Afro-Boricua Singer-Songwriter duendita is Figuring Out Her Identity Through Music
"I was making sense of the world for myself, and learning what that felt like in my body."
Ni de aquí, ni de allá, the sense of not fully belonging in the place where you live or the country your family is from, is an experience shared by Latinxs of all backgrounds. It's also a concept that is on constant rotation in singer-songwriter duendita's mind. “I sometimes get anxiety,” she tells People CHICA ahead of her performance at the Wythe Hotel's rooftop in Brooklyn. “I consider myself someone who is very proud of her Afro-Latina heritage, but I also know I have assimilated in American culture. I feel like I'm not allowed to reflect in a certain way.”
While in search of her identity, she started working on her 2018 senior-project-turned-album, direct line to My Creator, 10-track album journey through deep soul, piano, synth and Afro-Caribbean sounds. “At the time [of writing it] I was making sense of the world for myself, and learning what that felt like in my body,” she says, noting that some of the songs on it are three years old. “I write a lot of songs daily, and I kind of forget that they exist.” Though she was still coming into her own, identity-wise, she made all creative decisions and was fully involved with producing, sound engineering, writing, mixing and recording.
Born Candace Camacho, the Queens native's work is both spiritual and political. “Blue Hands,” for example, tackles police brutality. “Events like [that] don't happen to people with lighter skin,” she explains. “They don't end up murdered after an altercation with the police.” An emotionally distraught Camacho wrote the song after the 2016 shooting of Korryn Gaines, and initially didn't want to share it with anyone. She then understood her that her feelings could also provide comfort for black and brown people, since the community faces the same issues years later. She says she reads about every case of police brutality in a “manic way,” though she's learned how to take care of herself after consuming such emotionally draining news. “I don't think it's right. Black lives matter,” she says. “We need to learn our history and think of how we got here — the land, the bodies that built the civilization that we're living in. It's at the hands of black people and Hispanics.”
Camacho's influences come from a variety of different sources, including her parents, who raised her on disco and hip-hop. A lover of literature and books, her stage name comes from Spanish poet Federico García Lorca's Theory and Play of the Duende, which explores the intense stages of deep emotions. “We read the essay in high school and my friends gave me the nickname,” she explains.
Though Camacho still wrestles with referencing her Latinx roots, she embraces the ancestral music of her family and heritage. “I love the tambora,” she says, referencing the drum that's a key ingredient to Afro-folkloric styles like bomba and palos as well as more modern genres like bachata and merengue. It's also a key sound on “Magdalena,” a song that reflects on the idea that a deceased loved one is never completely gone; she wrote it after her aunt died.
As a Puerto Rican descendant, Camacho was happy with the protests in Puerto Rico and felt proud that people used their bodies to take up space and fight for what's right. “As someone who is far away, I feel for my people and I stand with them and do what I can,” she says. “I hope that we don't turn away from the conversation and our history and past relationship with the United States, as a colony and commonwealth.”
Her path towards embracing her own spirituality and identity is traced in direct line to My Creator, but she has plans to expand her work to areas beyond music. She hopes to one day own a publishing company that specifically publishes books for women of color. Whichever path she takes, though, the stories of women of color will always be at the forefront.