Raquel Sofía has long enjoyed Otis Redding. Back in the day as a student in Miami, she made extra cash as a wedding singer and soulful ballads from the past influenced her own music.
Her story starts with her departure from Puerto Rico on a music scholarship at the University of Miami, where she studied jazz and composed music. Then a few years later she was on stages around world singing back-up for Colombian rocker Juanes and in 2013 opened his tour. Then, the Shakira tour happened.
“It opened the world to me,” she tells Billboard about her touring experience. “I was able to travel and experience their energy and the way they work with their crews and their bands. I learned so much.” It’s been about five years since the entertainer, born Raquel Sofia Borges, was backing other artists, but since then has recorded two albums, received a Latin Grammy nomination for best new artist and has collaborated and written music for many including Mexico’s celebrated pop duo Ha*Ash (she’s also opened for them) and even contributed music to a Game of Thrones (Catch the Throne) mix tape.
As she prepares to release her latest video and single, “Reina Sin Corona” (Queen without a Crown), from her 2:00 AM album, the Frost School of Music graduate opens up when she’s in the best condition to write, which for her latest work yielded than 100 of her own songs to choose from. “I’ll be completely honest with you,” Borges says, “I write better songs when I’m heartbroken.”
Borges, who earlier this year moved to Mexico City, has been soaking up art, music and performing as she writes more music, but her focus is still her most recent album. Her music is pop, but fused with other genres with catchy tracks such as the soulful “La Persona Que No Eres” (The Person You’re Not), the bluesy “Tenemos Historia” (We Have History) and the power ballad “Reina Sin Corona” (Queen without a Crown”).
“When I go out and sing these songs it’s like bringing back a ghost,” Borges says, adding that it’s a cathartic process. “I bring somebody back from the dead singing a song like ‘Reina de Corazon’ and I’m going to want to cry.” Borges reassures her friends and family that she’s fine when they ask her about her deep love songs, but it’s what makes her thrive as a songwriter with real-life moments turned into songs. Her fans are with her.
“This couple met in chemotherapy and they were listening to my music and eventually got married after their treatments were completed,” Borges says. “This is a tough business and these personal stories get you through.” Having a label (Sony Music US Latin) that allows her to be and stay creative has also been an important factor in navigating the music business. Working with Shakira, Borges adds, was a front row in observing and learning from a music icon.
“Shakira is a boss,” Borges says. “She’s impressive. It’s true what they say: you have to work hard as a woman and Shakira is the perfect example. She knows many technical things and knows what she wants… and I think that’s because she’s brilliant, but I also think it’s part of being a woman and you can’t let anyone question you.”
The Shakira influence has pushed Borges to be proactive in her career by going beyond the singing. She pushes herself to know as much as possible and making sure everyone on her team is taken care of, while staying focused on her music. “It’s important not to get lost in glam and glitz,” Borges says. “It’s not enough to just be a singer. I would describe myself as fearless about putting my message out there and not worrying whether it’s a hit or not. It’s about being true to myself.”
Check out “Tenemos Historia” here: