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Molina, Juana

Juana Molina

Singer, songwriter

Long before they would come to know her as a singer/songwriter, Argentineans became familiar with Juana Molina through her role as an actress on a top television comedy program—a professional twist of fate that kept her from fulfilling her early musical ambitions. Her first album in 1996 struck some as merely a celebrity whim, but its simplicity and directness drew the sympathetic ear of national audiences. In 2001 Molina made an international splash with an album that emphasized innovative electronic sounds. Her third album, released in 2002, also won international acclaim with its emphasis on electronica.

Born in Buenos Aires in the late 1960s, Juana Molina was exposed to music from an early age, and her father taught her to play the guitar when she was five years old. She also enjoyed close contact with some of the masters of modern Latin American music; her father's friendship with Brazilian musicians Chico Buarque and Vinicius de Moraes (with whom the family shared a summer house) provided a musical environment where improvisation was king.

In 1976 a military coup d'etat and subsequent dictatorship led by General Jorge Rafael Videla forced the family to flee Buenos Aires for Paris, where they remained until democracy was restored to Argentina in 1983. Upon returning home, Molina found work as a vocalist with several Buenos Aires bands, and she subsequently found a job that would catapult her to stardom, albeit not as a musician. In 1988 she began acting on the television program La Noticia Rebelde, which eventually led to her own highly acclaimed comedy program Juana y sus hermanas, a show that was popular throughout the Spanish-speaking world.

While she had previously released a compilation of songs from her TV program, Molina's solo musical debut came with the album Rara in 1996. While the album marked a move back to Molina's musical roots and ambitions, it proved difficult for her to rise above the Argentinean public's view of her as a television personality. Two years later she left Buenos Aires for California and a fresh start playing at Los Angeles-area clubs.

Molina's 1998 live debut in the United States was an apparent disaster. According to the Los Angeles Times, Molina went on stage with an out-of-tune guitar and apparently forgot some of the lyrics to her songs. The article described a performance that "evoked a combination of pity and morbid fascination" among the attendees, and led Molina to declare that she would never again perform before an audience.

Although she would return to Argentina several months later, it was during her Los Angeles stay that she reportedly began work on the new homemade recording that would ultimately endear her to American audiences. Using a home studio equipped with acoustic guitar, keyboards, and a computer, Molina took her folk style to new limits, incorporating unusual electronic sounds and rhythms on an album called Segundo. A review on the BBC website declared that "Segundo works brilliantly well for its different moods and textures. It mixes soft hues of light blues of moody electronica to bold, bright reds of punishing synths, heavy dancebeats and a nervous electronica energy.

By several accounts, Molina is a a musical tinkerer whose sound is more the result of random results in the studio than of ordered composition. According to the Washington Post, the artist's goal was not to create more of the ubiquitous "hypnotic electronica," but rather something "distinctly sultry, insinuating and dreamlike," in which studio experimentation played a big part.

"When I have a little idea, even before playing it once, I put on the tape recorder. I know there's going to be mistakes, because I don't really where to go and I'm not really sure how to get back, and I'm sure there's going to be something in all this that I'm going to like," Molina explained in record company promotional material. "And then I try to make it so all that has lyrics that go with that melody and meshes harmonically with this, that and the other. But I prefer to stick to that first footprint, which in the end is what sticks out in the piece."

Following on the success of Segundo, Molina ended 2002 with a third work called Tres Cosas. Entertainment Weekly called the album "a luminous combination of fragile folk and bubbling electronica."

As she continued to work to change Argentina's view of her as a television actress, Molina won greater musical acclaim in the United States, with American releases of her albums in 2003 and 2004. David Byrne invited her to join him as an opening act on his 30-city summer tour. Molina has also gathered a small cult following in Japan, where record stores have featured her music under the labels world music, folk, pop, avant garde, electronic, and Latin. "It's impossible not to see my album, or the cover at least," she told Argentina's Clarín.

Following a European tour in late 2004, Molina was scheduled for more performances in the United States in 2005.

For the Record . . .

Born c. 1967 in Buenos Aires, Argentina; married Federico Mayal (an artist); children: Francisca.

Sang in several bands; began work as television actress on La Noticia Rebelde, 1988; followed with her own comedy program Juana y sus hermanas; released album Rara in 1996, followed by Segundo in 2001 and Tres Cosas in 2002.

Awards: Shortlist Music Prize nominee, 2004.

Addresses: Record company—Domino Recording Co., P.O. Box 4029, London SW15 2XR, United Kingdom, website: http://www.dominorecordco.com. Website— Juana Molina Official Website: http://www.juanamolina.com. E-mail—[email protected]

Selected discography

Rara, 1996.

Segundo, 2001; released in U.S., Domino, 2003.

Tres Cosas, 2002; released in U.S., Domino, 2004.

Sources

Periodicals

Clarín, August 18, 2004.

Entertainment Weekly, June 4, 2004.

Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2002; October 23, 2004.

Washington Post, April 9, 2004.

Online

Domino Records, http://www.dominorecordco.com/artist.php?artist=179 (December 30, 2004).

"Juana Molina," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (December 30, 2004).

Juana Molina Official Website, http://www.juanamolina.com (December 30, 2004).

"Segundo," BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/world/reviews/molina_segundo.shtml (December 4, 2004).

—Brett Allan King

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