Cuban Songstress Kat Dahlia Speaks On Why Adding Spanish To Her Music Isn’t For A Trend — She’s Been Doing It Intentionally For An Important Reason
Two decades ago, an eight-year-old Kat Dahlia sat in her Miami home writing rhymes she’d sing and rap aloud. Now, at 28, the raspy songstress says she’s a lot like the scribbling child artist she used to be. Sure, she’s had chart-toppers, like her 2013 hit “Gangsta,” a former major record label deal and a studio album, but, when it comes to making music, her creativity and hunger remains as fresh as it was twenty years ago.
“In a lot of ways, it still feels like the beginning, like I’m still eight years old. I’m writing my best music yet, and the next biggest song is yet to come,” the Cuban-American artist, who this month returned from a two-hear hiatus, tells FIERCE.
Kat’s next big banger could be her latest single “I’m Doin’ Good,” a light reggaeton bop about protecting your well-being. For her, the bilingual track, produced by her longtime collaborator Royal Z, is another “female anthem,” a song women who are on a path of self-growth can listen to for strength when the past is trying to pull them back.
“Knowing my girls would tell me ‘don’t’ / Buscando mi conección / No quiero perder mi dirección,” she sings, her voice gritty and sincere.
Kat, who has long made music inspired by her Cuban culture (if you haven’t listened to “Tumbao” do it — now!) with the intention of empowering women and girls, believes we are in a time where, sonically, audiences will be more understanding of her Latin-infused R&B and pop and, cognitively, more open to her message.
Returning as an indie artist, the now Los Angeles-based performer is taking on a new chapter in her career and life, and she’s hyped. We chatted with Kat about new music — which she has been holding onto and is finally ready to release to eager fans — upcoming shows, artistic and personal growth as well as self-preservation, among so much more.
FIERCE: You are coming back from a two-year hiatus. How does this feel, energizing, intimidating, natural?
Kat Dahlia: It feels like everything. It’s exciting and it’s scary. It’s also kind of like a weight lifted off my shoulders, to be honest, because when you’re creating all you want to do is just release stuff, and I feel like the moment has finally come.
FIERCE: I see you wiped your Instagram clean, too. Does it feel like a fresh new start for you?
Kat Dahlia: In a way. I think it’s just like a new chapter. I don’t know if it’s like a fresh start, but it’s definitely a new chapter, and I wanted that to be reflected on my Instagram. Also, I think it helps make it look, aesthetically, like a new chapter.
FIERCE: How does returning as an indie artist impact the direction of your music and the focus you are able to give to your creativity?
Kat Dahlia: I mean, I feel like I’m in complete control now in a lot of ways, which can be nerve-wracking. I definitely wake up every morning thinking about it and going to sleep thinking about it. It’s my entire responsibility and my entire career. I’m like the boss of myself. So it’s very empowering but also can be scary at times.
FIERCE: How so?
Kat Dahlia: Well, a lot of the weight is on you. I am the label. I am the everything now, so I really have the pressure on myself. But it’s a good pressure, honestly. I would rather it this way.
FIERCE: Your evolvement as an artist is evident in the sound of your new music. Do you think you’ve grown as an artist during this hiatus or that you are just now able to do the music you want to do?
Kat Dahlia: I think it’s both. I think I’ve grown as an artist and as a woman. I think that music has changed since “Gangsta.” I think that my musical taste has changed as well. There’s just so much growth happening, from within me and the world, and the music reflects that.
FIERCE: How do you think those exterior changes you mentioned influenced you?
Kat Dahlia: Even the way people release music now, even the way people consume music, how quickly it’s consumed. That affects the way that I as an artist will put out the music, how often I’m going to be putting out music. Social media, everything, so much has changed the way that the world consumes information, music — everything is just faster. So for me it was really important to have worked for two-plus years on a lot of music and have a really strong catalog and focus on making my best shit, so that, when the time comes, it’s like boom, I have a whole arsenal of stuff that I can just keep dropping. And while doing that, I can also continue to keep making. But it needed to be right, it needed to be stuff that I loved and something that I truly do believe in. It is important as an indie artist. I was with a label for a really long time, and I didn’t really have 100 percent of the say, and now I do, which is awesome and freeing. But it takes time, and as that time goes on, two years, a lot of shit fucking happened. People were dropping music every month, every day, and I needed to make sure I wasn’t just making songs and putting them out. I wanted to make really, really, really good shit.
