In spaces that habitually commodify Latinidad or overlook it, Peruvian-born, singer-songwriter, and producer, A.CHAL worked magic by bringing his cross-cultural sound mainstream.
Most recently, the vocalist’s six-track EP, EXOTIGAZ, features a continuation of the dark lustrous bops from his previous projects, Welcome to GAZI (2016) and ON GAZ (2017). And, while EXOTIGAZ enlists no featured artists, its production includes savvy architects in the mix such as Rvssian and Tainy — making A.CHAL’s confessions of late-night carousels, money manifestations and the pain of letting go sonically enticing.
Even so, establishing radio hits at the risk of his artistry was almost a confidence breaker for A.CHAL. Despite the juggling act, the talented hyphenate made the transition an easy one with dedication and hard work.
“I used to be really cocky and confident, but this last year humbled me. I realized what it really takes. So, now putting in that work, it is not even [a matter of] confidence. I have sacrificed so much,” A. CHAL explains to Billboard.
This labor of love enabled a downpour of views (in the millions) from his latest EXOTIGAZ visuals, and beyond. Billboard chatted with A. CHAL to find out what the success of “Love N Hennessy” fueled internationally, the reason he considers indigenous music “the most alien music,” and the crooner’s perspective on why he just can’t worry about being nominated for Grammy Awards.
This is the EXOTIGAZ evolution of Alejandro Chal Salazar.
You’ve been touring and building your name globally with Spanglish hits throughout the independent-circuit since 2012. Describe the feeling of penning your deal with Epic Records earlier this year.
I feel blessed. Yes, I have been making music independently since 2012, but I have been taking it [slow]. I have not been present as a vocalist since maybe 2015. So, through the last two projects, it taught me a lot about being an independent artist. Also, I learned plenty about being in the music business. [I learned] about why major corporations do what they do with artists and the reasons they push them the way they do.
I think going through that process made me feel a lot more comfortable, as far as going with a label that understood me. I thought Epic Records was a great home [for me] because their catalog of artists, all stem from authentic roots. [For example,] 21 Savage, Camila Cabello, Future, DJ Khaled are all people I listen to. So, I think what I am doing in both the Latin and English space is very new. Epic [Records] is a great space for it because there is nothing like it [at the label].
Given that, that experience has been transformative for you, what has been the most significant shift in your life following the momentum of the “Love N Hennessy” remix with 2 Chainz and Nicky Jam?
Well, that single gave me the opportunity to tour, and be in smaller Latin communities across the globe, which I had never been to. Being in [these new areas] and touching the people, and then becoming more involved in that community — I got to learn and be inspired by what they were listening to. Also, [I was exposed to] what they were going through on a personal level. That has helped me to impact them more. I feel that is a void that is missing right now.
How does your recent EP, EXOTIGAZ amplify your growth from the foundation you built up from your debut offering, Ballroom Riots?
Look, I’m going to tell you this right now… Ballroom Riots I would not consider my first project because it was something I made that was mainly production. I did not yet immerse myself as a vocalist. I was too shy at the time. I would consider Welcome to GAZI and ON GAZ my first two true projects. Now, EXOTIGAZ is kind of a bridge to the album [en route]. It will be coming out next year. This is a way of introducing people to the different lanes that I am working on, as an artist.
Lyrically, your projects balance English and Spanish verses on R&B, Latin-trap, hip-hop, and more. Ideally, how do you aspire to resonate sonically with those becoming familiar with your artistry?
Well, something I learned this year was not to let the numbers and the attention dictate how you express yourself in your craft. Ultimately, everybody wants to connect with something that is authentic. My biggest goal artistically and creatively is to stay as authentic as possible. I should be aware of what is working [numerically]. Still, I should not let that dictate how I move forward. I think that is the way people will resonate with me more, no matter what I do — even if I decide not to do bilingual [music].
You are Peruvian-born. How important is it that your growing fan base identifies with the indigenous music fused into your bilingual songs?
Well, personally for me, I feel like indigenous music feels like the most alien music. I know a lot of people try to compare electronic music with what they would consider futuristic or alien music. [Nonetheless,] I feel like a lot of indigenous music [represents that] from the way its melodies form. Well, not even the melodies — I would call it yodeling.
It is almost like yodeling. It goes between keys that you are accustomed to hearing. I think my intention is more so to liberate energy, as opposed to giving listeners a superficial good time. So, without being too deep, I try to give people an experience where they can feel more liberated. [That is the objective,] whether it is spiritually, sexually, a fun way, or an aggressive way. That is my intention.
The 2019 Grammy nominations were released, and the internet is buzzing about Latin trap and reggaeton musicians being snubbed. As a mainstream singer-songwriter and producer, what is your hope for visibility within these genres, respectively?
Look, you cannot care about who is being nominated. And, as hard as it is to say that, [you have to, even though,] ultimately, in this field you want to be the best. You can’t expect for a nonprofit company who does their business in whatever way they [conduct themselves], to match your expectation on what you think is right or wrong in music — or what should be appreciated, [for that matter]. We all have our own opinions on awards. Even though I share those, I still do not think it is worth giving too much attention to it. If anything, we need to help shine a light on such genres of music, or artists who do not have that platform.
A few tracks on EXOTIGAZ feel anthemic. Can identify your muses while recording this offering under a major?
So, the way I create music, and my creative process has not changed with my major. My deal with my major is a collaborative deal. I still have complete artistic freedom. I feel I make great decisions in the way I move forward. So, it has not had to change at all.
Outside of your turn-up tracks, some of your songs poetically describe your enlightenment. What song best identifies where you are in your manhood presently?
Hmm, that is a good question. Oh, at this moment,” DÉJALO,” because this year, I have not released any music. It has been about almost a year since I have not put out any music. For someone who is as creative as me, [someone who] wakes up every day, goes to his or her piano, and tries to write a song — not being able to share any of their music [feels] very depressing.
Still, because of personal and business matters, that had to take the course, I could not do that. There was really no one to blame. It was just the path of life being taken. Something that I had to learn, this past week, with the release of the EXOTIGAZ music, was letting things go. You have to let all that stuff go and move forward. So, the song, “DÉJALO,” says that. It also gives you that energy. It does it in an aggressive but laid-back way, like “don’t sweat it.”
Who do you consider to be formidable among your music contemporaries — who is doing the work?
Yeah, there are a lot of artists that are immersed in their craft. There are many I know personally. Post Malone, The Weeknd, Bad Bunny, and J. Balvin, work hard. I think these artists [are stellar]. One of my favorite artist out right now is Rosalía.
They [put in work] and are equally successful in different ways. For example, some of them have more cultural success, some of them have more of a cultural impact, and some push the needle more creatively. In my opinion, some are successful in regards to being able to do what they want, and without compromise. Some people really hone into their craft. I feel like to even be ten percent of them takes a lot of work. So, you know, I see them as peers because that is the kind of artist I am working to be.
Tell your followers what to look out for.
I just want them to know that there are no breaks from here on out. I have an album coming, and I have ROPA GAZ which is my new merch line coming soon. It might be out by the time this story is released. I do not know when it is coming out exactly, but it is coming out in the next two weeks. You can expect one of the best albums of all-time next from me. I am deadass. [Laughs] I am not even fucking around.
I appreciate the confidence. [Laughs]
It is hard work. I used to be really cocky and confident, but this last year humbled me. I realized what it takes to be those people we just spoke about. So, now putting in that work it is not even [a matter of] confidence.