Argentinian Music: A Biography of Juana Molina

Daniel Neilson

Daniel Neilson

Don’t let the following words put you off: Juana Molina is an actress turned musician. Not in the same vein as Kylie, and certainly not Eddie Murphy’s “Party All the Time”; think more Scarlett Johansson and her quirky musical outing. But whereas SJ’s album could be filed under the ‘actually not that bad’ section, Juana Molina’s music shocked everyone by its quality and avant-garde production: think later Björk. Yet her ambient bedroom mixes remain warm sounding, luscious even, and ruefully manage to skip over the ‘that’s interesting’ which experimental music often elicits, to be gorgeous cross over music, soundtracking dinner parties in Buenos Aires and across the world. Juana Molina is one of the few Argentinian musical artists who are known outside the country, and Latin America, who don’t sing about horse racing, unrequited love and fighting on the corner of Callao and Corrientes to a 2×4 beat.

Argentinian Music - Arte
The cover of Juana Molina’s Arte – Photo by Gabriel Pino

Molina’s rise to fame was helped when Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, chose her to play the English leftfield music festival All Tomorrow’s Parties. She is now signed to Domino Records, home to Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand and contemporary Anna Calvi. Juana also toured with Fiest – a perfect match.

Before you continue reading, go to where you can listen to her music. Relax. Ahhh. OK, the story: She was born in Argentina in 1961, but fled with her family to Paris after the 1976 coup d’etat. Her father was a tango singer – what else? And her mother was an actress. It was in Paris that she developed her musical taste, which still informs her music today. The mesmeric, repetitive and lolling sounds often found in African music are recognisable. Listen to kora player Toumani Diabate or even Damon Albarn’s African foray Mali Music to hear the influence. Yet it is her roles as a comedy actress in Juana y sus hermanas and the satirical La Noticia Rebelde that she is still best known for in Argentina, despite her overseas success as a musician. And then in 1996, she surprised everyone by cancelling her show – one of the most popular on Argentinian TV – and returning to her musical roots with her exceptional album Rara. Rara, indeed – it used looping technology, but in a city that celebrates the underground music scene, she found instant success. The mainstream critics, on the other hand, were not so happy. But then David Byrne and Pitchfork praised it, and that’s pretty much all any musician wants to hear. Since 1996, she has had five highly-acclaimed albums. Tres Cosas, her third album, was voted by the New York Times to be one of the ten best albums of 2004.

Argentinian Music - Juana Molina in Concert
Juana Molina in concert – Photo by Conor Lawless

Her most recent release is the 2008 album Un Dia – although a new one appears to be in the pipeline. Un Dia (as you will have realised by now, if you were listening along), often forgoes lyrical content (as Björk did for her album Medulla), and instead creates a sparse but melodic soundscape.Ver en EspañolVeja em Português

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Daniel Neilson

Daniel Neilson

Daniel Neilson is a freelance writer and photographer, and lived in Buenos Aires for five years eating too much meat, going hoarse at football games and thoroughly failing to learn a step of tango. He edited Time Out’s Buenos Aires guidebook and has contributed words and photos to a variety of publications about Argentina for Four Four Two, The Wire, CNN Traveller, Real Travel, Adventure Travel and the Observer among others. He now spends his days drinking imported mate and planning his return journey.

One response to “Argentinian Music: A Biography of Juana Molina

  1. EvaBenz says:

    You have seen a number of attractions in the country and want to discover something new when you take cheap flights to Argentina the next time; then indulge yourself in the Argentinian music which is a treat for your ears and also explore the beautiful country in South America.

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