In this week's Miami New Times, we profile 30 of the most interesting characters in town, with portraits of each from photographer Stian Roenning. See the entire Miami New Times People Issue here.
When Sofy Encanto was a child in Tegucigalpa, her babysitter forbade her to go out. Trapped inside her family's house in the Honduran capital, Encanto couldn't knock around the neighborhood with other kids. Instead, she would rifle through her father's record collection, pull out a prized disco album, and put the needle to its grooves. Then she'd grab her dad's home karaoke kit, open the front door, and sing her little lungs out.
"And the kids would come," Encanto says. "In my memory, I can still see them sitting on the steps. I couldn't go to them, so they came to me."
Decades later on a different side of the Gulf of Mexico, the dynamic is essentially the same. As the lead singer of the widely acclaimed band Elastic Bond, Encanto is still enchanting crowds with her voice. With two albums and airtime on National Public Radio, Elastic Bond is the darling of a rapidly growing alt-Latino genre.
But Encanto's path to success has been as alternative as her music. She was 12 years old when she moved to the United States. In Honduras, her father had been a prominent engineer. Now, nine members of her family were crammed inside a two-bedroom apartment near Miami International Airport.
It would be almost a decade before Encanto would embrace her calling as a crooner. In the meantime, there were plenty of "omens," as she calls them. When she was 17, a friend dragged her to a 99 Jamz talent show. "I won second place," she says, "but I wasn't really taking it seriously."
A few months later, she was leaving a warehouse party when she spontaneously began singing. A stranger heard her voice and asked her to repeat the ditty. "We were drinking. I was in a happy mood, so I sang it again," she says. Then the stranger called his friends over. They were all DJs, musicians, and MCs. "They started rapping, and we just did this jam," Encanto says. They became friends and began performing together at barbecues. "That was my first experience with being creative," she says.
But it would take another bizarre turn of events for Encanto to become a professional singer. When she was 20, she was laid off from an office job. Because the company had moved out-of-state, Encanto was eligible for a scholarship for "dislocated workers." A government official handed her a list of potential new careers. "It said, 'paramedic, firefighter, nurse' -- all these things that involved some sort of blood," Encanto says with a laugh. "I can't do that. I'm not that kind of person!"
At the bottom of the list, however, was an enigmatic line: music business. It was just the nudge she needed. The scholarship paid for Encanto to attend Miami Dade College for a year plus a stipend. She trained her already-impressive voice, took classes in music theory, and learned how to survive in show business. "It was a godsend," she says.
After earning her degree from MDC, Encanto set about scrawling her own songs. She had begun writing poetry while at Miami Senior High. Now she had the musical knowledge to match her material. But she still needed production help. Enter Andrés Ponce. The Venezuelan producer laid Encanto's soaring vocals over electronic beats and Latin rhythms. The result was something even Encanto has a difficult time describing.
"People compare us to everything from Bomba Estereo to Thievery Corporation," she says of her group's many sounds. "I guess that's what makes us Elastic Bond." Encanto admits that having a simpler sound -- or sticking to either English or Spanish -- might be more marketable, but bending to others isn't in her nature.
"When we do a song, we don't hold back," she says. "We're not really catering to anyone. We are just doing it."
And just like the days back on her doorstep in Tegucigalpa, Encanto is confident that as long as she puts her heart into her music, the crowds will keep coming.