Natalie Fernandez-Fearlessly Riding the Wave
NATALIE FERNANDEZ - Fearlessly Riding the Wave and Uniting with an Evolution of Tango and Beyond
by Robert Gluck
“Listen to this album[Nuestro Tango]. We grabbed rhythms that never go together. Places from different sides of the earth found each other on this recording so why can’t we just do this as humans?” she asks. “As real artists, real musicians, we try to grab things that shouldn’t go together and we unify them vibrationally through music and we say, hey look, it’s possible!"
To understand the passion and excitement Natalie Fernandez brings to her music, it is important to understand history; not just h
er personal history, but the history of tango.
Whether you encounter Fernandez as a songwriter, vocal producer, bi-lingual vocalist or energetic performer, you will see more than
traces of Argentina and its musical history, and her mother, the international star Stella Milano.
Fernandez’s style is deeply sensual and her movements on stage alone are worth the cost of admission.
She enjoys being described as exciting, passionate and sensual, but she is much more.
“I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina but I was raised in Miami. My mother was an actress first and foremost and she was also a tango singer so I was raised in the tango community,” Fernandez says. “I knew only tango music and Argentine folk music up until I was 15 years old when I got into music and American music. Being that I was raised in Miami I was exposed to a lot of Caribbean music and South American music, not just American music. That’s why I really love salsa, merengue, Afro-Caribbean rhythms, jazz. Not only was my mother known for her tango singing, but her interpretation.”
Listening to Fernandez’s songs in concert, on her albums or on her YouTube videos one starts to get what she is doing…melding many genres into her own unique form, influenced by her mother. Simply, Natalie can interpret any song, and make you feel it from the heart. Tango remains at the root of her transformation, and the audience’s.
“When it comes to tango music, at least in my experience, it is not just about the notes," she explains. “It is not just about your efficiency in hitting the notes perfectly or your variation of the notes that are available to you, your musicality. It is also the interpretation, about what the songwriter was trying to get across through those notes, through the harmonies, through the lyrics, through the poetry. Tango music, Argentine folk music, speaks a lot about the human experience, about love, heartache, about dancing, about questioning the biggest questions like why are we here, what are we doing, what happens after we die. And those are all topics that are covered in these songs.”
Imagine Fernandez as a young child, exposed to these heavy emotions through her mother, a woman with a gift for interpreting.
“She (Milano) is known as an interpreter, a great vocalist/folk singer. She is known for her passion and her ability to dive deep into these topics and make the audience experience them and feel them. For example, she is known for her beautiful and moving rendition of Don’t Cry for Me Argentina from the musical Evita. Anybody that sees her perform that will just start crying.”
This feeling is what Fernandez strives for every time she walks on stage or enters a studio. She has performed with and for many music legends such as Chaka Khan, Ruben Blades, Sheila E., Anita Baker, Juan Luis Guerra, Diego Torres, and Juanes.
In 2010, she released an album with the group Positive Perception “A Voice In A World Of Echoes”. She also recorded with Grammy-winning producers Kenny O'Brien, Humberto Gatica, Dany Tomas, Sebastian J, and Daniel Indart. She recorded background vocals for artists such as RBD's Anahi & Christian Chavez, Ne-Yo, and Enrique Iglesias. That same year, Natalie signed with Truth Revolution Records and began work on Nuestro Tango with the Curtis Brothers. The album combines Afro-Cuban Rhythms with bilingual Tango, Latin Jazz, and R&B-Soul.
“I just finished working on a fantastic album in Los Angles with Dany Tomas and I’m working on a new record," she says. “The new album should be coming out next year. I’m focused on creating more music videos and performing as much as possible. We recently performed at the Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival and I posted videos of that on my website and Facebook page.”
Fernandez performs constantly with different artists, several bands in Boston, and she does background vocals for Latin pop star Thalia and may be going on tour with her in 2018.
Although her work could be categorized as a form of fusion, tango remains its core. What is tango, and where did it come from?
