Plenty of pop musicians create their music from a global menu of styles and genres, but it’s the rare artist who invents a persona to match, especially one as wildly imaginative as Kali Mutsa.
Never heard of this legendary figure who was abandoned as a baby nearly a century ago by her Roma parents in a magical Chilean valley and raised by an Aymara Indian chieftan? Who grew into an exotic, belly-dancing seductress in a highlands-traveling circus and a revolutionary champion of South America’s downtrodden native peoples?
Lucky for you, Kali Mutsa has returned after decades of seclusion, and brings her mysterious music and self to the PAX club on Thursday. We caught up with her by cellphone as she shopped in Santiago de Chile.
“I am looking for hallocinogens, of course,” said the ancient but still alluring songstress (rivers in her native valley flow with a youth-giving wine). “But it’s very difficult to find them in the drugstore.”
And then Kali Mutsa reluctantly turns into Celine Reymond, a successful, 29-year-old Chilean telenovela actress who invented this fantastic persona.
“I am an actress here in Chile,” says Reymond. “But I am Kali Mutsa also, and I hope I will just be Kali Mutsa some day. I don’t like to talk much about my real life because I prefer Kali Mutsa’s life.
“I have a big imagination and lots of rhythm. That’s what you need to know.”
Reymond invented Mutsa in part to separate her budding musical career from her soap opera image, figuring that a Thalia-like trajectory of telenovela-to-pop-star wasn’t a credible storyline for an alternative music artist. But the character also springs from a powerful fantasy life and a fascination with myth that has compelled Reymond since she was a little girl.
She owes much of her love of legend to a part-Indian nanny who brought up Reymond differently from her upper-class peers, taking her to Santeria ceremonies to rid her of malevolent spirits, telling her fantastic tales like the one about her mother feeding angels disguised as travelers crossing Chile’s high mountain ranges.
“My nanny was like a Garcia Marquez character, she had hundreds of stories,” Reymond says. “She raised me so I have a lot of mythology from native America. So I grew up listening to all these things, with a big internal world. For me it wasn’t possible that [these stories] weren’t true. When you’re little you think the things that grown-ups tell you are surely true.”
As she grew older, she fell in love with other fantasies. Bollywood films, with their extravagant romances and vivid musical numbers, are a lifelong favorite.
“I love the choreography and colors,” Reymond says. “They make something with all the truth in the world, they believe it so much even when it’s so cheesy. I just love that when people believe in what they’re doing so much.”
On a visit to Disney World when she was 11, her favorite place was a center for Japanese mythology at Epcot. She studied belly-dancing for six years, and cites brassy, hyper-charged Balkan Gypsy music, Turkish rap and Arabic songs as favorite styles – music she describes as “at the limit of cheesiness but very truthful, fresh.”
In high school she studied an obscure form of acting and physical theater, eventually moving to Paris to continue. After an early marriage, the birth of her daughter Alma, now 8, and a divorce, the single mother came home to Chile and commercial TV work.
Reymond invented her alter ego as a creative outlet, working with producer-musician Cristobal Montes (the mythic movie director and Amazonian explorer Sandoje Catiri, Kali Mutsa’s lover) to create the music, an antic blend of booming tubas, snakey clarinet, poignant bandoneon and pulsating electronic beats. The musicians all have onstage characters, with a vamping Reymond in shiny, sexy Bollywood-esque costume.
Now Kali Mutsa has her first album, Ambrolina, on Miami-based Shock Music, run by Latin alternative music promoter Luis Sanabria. Her Miami show (presented by the Jack Daniels Studio No.7 series) is part of a short U.S. tour that took her to the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, last week.
Kali Mutsa has found greater acceptance outside Chile. Reymond says she is undaunted by skepticism, mostly because she would rather live in her fantasy persona’s world than the real one.
“I love to create stories about places that are not important for the world but in the life of Kali Mutsa they were part of a golden era in Chile and Latin America that never existed,” she says. “Where people are not influenced by Europe or North America but our own myths and histories. It’s like the perfect world, at least for me.”