Raquel Sofia had been singing at Miami weddings when she got the call most artists only dream of. “You’re going to open for Juanes,” was the gist of it, and so naturally, the University of Miami graduate and part-time wedding singer did just that in 2013, touring the U.S. in front of thousands of screaming Juanes fans. To most, she was an unknown, a pretty girl with a few impressive YouTube videos, but one thing was certain: the pretty girl could sing. Beyond that, she plays a mean guitar — which makes perfect sense on a tour headlined by a Colombian rock star, if you think about it.
A young heart with an old soul, Sofia has a love affair with jazz, blues, folk, rock and pop — and gives us a little bit of everything on her shining debut, Te Quiero Los Domingos [I Love You on Sundays] out today (June 9) via Sony Music Latin. If you have been paying attention, then you saw the promise of a rising star back in 2014, when she released her first single “Agridulce” [Bittersweet], which, to date, has almost 10 million streams on Spotify.
The rising star is no stranger to streaming platforms. In April, Sofia was part of the “Discovery, Promotion, Revenue: A Conversation With Spotify and Pandora” during the Billboard Latin Music Conference, touting the benefits of these types of platforms for up-and-coming artists.
Billboard chatted with the budding songstress about love, heartache, style, and what she learned from singing back-up for Shakira.
For new artists, that first album is a really important statement. What is that statement for you?
The songs are all about things that have happened in my life. It’s kind of the response to my EP Te Odio Los Sabados [I Hate You on Saturdays], which was darker and it had more heartbreak, more angry songs. Te Quiero Los Domingos brings some happier, lighter love songs to the table but there’s something for everyone. There are happy songs and there are sad songs. I wanted it to be really honest and really personal and that’s why I’m so happy with the way that it came out. It was really important for me to have songs that everyone can identify with, and have people say, “Oh my god, that song describes exactly what I’m feeling right now.”
That’s the mark of a really good songwriter. And you can do it all, from pop to the blues. Is there a style that you identify with the most?
I was a jazz major at University of Miami so I’m very influenced by jazz melody and harmony as well as singers like Ella Fitzgerald. But I also love everything from Bob Marley to Juan Luis Guerra so my sound is kind of a mix of all of that — it’s pop with a bunch of different influences.
“Te Odio los Sabados” is one of my favorite songs of yours because it’s bluesy and no one else is doing that these days. It was time to bring it back!
When I wrote that song and presented it to the label I was like, “I know you guys aren’t going to let me record this song but I really love it.” And it just so happened that they loved it, too. We put it out there not really expecting the reaction that we got. And it has like millions of streams on Spotify and people are tweeting the lyrics — it’s crazy to think that people are connecting to this music that is kind of like a throwback.
I think people crave that — no one does it but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an appetite for it.
That’s why I read all the tweets and I respond and have full-on conversations with my fans. The majority of the comments that I get are like, “Thank you, your music is speaking to me, I needed it, I’m connecting to it.”
That’s really cool. That’s the beauty of social media is that you can have that direct dialogue.
I know, it’s a great time to be an artist – there are so many great platforms out there. It’s even a great time to be a music lover. There are so many ways to find music and ways to connect with artists that you love.
Your fashion and beauty style is fresh and different – what or who influences you from that perspective?
The story with my hair is that after I graduated from college I was a singer around town in Miami, I did a lot of high-end weddings and events in Miami where I had to have this really polished look, and as soon as I got my first gig singing with Juanes and went on tour I was like, “This is rock n roll now!” So it was my statement. And as for fashion, I think as Latinas we’re constantly told that we have to be like half naked and I really don’t believe in that, I think there’s other ways to be sexy. It’s cooler to look cool.
Rumor has it you will have a special role in this year’s Puerto Rican Day Parade (June 14).
I was chosen as the Puerto Rican artist on the rise in music. I don’t know if I can fully digest this information, so many people watch the parade. I’m freaking out. I’m singing “La Borinqueña,” which is the Puerto Rican national anthem, and I also got word that I’m singing some of my songs with my band. I can’t believe it.
You’ve sang back-up vocals for Shakira and Juanes, among other big-name artists. What’s the best piece of advice any of the artists you have ever worked with have given you?
They’re so professional and so talented and they’ve worked so hard, so you get to see why they are at the top. So I guess more than advice I learned just from being around them, like osmosis, just absorbing everything that they did, watching them perform. It’s just incredible.
Shakira is known to be the ultimate perfectionist. What was it like working with her?
She knows everything that’s going on around her. She hears everything, like if there’s a wrong note in the piano or in the vocals or anything. She knows what the light guys are doing, she knows what the band is doing, she’s very much in control and very present.
Do you remember the song that made you want to do this for a living, the first song that had a profound impact on you?
It’s so funny because when I was 6, they asked all the kids in our school in Mayaguez [Puerto Rico] what their favorite song was and mine was “You’ve Got a Friend” by James Taylor – super random for a small town in Puerto Rico. I just remember listening to a lot of Bob Marley and the Beatles and Juan Luis Guerra and even Shakira. Wanting to do that, especially the songwriting part. I started writing songs when I was 7 and I had these notebooks and I would bring them around everywhere. I just wanted to write poems about boys that I had crushes on.
That’s so cute. All of those people you named are all great storytellers.
Being a storyteller was always a huge part of why I wanted to do this; it wasn’t just about the singing.