FIERCE: One of the most obvious stylistic differences we hear with your music right now is its fusion of urbano with R&B and pop. You’ve never shied away from embracing your Cuban culture in your music, but it feels a little more intentional now. Why is that?
Kat Dahlia: I was always doing it. In my first album, I had Spanish songs, I redid Celia Cruz’s “Tumbao,” I did the Spanish version of “Gangsta.” It just seems like now, with this Latin surge, it feels more important, which is great, because when I was doing it, it wasn’t as big as it is now. Now, there’s the space to do it and now I can do so much more with it. I can do it in the way that I want to do it, in a way I think is cool. And now that there’s this platform, this explosion of Latin musical culture, it’s great because there’s so many more eyes on it, people care more, it’s more important.
FIERCE: Your latest single “I’m Doin’ Good” is a bop. You called it “another female anthem.” Why?
Kat Dahlia: I want it to be a female anthem. I feel like every time I make songs, I’m always thinking about our perspective. There are so many songs that girls are singing these days that are written by men, so they are not authentically our perspective. So I’m constantly thinking of songs that feel more genuine to me and hopefully connect with other females, kind of like “Gangsta” or “I Think I’m In Love.” Those songs are important to young females. They want to feel empowered, in love. They want to connect to stuff, just how I want to connect to stuff, that feels real.
FIERCE: In “I’m Doin’ Good,” you sing, “‘Cause I’m doing good right now. I don’t wanna lose myself. I’m doing good right now, and you calling doesn’t help.” The song, to me, is about protecting your mental health and not letting anyone take you back from the emotional or spiritual gains you’ve made. Why is this preservation of self necessary to you?
Kat Dahlia: Because I think people, like myself, can get wrapped up in things that are not good for us. I feel like this last year, I’ve been super focused on my mental and physical health and getting to know myself better to live a more authentic life and not waste my time with bullshit.
FIERCE: How do you, Kat, the woman, safeguard your mental health and growth in your personal life, especially as an artist in the public eye?
Kat Dahlia: I think my biggest thing is just keeping boundaries with certain people and habits. It’s about staying focused on what really does feel important to me and knowing the difference between what really is important to me and what is a distraction. It’s knowing what’s not good for me, being aware of that, and saying no to it.
FIERCE: I want to get back to the music, because I know you have a lot of new-new on the way. What can you tell us about it?
Kat Dahlia: I’m just going to keep dropping songs, like three or four more by the end of the year. Then, in the first quarter of next year, I hope to drop a project. I also want to drop videos for every song. I just made shit and focused on making shit that I like, which is always going to end up leaning urban, R&B, Afro-beat, Latin, everything, just a representation of me and the shit that I like.
FIERCE: In a recent interview, you stated that a US tour is in the works. Can you share any details on that?
Kat Dahlia: We’re working on it right now. As far as shows, I have the Los Dells Festival in September and Austin City Limits in October.
FIERCE: You started singing and rapping when you were a child, eight years old. What is it like for you, today, two decades later, at age 28, looking back and knowing you’ve realized those childhood dreams through a rollercoaster journey in the industry and are now doing it on your own terms?
Kat Dahlia: In a lot of ways it still feels like the beginning, like I’m still eight years old. I’m writing my best music yet, and the next biggest song is yet to come.
FIERCE: Talking about what’s to come, what are you most excited about what’s next for you and why should people be paying attention?
Kat Dahlia: It’s on them, whatever they want to do, but me, personally, I’m most excited about sharing music already. It’s been too long. I’m also excited about finally putting out a message that I 100 percent believe in and own.
FIERCE: And what message is that?
Kat Dahlia: Just do good, be myself, stay authentic and try to just be good to myself.