According to Wikipedia, tango is a partner dance that originated in the 1880’s along the river Plata, the natural border between Argentina and Uruguay, and soon spread to the rest of the world. “The word "tango" and "tambo" around the River Plata basin were initially used to refer to musical gatherings of slaves, with written records of colonial authorities attempting to ban such gatherings as early as 1789.”
Despite the bans, tango spread and its variations became sub-genres. Today tango is a worldwide phenomenon.
Fernandez’s amalgamation of her influences shines on her 2014 album, "Nuestro Tango", with the Curtis Brothers Quartet.
“The album is called 'Nuestro Tango,' which means our tango,” she says. “This is our rendition. This is what this generation sounds like. I really love what I did with the Curtis Brothers Quartet. We grabbed a part that was missing of the tango which is the percussion and the rhythm. Tango is an evolution of what it used to be.”
Of course, Fernandez is well aware of tango’s history, not just from her mother but from her own experiences and study.
“It came from gatherings of slaves, from Candombe, from a percussive vibe, from Uruguay, all of that area before it was extremely colonized,” she says. “They used to dance close together, tightly, that’s why it’s a partner dance. It had drums in it, percussion, a lot of chanting. It had songs just like any folk music that you hear, a guitar, a vocalist singing a song about their day just like with blues.”
“Back in the day, people didn’t come that close together and dance like that. That wasn’t something that the higher classes did. If they did dance that close, where both of your torsos are together and tight, that was for 'criminals and prostitutes'. The music itself went to Europe and it got more orchestrated and you lost the drums. Then it came back to Argentina and the higher classes were dancing it. Now there were socials, gatherings, and it was okay to dance tango. Tango is still evolving to this day.”
Watching Fernandez perform one quickly becomes aware of her stage presence. Simply, she knows how to move, and this enhances the excitement.
“I’m doing a lot of movement,” she admits. “As a performer, I’m known for being fabulous. I dance tango, to any kind of rhythm. When you are onstage with these great musicians, you can’t just stand there. I’m riding the wave that they are setting up for me, I can’t help it.”
“More than anything, I really enjoy the versatility that I get to experience, jumping into as many genres as I can, and performing for as many people as I can. There’s something about being in front of a huge gathering of humans and making them dance.”
Fernandez remembers her days at the Berklee College of Music, especially performing for Anita Baker and Chaka Khan, who were moved to...you guessed it...dance.
“Performing for Ms. Khan was my first big experience at Berklee College of Music. We got a chance to kick it and it was mind blowing. She enjoyed it. Same with Anita Baker. Again I was performing at Berklee. For me, when Ms. Baker said, 'you have so much stage presence and your interpretation was amazing,' that meant the world to me because I made her feel something.”
Another highlight of her career was singing background vocals for Diego Torres, one of the biggest pop stars to come out of Argentina.
”I’ve gotten a chance to be around great artists, to perform for and with them. It was huge. They are humans like the rest of us but they have dedicated their lives to something greater than themselves. It is inspiring to be around their energy.”
She’s also worked with Grammy award winning producers and this has also inspired her.
“When you’re around these kinds of heavyweights, it’s very humbling, they are masterminds that have created works that are timeless,” she says. “Humberto Gatica is behind Michael Buble, Barbra Streisand. Here I am in his studio and he’s complimenting me! To have the opportunity to work with them, for them to know who I am, it is always one of the most real experiences.”
All of Fernandez’s experiences enable her to inspire others, to unify audiences, to become something greater and achieve the impossible.
“Listen to this album[Nuestro Tango]. We grabbed rhythms that never go together. Places from different sides of the earth found each other on this recording so w
hy can’t we just do this as humans?” she asks. “As real artists, real musicians, we try to grab things that shouldn’t go together and we unify them vibrationally through music and we say, hey look, it’s possible!"
Natalie Fernandez has arrived, but the questions, "Where she is at?" and "Where she is going?" will always bring her back to the lessons of one woman: Her mother, a woman who gave her life, vision and the ability to be unafraid.