Sofia and Silvia: Panamanian musician Sofía Valdés isn’t particularly happy right now. When we chat with her via Zoom, she’s professional and polite, friendly even, but you couldn’t call her vibe “happy.” All becomes clear when we ask about her move to Los Angeles from Panama.
As it turns out, she’s been here for about two years, but she properly moved all her stuff to L.A. a year ago. When we ask her about the transition, her initial response is to say everything you’d expect — that this is the place to be for musicians, everything happens here, all of the producers and writers are here, etc. But then, in a flash of frustration, she decides to be totally honest.
“I have to be here, honestly,” she says. “I want to be home in Panama. I don’t want to be here, but whatever. That’s the truth. I’m not homesick; I moved out of home when I was 15, so I understand. I get how it goes. But I’m definitely very bored. I have good friends. Great friends. But they’re very busy people. I don’t have a car, so I have to Uber everywhere, so a lot of my money goes to Uber. I want to save money, so I stay home and then I don’t have a life. I can’t do anything. So I stay at home a lot to save money, but also I’m very bored. I Facetime my Panamanian friends all the time like, ‘Hey.’ They’re like, ‘You should be doing something.’ But because I just finished the EP, I didn’t have that much to do.”
Valdés has based herself in Burbank, and it’s clear that she’s having trouble navigating in and around the area on foot. It would be easy to be dismissive of the problems of someone who has been signed to a major like Warner and relocated to Los Angeles. Many people might think that they’d love to have these problems. But coming to a different country and then feeling isolated has to suck.
She has come a long way though — literally and figuratively. She was just 8 when she started playing guitar and discovered that she had a gift.
“I was not really good at anything else,” Valdés says. “My mom was very serious about it very quickly. She was like, ‘OK, so this is what you do.’ So that was very early on. I understood that this was what I was going to do. By 13, I was writing my songs and performing in little bars. It would be like, you couldn’t go if you were under 18, but the guys would be nice and let me play there. So it was always a very serious thing for me.”
Valdés wrote her first EP when she was 18, her second when she was 20, and she’s 23 now as Silvia is released.
“I think at my age, three years are a lot,” she says. “In your twenties, every year is a really big change. So I feel like I’ve changed a lot as a person in many ways. I think you can hear it in the music on the third one. I know what I want, and I’m not scared of putting my foot down. That’s something that is hard to do.”
Silvia is a lovely slab of work — introspective, poetic lyrics and music that spans the gamut between ‘90s alt-pop, contemporary singer/songwriter, and traditional Cuban and Panamanian.
“Early days, when I was very young my mom would be playing like Black Eyed Peas, while my dad would be playing the Beatles,” Valdés says. “So there’ll probably be a mix of that era but also the Beatles and older music was also there. Then a lot of Cuban music. My great grandfather was a Cuban musician. He grew up around a lot of Cuban and Panamanian music. That was played a lot. For this EP specifically, I tried remembering my great grandparents’ music. I’m interested in the vibe, the aura. What was that? I don’t know because I never got to meet them. But I find them so interesting. For this EP, I feel like I just let myself be the inspiration. That sounds so annoying, but it’s true.”
There are a couple of moments on the EP wheel you can pick out a Radiohead inspiration, then Fiona Apple. Valdés also points to Massy Starr and Bjork as influences. Meanwhile, she says that there isn’t really a music scene back in Panama.
”That’s why I have to be here; I really have no other choice,” she says. “But lately there has been, little by little, a music scene coming up. Which is really cool to watch. I think there’s so much talent in Panama that it gives space for so many people to be great and make a living out of it. People just have to go for it, and I think now they are. It’s cool that that’s going on, but still. One day I’m gonna go back – so many people are talented and it’s such a big part of the culture, that it’s like, I don’t understand why we don’t have a bigger industry.”
The “Silvia” of the EP title is Silvia De Grasse, Valdes’ great-grandmother, a musician who died shortly after a concert. Valdés’ great-grandfather also was a musician and, both surreally and tragically, he died of a heart attack on stage. Their influence weighs heavily on this EP.
“Silvia was the thing that connected all of it without me even knowing it,” Valdés says. “This entire time, I would go back to listening to my great grandparents’ music, thinking what am I doing, why am I doing this, is this worth my mental health? But it was super interesting for me that they dedicated their life to music. It was something bigger than them. And I do think that going through that, they also understood that whatever they were feeling in the moment, there was something bigger. I kept that in mind – there was something bigger than me feeling dad in this second. Silvia was a big calming idea for me.”
Valdés is planning on dropping another EP, the second half of an album, very soon. For now, we just hope she can settle in.
Sofia and Silvia: Sofía Valdés’ Silvia is out now.
Editor’s note: The disclaimer below refers to advertising posts and does not apply to this or any other editorial stories. LA Weekly editorial does not and will not sell content.
Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.