Preconceptions are often difficult to overcome. And when you are one of the biggest comedic stars in Argentinean television and decide to crossover into music, it can be virtually impossible. Just ask Juana Molina. While Molina may have carved out an enviable career in TV and earned renown throughout Latin America, for the rest of the world, it has been music that’s put her on the map.
“Oh, that was a very tough one,” Molina confided recently via phone in her poetically broken English. “I really had all the media-all of them-against what I was doing. For the launch of my first record, I would be on the front pages of the entertainment sections of all newspapers, and they would just tell that I released a new record and then they would talk all about my TV show and why I left it and talk nothing about my music. Absolutely nothing. They thought my music was a whim only.”
While critics might not have taken her seriously, Molina’s music had always been an integral part of her life. “I have always played guitar, ever since I was five,” she explained. “I’ve always been with my guitar. I always took it absolutely everywhere I went. I took it on holidays and on trips. Even if I didn’t play it, I needed to know I could if I wanted to. To me that was most important.”
And because Molina’s family fled Argentina in the wake of a military coup when she was only 12, that guitar has seen quite the journey. Following the move, Molina spent six years living in exile in Paris, returning to Buenos Aires eventually to enroll in university. But she quickly discovered that scholarly pursuits weren’t for her, choosing instead to return to television for the better part of a decade.
In 1996, music again resurfaced in Molina’s life, thanks in part to the birth of her daughter. After a crucial life reassessment, she got back on the live circuit and slowly cultivated an audience of people who really just wanted to hear her music. And while the evolution might have looked smooth from the crowd, onstage it was anything but.
“I couldn’t sing in front of anyone,” confessed Molina. “So when I knew I was going to die without ever having done it, I said, ‘That’s going to be a shame because I’m going to become an old lady watching MTV thinking I could have that-I could have done it better than that!’ So instead, I just went onstage and suffered and suffered and suffered until I didn’t suffer anymore.”
Since then, Molina has released five highly acclaimed albums, each more forward-thinking and triumphant than its predecessor. In fact, there is probably no better example of Molina’s progressive tendencies than her experience in moving from the studio to the live arena.
“I was so desperately looking for a machine that was going to be able to help me,” she recalled. “For many years, in every single music shop, I always asked the same question: ‘Do you have something that you press a pedal and start recording and when you press it again what you just recorded goes on?’ ‘Oh no, I’m afraid I don’t have something like that,’ they’d always tell me. Then, one day, I asked exactly the same question and they said, ‘I just got something that maybe is what you’re looking for.’ I couldn’t believe they finally made it!”
The now-ubiquitous loop pedal went on to help Molina at last bring her sounds to the stage. And by blending those ambient overtones with her inherent folk sensibilities, Molina’s recordings have become the model of reinvention. But no matter whether she is in the studio or performing onstage, it’s all part of a journey that Molina has come to take comfort in.
“I think that comes from the many different things you learn in the process of doing it,” she mused. “One of those things is to think that people are not there to judge you, but they are there to enjoy it. That’s something that didn’t even occur to me. Maybe that’s because I was a comedian and people did judge me. So it’s really very rewarding to go onstage when people are excited and anxious to see you and allow yourself to feel that.”
Juana Molina will play SOhO (1221 State St.) this Sunday, February 15, at 9 p.m. Call 962-7776 or visit clubmercy.com for tickets.