The Future Looks Bright for First-Time Latin Grammy Nominee Camila Luna

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Camila Luna can't stop giggling. She's sitting across from me, in the middle of a Starbucks. People are starting to look at us. "I'm not that weird," she keeps repeating while mixing Splenda and sugar together in her coffee. "It's both healthy and sugary, a half-and-half thing," she explains.

It could be the sugar, but Luna radiates a positivity and passion that's palpable. She recently graduated as a poetry major from the University of Miami and released her first effort, the six-track Spanish-language EP Flamboyán. It was produced by Jose Luis Pardo (DJ Afro of Los Amigos Invisibles). Its sound is smooth and tropical but at times melancholy, with a strong reggae influence. It goes just as well with a mojito as it does a cafecito. It was also nominated for a Latin Grammy for Best Pop/Rock Album. All of that at the age of 22.

"This is the first week I've ever done PR," she says. "I've had four interviews today." She's been on a heavy public-relations binge since she received the nomination. "I've never marketed my music before — I didn't have money for it. I shot the video for 'Flamboyán' on my iPhone in my grandma's backyard." It's true. Watch the video.

In between the caffeine and the jokes, Camila chats about music and the creation of art. "Growing up, I just wanted to create, paint, read, write. Creating is the most beautiful thing in the world," she says. I suggest that poetry must have been a good choice for her major. "Poetry was great because my professors often encouraged me to think out of the box. I also didn't want to study music. I want music to be intuitive. It should be automatic."

Luna enjoys other musicians, such as Natalia Lafourcade, Julieta Venegas, the Mamas & the Papas. She has a literary side too. She mentions Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez as influences. She's an enormous fan of magical realism, and we spend a nerdy 20 minutes talking about that movement in Latin literature. "I've always wanted to write a book. A book will happen, just not yet. I also want to act. It interests me, but only if someone offered me something interesting, not some lame thing. I also write Spanglish poetry. I think that Spanglish is a language." I remind her that in Miami, it is — we've been speaking it for the past hour. Her willingness to branch out and try different kinds of creative expression is probably a good thing to have at the beginning of a promising and exciting musical career.

The first time she realized the power of music, it blindsided her. "My dad had a CD that was like a spiritual, destressing thing. He's a doctor, so he's always superstressed, and it had a song called 'Return to Innocence' by the band Enigma. That song still does something to me — you put it on right now and it might make me cry. First time I listened to it, it just made me feel," she laughs, "like, whoa, like life, like God. What the hell just happened? That was huge."

She delivers that last bit like a tried-and-true Miamian, taking her time between the "likes" playfully, but beneath the melodrama is an essential truth.

To her, music is a form of power she can use on her audience. "I want to make music that comes from that little place in my soul that tells me that I need to do whatever I need to do for a given purpose, whatever that purpose might be."

But as a budding songwriter quickly gaining momentum, authenticity and creative control may become more difficult to maintain the bigger she gets. “I never want to stay tied up to a specific thing. I want to make different kinds of music, whatever feels right at the time.” Camila points to her heart as she says the word "feel." 

“I don’t want to do what I’ve done before, because that would be the opposite of what I am. I’m a creator, and my ideas are constantly changing. I want to make art. I don’t want to have a genre brand. My brand is me, my art. And my art is whatever feels right at the time.”

Her maturity, especially at 22, is as strange as her sugar/Splenda habits. “I have faith in life,” she says. “Everything in my life has happened the way it needs to. Every time I try to control something, to push too hard, to work too hard at something, it doesn’t work out. But then out of nowhere, something amazing happens by complete surprise.”

That’s really nice and all, I say, but I’m not sure I buy it. I ask about her work ethic, and she says she’s always been a straight-A student and a really compulsive worker. That’s more believable to me. Usually, the most successful artists are those who wield their obsessive temperaments to create greater, more challenging works of art. But Camila refuses to accept that she’s one of those kinds of artists. “I always felt like singing was my destiny. I always felt it and knew it,” she declares. “But I’ve never been in control of that — it’s whenever I go with the flow that I’m surprised by the way it works out."

When Camila recorded Flamboyán, she put it up on Spotify, iTunes, and the rest of the usual streaming services available online. She didn’t have any money, so she didn’t market the EP in any way. “I didn’t think anyone was listening to it. I thought it was like my two best friends and my family and that’s it.” 

But one day, Camila gets a call from her boyfriend, who lives in Spain. He says he’s at a bar with friends, and guess what’s playing? The title song from the EP. Camila’s surprised, so she goes to Spotify to check if people have been listening to the song. “It was crazy — the song had like 60,000 plays in two months, and I was thinking that no one was hearing it. It was just weird. I have no idea how it happened, but it just did.”

So let me get this straight, I ask, you did nothing? “Nothing," she affirms. "It just happened — just like the [Latin] Grammy nomination. It came out of nowhere.” Oh, yeah, that little thing, I laugh. “Yeah,” she responds. “This Grammy nomination is like my first name now; I just have to put it everywhere.”

At that moment, an atypical silence lingers. Our conversation has been all fun and games, but I pucker up and ask the question that I’ve been itching to ask for a while: Do you think God did this?

She laughs, then, brimming with honesty, she says, “Yes. Yes, I do.” She looks straight at me. “I’m very open about my spirituality. I definitely believe that God is helping me.”

Keep up with Camila Luna at Camilaluna.com; facebook.com/camilalunamusic.

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