Nella Rojas is a Jazz singer from Venezuela whose career was launched by Javier Limón, one of the world’s leading Flamenco producers.
She lives in NYC now, but was discovered at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Limón noticed the unusual cadence in Nella’s voice and produced her first album which won the 2019 Latin Grammy for “Best New Artist.” Thanks to the World Music Institute, we were writing about Nella before she became famous.
Celebrate Valentines Day with Nella at the Blue Note in Greenwich Village on Valentine’s Day, Mon, Feb 14 at 8pm & 10:30pm (6 & 10pm doors). From $25. 🇻🇪
Nella Rojas is On Her Way
You probably haven’t heard of her, YET, but mark my words, Nella Rojas is going to be a huge star. The young singer is already well on her way.
Nella is from Margarita, Venezuela
Nella was born in Margarita, a Caribbean island on the Venezuelan Caribbean coast. Like many of us, as a child she used to sing along with her favorite pop stars.
As kids, most of us didn’t speak English. We had no idea what we were singing, but we loved the music. So she was a Spanish speaker singing in English.
Berklee College of Music changed Nella’s life
The young singer made her way to Caracas and then to Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Berklee has a long track record of producing great jazz musicians, people you might have heard of like Quincy Jones, Al Di Meola, Juan Luis Guerra and on and on.
Javier Limón noticed something special about Nella
There are many great voices, but not so many that are unique. He encouraged her to explore her Hispanic roots in the music of Andalusia, Spain, the flamenco heartland.
Caribbean flamenco is natural
Andalusia is only nine miles from North Africa and the Moors, who contributed so much to Spanish culture, came from there. So Spanish flamenco already has Africa in it.
Columbus and the conquistadors came to the Americas from Andalusia. The capital of Andalusia is Seville, the flamenco capital. They sailed out of the Atlantic port of Cádiz and brought their music with them.
The root of what we call Latin music today is the Afro-Cuban blend of African rhythm and Spanish flamenco. This music even found its way back to Spain and influenced flamenco there as flamenco ida y vuelta (flamenco roundtrip). Having a Caribbean singer of flamenco just adds another fold to this rich musical heritage.
Javier Limón is the world’s top flamenco producer
You may not know Limón’s name either, but you probably know his work. The Grammy-winning producer is the man behind the curtain of a lot of legendary Spanish and Latin music.
He was the producer of the landmark rumba flamenca album Lagrimas Negras (2003) by Diego el Cigala and Bebo Valdés, Cositas Buenas (2004) by flamenco guitar legend Paco de Lucía, and several albums by Buika the Queen of Latin Soul and Mariza, the reigning Queen of Fado, the Portuguese folk music.
Limón seems to be everywhere. In 2018, he did the music for Oscar winning director Asghar Farhadi’s movie Everybody Knows starring Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem. It opened the Cannes film festival, becoming only the second Spanish-language film to do so.
The master had just written an album, Voy, for this young singer from Venezuela so Limón had her sing a few more songs for the movie. She also played an actress in the film. Oh and he got Nella signed with IMG, one of the world’s leading talent agencies.
On September 24, 2019, Nella earned a 20th Latin Grammy nomination for “Best New Artist.” She won.
Nella is going places.
[Thanks to Cindy Byram for the following review.]
Voy, the debut album by Venezuelan singer and songwriter Nella is global Latin music for the 21st century. Created and interpreted by Nella and GRAMMY and multiple Latin GRAMMY-winning Spanish composer, producer, and guitarist Javier Limón, Voy (“On My Way”) sets the singer’s expressive voice over a clean, sparse accompaniment. This is pop with much to say, in music and words.
“I feel these songs as if I had written them myself,” says Nella about their partnership. “They often reflect exactly what was happening in my life at the time. The music is a mix of many sources and the lyrics tell stories. I want to reach people, I want to give them more than just something to dance to.”
Released on Casalimón America Records on May 31st, Voy features 13 songs, all but one with words and music by Limón. “It’s been years, since my days with Buika and Diego el Cigala, that I wrote this much. It’s a full repertoire for her,” says Limón. The song “1000 Miles,” with music by Limón, features English lyrics by Spanish writer and film director David Trueba.
The recording includes guest appearances by Spanish flamenco singer Alba Molina (the daughter of the fabled flamenco duo Lola y Manuel); string player Santiago Prieto, from Latin Grammy-winning Colombian band Monsieur Periné; and two outstanding Venezuelan musicians, cuatro phenomenon Jorge Glem, and singer and composer Ilan Chester, a Latin Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.
