Paloma Mami
Latin

Rising Star Paloma Mami Only Needs to Be Herself With Bilingual Debut Album ‘Suenos de Dali’

It started with a Spanglish single and C. Tangana. While driving around with Adrian García, a young label manager at Sony Latin, the Spanish rapper and tastemaker played “Not Steady,” a sultry, bilingual R&B vamp with reggaetón undertones.

The singer with the copper-toned voice dripping with attitude was 18-year-old Paloma Rocío Castillo Astorga, recording under the moniker Paloma Mami. Within weeks, she became the first Chilean artist signed to Sony Music Latin’s vast roster, and was being hailed by press and streaming services as the new female face to watch in Latin music. But it would take Paloma Mami a full three years to release her debut album, Sueños de Dali (Dali Dreams), which drops March 19.

The length of time, notwithstanding the eight singles released in between, highlights a young artist who came to the fray with scant experience -- but who’s crystal clear on who she is, and what she wants her music to transmit.

Gary I Rothstein/UPI/Shutterstock
Paloma Mami walks the red carpet at the 33 edition of Univision 2021 Premio Lo Nuestro award show on Feb. 18, 2021 in Miami.

For example, in a world where collaborations are a given in order to gain traction and streams, Sueños de Dali contains no other featured artists. But the songs are wildly collaborative, with writing from Paloma Mami herself along with the likes of Tyla Parx, DJ Genius, Rosalía, El Guincho,Tainy and Edgar Barrera. They range from sparse melodic reggaetón (with the underlying retro sound of a Fender Rhodes) in the R&B-tinged “For Ya,” to the decidedly experimental, electro-funky “I Love Her.” In many of the tracks, Paloma Mami sings interchangeably in both languages, but, unlike most artists who attempt to do this, it flows off her tongue with ease. This is her. These are her songs.

“My plan was recording only solo, since my first single,” says Paloma Mami, speaking on the phone from Miami. “I have to prove myself to myself only. I can have my music speak for myself and let my talent talk. When I first started out in the music industry, people would target female artists specifically to say, 'This person got famous because of this song with a male artist. So from the beginning I said, I don’t want people to juzgarme, juzgar mi música por ese momento o esa canción [to judge me or my music for a single moment or for a song] or how I look. I want the talent to speak for me.'”

Paloma Mami is bilingual, like her songs. Born and raised in New York City by Chilean parents, she moved back to Santiago when she was 17, and the duality of cultures moves fluidly both in her songs and her very being.

“Being in Chile is how I got my accent, my lingo, my beliefs, en verdad son de Chile [are truly from Chile],” she says, peppering her conversation with Spanish. “Mi familia raised me. All my beliefs are what they showed me, they taught me. And when it comes from NY, I think definitely my flow is from there and my attitude. But you have to pay attention. Be very detailed with it.”

New York is in her R&B-leaning phrasing, her don’t-mess-with-me attitude in videos and photos that belie Paloma in person: Petite, forceful and sure of herself, but also sweet.

One of her favorite songs in the album is “I Think I Love Her" -- because, she says, “It describes me so perfectly. It’s me in the perspective of a man’s point of view, talking about how he fell in love with this girl. And then I talk about how I feel. It’s super me, because I’m all about self-love. I’m my No. 1 fan. And that’s the most important thing. You’re the only person who can get you to where you want to be.”

Paloma Mami’s artistic self-assurance has factored into her label’s very unwavering support. “She’s an artist who perfectly knows what she wants or doesn’t want,” says Sony Music U.S. Latin president Alex Gallardo. “Although she’s been doing this for a short time, she acts like a veteran act in the way she makes decisions and focuses her efforts.”

Eschewing collabs, Gallardo says, is something the label wholeheartedly supported: “To truly measure an artist, you have to see what they can do alone. And we thought her wanting to do just solo work was very brave.”

Pre-album release, Paloma Mami already has nearly 4 million monthly listeners on Spotify and 2 million subscribers on YouTube. She’ll be a guest on the Ellen DeGeneres show and she has a line of clothing, Mami, with Spanish youth brand Bershka. Singing in English and Spanish, she is managing to connect with a fan base from both sides of the aisle, so to speak, something that has long eluded bilingual, bicultural artists.

Paloma Mami admits that growing up, many Latin artists inspired her, but there were none whose lyrics she truly identified with. “I wanted to be that artist teenagers really relate to,” she says. “There was definitely something missing. I make music for myself. It’s like my own diary."

Gallardo thinks she's primed for success both because of her disparate influences, and because she synthesizes them into something totally new and singular. “She’s a product of what’s happening: She listens to Travis Scott and Bad Bunny," he explains. "In Paloma it’s completely natural...Everything flows because that’s who she is.”