Esteban Mateus, aka Esteman, is known for his quirky dance moves, eclectic beat and pioneering music, along with artists like Monsieur Periné and Diamante Eléctrico, a “long overdue” musical and artistic revolution in Colombia. “This new generation of musicians has something to say,” Esteman told Billboard after performing at a private showcase in Los Angeles on July 28.
The David Bowie-inspired artist, who majored in art studies in college, is an up-and-coming singer and songwriter whose beautiful lyrics and upbeat tracks featuring collabs with Natalia Lafourcade, Andrea Echeverri and Carla Morrison are putting him on the map and making him a possible contender for the Latin Grammys’ best new artist award.
Billboard caught up with Esteman to talk feminism, his peaceful music revolution and the importance of collaborating with women.
How would you describe the new musical scene in Colombia where, yes, reggaeton is front and center, but then there is this artsy musical revolution going on.
What’s happening is something that needed to happen a long time ago. We needed to create a scene that would defy the formula. I think we’re a new generation of musicians who want to say something and where music is the most important thing to us, along with collaborations and the understanding that a music project is not putting yourself first, but finding someone who can help you grow. Colombia has always been known for cumbia, vallenato, salsa and now reggaeton. So because their genre and movement is so strong and that’s all radio stations play now, here are these artists who have this uneasiness and also want to have their music known — not only in Colombia, but internationally. I don’t want to follow that formula, and I don’t think it would work for me.
Is reggaeton still kind of ruling the radio stations, or has that changed?
Yes, it has changed. Because there is an audience, who like us, felt uneasy about what was happening and have no interest in reggaeton. Plus, radio stations have also made some changes. Actually, there are some whose theme on some days is “free of reggaeton,” where you can hear my music, Monsieur Periné, Bomba Estéreo and Anglo music. We need to keep working hard and not lose that hope of making music with a positive message, because that is very important for me. I can make music for people to dance, but I need to be comfortable with what I’m saying.
On your new album, you sing with some very powerful and prominent women in the Latin music industry like Natalia Lafourcade, Andrea Echeverri from Aterciopelados and Li Saumet from Bomba Estéreo. So much woman power in there!
I’m a feminist. I actually hate not seeing women in a band and I hate that there is so much machismo still in the industry. Women are still being objectified, and it’s horrible. I can’t be on a stage and not have a women there because I need that balance and energy. I’ve been focused on doing a lot of collabs with women since my first album, and they are all women who have a strong identity and the same values as me.
When you write a song, do you already have in mind which female artist will sing it with you?
Yes. For example, my song “Adelante” with Carla [Morrison], I had started writing it a few years back but never finished it. Then I heard Carla’s music and I loved it and remembered I had never finished writing that song and went back inspired by her to continue it. When I told Carla about the song, I said, “To be honest, I made this song inspired by you and finished it because of you. If I don’t do it with you, I’ll do it alone or not at all, but won’t sing it with anyone else.” But thankfully, she wanted to record it. And the same goes with my song with Andrea and Natalia.
Your next music video will be “Caótica Belleza” with Lafourcade, right? Are you guys shooting in Colombia or Mexico?
We already shot half of it in Colombia and will travel to Mexico soon to shoot the other half with Natalia.