Born Marianella Rojas in Isla Margarita, an island in the Caribbean Sea off the northeastern coast of Venezuela, Nella recalls spending hours as a child singing over recordings by powerhouse singers such as Christina Aguilera, Celine Dion, and Mariah Carey. “I took singing lessons and was a bit embarrassed about my singing, so to hide it, I played the music very loud.” The ruse worked well until her voice teacher had Nella’s father listen “to the student in the next room” and he was astonished to find it was his daughter.
“I was 11, and from then on they were really supportive,” says Nella. “I was involved in anything that would come up: singing, acting, dancing, you name it. At 13, my voice started to change and without realizing, by singing to the records, imitating these divas, I was studying a lot. They were incredible teachers. I loved it. I was also into the challenges of how high I could go vocally or how well I could do certain vocal turns, and I believe that helped me develop a vocal flexibility that perhaps I wouldn’t have by just listening to Venezuelan music. Now, even when singing Venezuelan songs I don’t sound like a typical traditional singer.”
She moved to Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, in 2007, at age 17. And in 2011 she enrolled at Berklee College of Music in Boston, majoring in performance, composition and production. She began singing in a trio that performed folk music from Latin America with jazz and pop influences (“It was part of the process of rediscovering myself,” says Nella. “Once you leave your country, your roots start knocking at your door”). And it was also around this time that she discovered the work of Afro-Spanish singer Buika, rooted in copla and flamenco.
“Once you leave your country, your roots start knocking at your door” ~ Nella
“After all the vocal acrobatics I had learned, I found the importance of interpretation, of how to say a lyric,” says Nella. “I fell in love with flamenco and with that honesty between cantor [singer] and audience. It is something I had not found in any other genre.”
It was also in Boston that an a cappella performance by Nella of a Venezuelan song, La Negra Atilia caught Limón´s ear. “I had heard her before and thought she was really good and very versatile, but that night I heard an original way of phrasing,” recalls Limón. “She has something special, and it’s all hers.”
Limón, who has worked with several top singers including Estrella Morente and Mariza, says “Nella has an Andalusian way of phrasing that is beautiful and very natural. In fact, many people assume she is from Andalusia. When she sang the title track in Everybody Knows, the Asghar Farhadi movie with Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, many people thought she was from Córdoba or Granada.”
Her fans now include Latin pop superstars such as Alejandro Sanz and flamenco luminaries such as Miguel Poveda.
In Voy, Nella sings love stories such as Fin de Fiesta (Party’s End), an early choice and a song Limón “got from a dusty notebook and sang to me accompanying himself on the guitar,” recalls Nella. “As soon as I heard it, I said ‘This one! This one! That’s a song we must do together’.”
Other favorites include Los Nacidos (The Born Ones) and Me Llaman Nella (They Call Me Nella), her autobiographical song — written by Limón.
“We were in Colombia and I remember we needed one more track,” recalls Nella. “So we have breakfast, we talk, he goes to his room, I go to mine, and a few minutes later I get a message: ‘I got it’ And he reads me the refrain ‘I am Nella, the one with the broken voice’ And I say ‘Excuse me?!’ We get together and he sings “Above the Margarita sea, the moon almost full …’ and I tell him ‘Javier you’ve never been to Margarita!’ And he says ‘I know, but you talk so much about Margarita, you even carry it literally under your skin, so you helped me create a story.’”
Meanwhile, the emotional Volveré A Mi Tierra (I Will Go Back To My Country) was written by Limón as a response to news from Venezuela. “He sent me a text and I burst into tears and told him we need to put music to it,” she says. “And as soon as I had it, I sent the mockup of the song to friends around the world and that’s how we ended up with the video, with images of Venezuelans all over the world, lip-syncing the lyrics.”
“I try to not get into politics,” says Nella. “Because what we are suffering now transcends politics. I don’t care which side you are on, we are all affected by the situation. One of the things that moves me the most is when after a concert people come up to me and say things like ‘Nella, I felt I was in La Guaira, at the beach, with my grandmother, having a coffee while she read me a story.’ There is no better response than that.”
For her first North American tour, reflecting the spare sound of the recording, Nella will be accompanied by a trio featuring guitar, bass and percussion. As for the repertoire, she plans to include not only the songs from Voy but also “some Venezuelan jewels,” such as La Negra Atilia, (“A song that has been a talisman for me,” she says) and classics by the legendary singer and songwriter Simón Díaz, such as Tonada de Luna Llena (Song of the Full Moon).
“Yes, I have a lot of songs in a drawer,” says Nella.” “But right now I am very comfortable with Javier’s writing and to have someone like him writing for you is a luxury. Most important, I feel them as my own.”
Previously in NYC
Monday, October 21, 2019 ~ Nella brings her Venezuelan flamenco to Le Poisson Rouge for the World Music Institute in Greenwich Village, NYC at 8pm. $25 Early-bird (Oct 20), $30 Advance, $35 Day of show
Follow Nella at nellarojas.com