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Chilean-British reggaeton artist Amber Donoso on finding her audience through personalisation and cross-cultural explorations

By Malavika Pradeep

Apr 30, 2021

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The pandemic has given us enough and more time for self-reflection. As artists re-evaluated their roots and interests, audiences quickly scrambled to find works that deeply resonated with their souls. But how can you attract a crowd even after injecting heady doses of your personality into your work? Are there any dos and don’ts to the entire process? If so, what level of personalisation counts as ‘too much’? In a bid to dispel all of your curiosities, Screen Shot Pro spoke to Amber Donoso, a Chilean-British reggaeton artist breaking cultural barriers with her music and personalitythereby making waves on London’s Latin pop scene. From the importance of self-reflection to the art of limitless explorations, here’s what tips Donoso had to share from her own experience.

An enriching tale of cross-cultural experiences

Kicking off her musical journey at the ripe age of 10, Donoso was born in the UK and spent her childhood frequently travelling between London and Chile. “My parents separated when I was very young,” Donoso started. “My mum is English and in the entertainment industry while my dad was in the sports ward, having worked specifically around horses.” While Donoso’s lifestyle in London was synonymous with ‘school’ and ‘sleek’, the culture she was brought up with in Chile was very much “farm-girl.”

“I had these two polar opposite backgrounds and yet it was so humbling,” Donoso said, admitting how she couldn’t have done one without the other. “It’s truly a blessing to experience two cultures which you can share and I feel really lucky to do that through my music,” she added.

Currently forging a bold new path with influences from both sides of the Atlantic, the Chilean-British artist curates music deeply rooted in the rhythms of South America and the sounds of reggaeton. When asked about how she translates her cross-cultural experiences into music, Donoso listed a number of ways to go forthbe it melodically, lyrically, production or fashion-wise. “A massive idol of mine while growing up was Gwen Stefani and so was Shakira,” Donoso said, illustrating how she merges two ‘contradicting’ and amazing cultures together to create something new and exciting.

With reggaeton on one hand and pop R&B on the other, Donosonow in her early twenties—further admitted to having experimented with many different genres before finding “her sound.” Between her distinctive music, style, makeup and accent, the cross-cultural artist faced numerous challenges along the way, one of which could be termed as ‘identity issues’.

Having constantly asked herself if she was Latina or British, Donoso found it difficult to proceed musically at one point in her career. “I felt like I was not Latina enough to do reggaeton,” she said, adding how she was stuck in a space between the two cultures she was brought up in. “However, I realised that I don’t need to be here or there. I can have my own lane!” Donoso said, proceeding to explain how she hasn’t changed herself to adapt to one specific culture.

“Though I learned it the hard way, I realised that I might not ‘fit in’ fully or might be a bit ‘different’. But what I thought was my weakness has now become one of my biggest strengths,” Donoso added. “It has made me different and in this industry, you have to be different.”

 

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Donoso and London’s Latin pop explosion

As a central figure in what The Guardian has dubbed “London’s Latin pop explosion,” Donoso sings confidently in both Spanish and English. When asked about the reggaeton scene in the UK, the artist used the word ‘underground’ to describe it. “People have heard certain songs but they still don’t know it’s reggaeton yet,” Donoso said, flawlessly humming the chorus of Ed Sheeran’s UK chart-topper, ‘Shape of You’. “The drumbeat behind ‘Shape of You’ is actually infused with reggaeton,” Donoso explained to my surprise.

The artist believes that the actual reggaeton scene with original Latin artists on it is also gaining traction. “The reason why it hasn’t hit hard in the UK yet is because all of the clubs have been shut down,” she stated. Before COVID-19 hit, the artist witnessed and braced for an incoming boom of reggaeton in clubs. “In clubs here in the UK, I was always hearing afrobeat, dancehall, bashment and all of these other cultures other than Latin. But when I finally heard reggaeton in clubs, it felt like we were being heard and recognised!” According to Donoso, the iconic Shakira and Jennifer Lopez’s Super Bowl halftime show was yet another “back on the map” moment for Latin culture.

