"I do not want to change to sell," says the Colombian American musician. "I want to do things that make me happy."

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Kali Uchis - Chica - June/July 2020
Credit: Pegah Farahmand

Kali Uchis didn't think she’d become a musician — at least not one who performs at Coachella. “I never thought I wanted to be a singer because truly I am a timid person,” the 25-year-old Colombian American says. “I never wanted to be in front of everyone’s eyes.”

As she gears up for the release of her second album, though, she’s got more eyes on her than ever before. Her 2018 debut, Isolation, was a critical favorite; she’s headlined her own tours; she’s earned both Grammy and Latin Grammy nominations; and this spring she released a hit EP titled To Feel Alive. Still, Kali isn’t letting the increased attention get to her. “What’s important to me is being 100 percent happy with who I am, having a life that allows me to help others who need help, and creating things that are authentic to me.”

Despite her initial reluctance to pursue it as a career, music has always been part of Kali’s life. “I always liked songwriting and writing poems and playing the piano, the saxophone. I was in the school band,” she explains. “But I did not sing in school, and no one in my house really sang.”

Growing up in Virginia and Colombia (she went to school there) helped Kali develop her unique sound, which blends American staples like R&B and pop with urbano elements. “That has a
 lot to do with the reason I do not define my music and why it does not belong to one genre,” she says. “My sound has been unique because I have both cultures.”

In 2012, she released her first mixtape, a goal that many artists would be excited to achieve. “There were, like, 17 songs I made in two nights,” she shares. “I was embarrassed and I took them off the internet, but a lot of big people had written to me.” The music caught the attention of artists like Snoop Dogg; Diplo; A$AP Rocky; and Tyler, the Creator, all with whom she eventually collaborated. “I thought if these people who have been making music for a long time think I have potential, then let me continue to do this.”

Her still untitled new album will be nearly 100 percent in Spanish (unlike Isolation, which was mostly in English). “My dream was to do an album in Spanish,” she says. “For me, it was something personal. I might continue my career like this — one record in English, another in Spanish.”

This year Kali also made her acting debut in the movie Blast Beat, which premiered at Sundance and stars Diane Guerrero and Wilmer Valderrama. “The directors of this project were Colombian, most of the actors were Colombian, and they knew I was, too,” she says of the film, partially shot in Bogotá. “I liked it because they need to show stories of Latinos and Colombians that are not full of stereotypes in Hollywood.”

Kali wants to continue acting, but she also wants to direct and produce movies using the experience she gained making music videos for other artists back in Virginia. “I am young, but my family and I have many stories I want to tell and I will,” she says. “Mostly what I find important is telling the stories I have.”

For more with Kali Uchis, pick up the new issue of People en Español, on stands Friday.