAAD event they do in New York, and make a strong Latin showing. Because within the Latin music community, we [LGBT people] are still very few. IIt’s important to show my commitment to the community — not just by offering testimonies, but to offer whatever representation and activism I can to help our community.
Finally, how are you celebrating Pride Month this year?
Right now I’m in Washington D.C. — I came here not to perform, but to have an amazing time with friends. I’m always participating in different causes. Last weekend I attended a Pride march in Puerto Rico. It’s not an event for any one community, but of many communities, who understand that only in a partnership can we progress. So it was an incredible event in Puerto Rico — my nephews of five, six and seven walking three miles in support of the LGBT community, alongside elderly people, people from all walks of life. I also plan to go to Pride March in Mexico City.
I understand that June is a month not just for celebration, but it is a month that represents a long struggle — that is why you have to show up. Apart from all these super cool events in June, we have to think about our responsibility to each other well beyond this month — and how we’re going to keep this community together.