Outside of the UK, however, the reggaeton scene in both North and South America is massive. “You hear it everywhere all the time and that’s one of the reasons why a lot of artists I write and produce music with are over in the US—because there still aren’t that many artists here in the UK,” Donoso added.

With that said, Donoso’s latest single, ‘Candela’ is all set to drop today. Written with two Venezuelan brothers, Los Rumbos, on the balcony of her apartment in Miami, ‘Candela’ is a bilingual hybrid of reggaeton, R&B and popbringing together the finest elements of each genre while injecting Donoso’s unique personality into the track.

I’m a very fiery person and ‘Candela’ actually means fire,” Donoso stated. Aiming to encourage women to find power in their sexuality while showcasing the strength of femininity, the track conveys how self-expression is rooted in empowerment. “Whether you are super cute or feel super sexy, expressing yourself the way you are without changing yourself to please anyone is totally empowering. And the coolest thing about being an artist is that while I write songs like these to empower people, it also in turn empowers me!” Donoso summed up.

When asked about her plans on changing up the reggaeton scene in the UK, Donoso admitted to doing so by making more songs. “Let’s say what people here in the UK listen to is R&B pop and afrobeat, hence reggaeton is going to be too far a genre for them. So what I’m doing by incorporating my British roots is mixing reggaeton with British R&B melodies. When the audiences listen to my music, they’re going to be like ‘Oh! These are the melodies I usually listen to, but the beat is just different. I kinda like this!’.”

Successfully merging two different genres, Donoso essentially fosters a ‘different yet familiar’ vibe to her tracks. However, the artist is not doing so just to ‘lure in’ an audience. “I’m never going to limit myself with a certain type of music. I mix British R&B with reggaeton because that is my roots, that is where I’m from and that’s what feels ‘me’.” Although challenging in the beginning, the cross-cultural artist believes that she’s going to be distinctively recognised as a British-reggaeton artist over time. Same goes for the reggaeton movement in the UK, “I think it just needs a bit of time and it’s going to be massive here,” Donoso added.

The importance of self-reflection

Speaking from an artist’s perspective, Donoso advises to “do what makes you happy and feels ‘you’.” “I could just sing in Spanish if I wanted to. It depends on what I feel like I want to do,” the artist said. Although Donoso nails her cross-cultural exploration, she doesn’t necessarily preach the practice to others. “Just because I’m doing it, I wouldn’t say that every artist who comes from a mixed culture should be doing it,” she started. “Because of the order of cultures I’ve gotten, it has bought me in touch with my Latin culture. But let’s say if someone is half-English and half-Spanish—but was brought up their entire life in Britain—they wouldn’t necessarily feel in touch with their Spanish roots, so they wouldn’t want to engage with it.”

According to Donoso, it is essential to take a leap and do what feels comfortable and authentic to you, as an artist. “Don’t feel like you have to follow what others are doing. There is no right and wrong in music. It’s just that everyone is putting their own personality and twist on a sound.”

So, how can an artist find an audience even with works deeply rooted in such personalisation? “You have to be clever with what you’re doing,” Donoso advised. The first factor in finding a dedicated audience is that your work has to be believable. “I know British artists who do Jamaican music (bashment), they’re fully British and they smash it! But their music is believable because they’ve grown up in the UK around that specific culture. So, if your art is believable, authentic and it is part of where you come from or what you’ve educated yourself withthen your audience will naturally gravitate to it.”

The way you pitch yourself as an artist is yet another important factor. “I’m so much more than a singer and I say that really humbly,” Donoso started. “I’m also my own PR, manager and songwriter. I also dabble into the production side of things. And so, I would call myself more a businesswoman than a singer because it is so much more surrounded than that.”

