Halfway through our conversation, tears started to stream down STEFA*’s cheeks. The 29-year-old Colombian-American singer, who mixes her classically trained voice with electronics and traditional folk chants, was visibly moved by the idea that her ancestors could be speaking through her. “Sometimes when I’m singing, I feel like I’m channeling them,” said the artist, whose birth name is Stefa Marin Alarcon. “And I feel like they’re healing through [my music].” Her new video for the song “Una Casita,” which is premiering exclusively today on the FADER, imagines a spiritual home where this healing could actually take place.
The song is a standout track from her 2018 debut EP, Sepalina, and its simple lyrics are driven by her yearning for a home that defies capitalism and patriarchy. “Everyone is searching for that,” she told me, “Everyone wants to exist without fear and without shame.” To that end, the video is overflowing with gorgeous images of the artist in the home of her dreams, where she can bask in soft repose.
As a child of immigrants, home has always been a crucial concept for STEFA*. Her parents abandoned their lives in Pereira, Colombia and immigrated to the Bronx in the 80s. They left behind cyclical poverty and violence, as well as their loved ones and an illustrious family culture. STEFA*, born and raised in Elmhurst, Queens around other immigrant families from places like China, Thailand, Ecuador, and India, is using her art to build bridges between the struggle her parents left behind in Colombia and the battle she faces here in the United States.
From an early age, her parents recognized that she had an indomitable voice. “I was always singing,” she told me, “and I was always in tune.” But her teachers directed her to sing in the classical European tradition, and so she spent nearly 20 years mastering French arias and the works of Russian composers. It wasn’t until after she graduated from college that she started to reclaim the music of her people. “It really shifted for me during the summer of the Ferguson protests,” she told me. She began to wonder why she wasn’t using her art to say something about the horrors of oppression that were impacting black and brown people in America and across the globe. “I couldn’t keep using my body and voice to tell those Eurocentric stories, because they’re not my story,” she told me. “I just needed to make my own shit.” From there, she developed a unique musical process that incorporates improvisation and loops with indigenous folk music. And of course, it’s all anchored by her soaring and emotive voice.
I spoke with the STEFA* a bit more about the development of her stunning new video for “Una Casita” and the healing she hopes it can encourage.