Relevancy is up next. “As an artist, you need to understand that it’s more than just you singingit’s also about how you are as a person, your story, what you stand for and what you want to be remembered for.” As a woman in a male-dominant industry, Donoso aims to embody empowerment. “I also lost my father when I was young, so I want to talk about mental health and anxiety,” she added.

When asked about the artist’s mental list of dos and don’ts gathered from her experience in the industry, Donoso was quick to highlight the presence of ‘boundaries’ rather than rights and wrongs. “Most of the time when I’m in the studio, I’m the only female there. So, I’ve had experiences (although not the only one) where because of my gender or age, my voice and opinions don’t get heard,” Donoso said, as she further explained how a song has the potential to turn into more of a producer’s idea than the artist’s. “But it is ‘Amber Donoso’ who is the singer and it is my release,” the artist said firmly.

“So, I’ve learned over time to be okay with speaking up, having my own voice and politely—yet firmly—saying ‘Thank you very much for your inputs, but this is where I see the track going and this is what I would like to do.” No matter who you identify as, Donoso highlighted the need to be thick-skinned in order to progress in the music industry. “But as a woman specifically, I think you have to try a little harder for your voice to be heard. And I’ve learned not to be afraid of speaking up when I feel a certain way.”

 

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Embracing your superpowers

To all of the other aspirational artists looking to enter the industry and explore their roots and tastes, Donoso preaches, “Don’t be scared of being different! If I look back at the amazing time I spent with my parents, I remember my mum herself encouraging me to involve my Latin culture into my music.” Although Donoso looked up to Shakira as an idol at the time, she was mainly curating R&B in the UKwhich the artist admitted to being indulged in given its popularity. “I felt like I was not going to get accepted here if I did something different.”

But Donoso hit a major learning curve along the way. “What you end up learning in your own time is that there are so many artists famed for what they’re doing. If you’re doing the same thing, then it’s going to be very difficult for you to get a name for yourself.” Looking back on Donoso’s statement from earlier, you have to be different in the industry in order to progress, build an audience and eventually survive.

If you are someone who has experienced a cross of cultures, it is such a blessing and use that to your advantage. It’s going to be a superpower of yours!” Donoso exclaimed, advising not to shelter yourself in the comfortability of a genre that comes along with its popularity. The artist further reflected on the ironic loop that the process puts an artist in, “What’s popular now is actually going to change all the time because of artists who are different. So don’t limit yourself and push your boundaries musically.”

In regards to her music and personality, Donoso uses the keywords ‘empathetic’, ‘controlled crazy’ and ‘authentic’ to describe the same. However, ‘authentic’ is a fairly recent term the artist has come to identify with, “It took me a long time to get to that authenticity, fully accepting and feeling proud of it. That goes back to not changing yourself to fit in,” Donoso added.

In the next ten years, the cross-cultural reggaeton artist sees herself touring and working with big artists while having her own makeup and clothing line along the way. Seeking to be “recognised as a brand rather than an artist,” Donoso also sees herself having a talk show at some point while working with children who have lost parents, wanting to share her experience and help people. “I see myself becoming successful because I work hard and don’t give up—I believe that’s the equation to success. A lot of people say you need luck in this industry, but I think you create your own luck by being in the right place at the right time.”

Personally, Donoso seeks to level up to a place filled with happiness—hoping to be more settled and loving every aspect of herself in the process. Terming this haven “an amazing place to be,” Donoso is a big advocate for therapy, all boiling down to self-love and acceptance. “If I could inspire a movement for something it would be for self-love,” the artist admitted, as she showed me a tattoo on her forearm which reads ‘choose love’.

“I know that sounds like a simple answer. I could say that I would have one for female empowerment, but that would be cutting out half of our species. And I believe we all need to work together to reach there. So, be it happiness or sadness, even if you are high on those emotions, always act from a place of love.”

 

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Une publication partagée par Amber Donoso (@amberdonoso)