Nella Rojas

Flying High at The Grammys

11/21/2019 · By Daniel Mesa
nella singer
Singer Nella in a promotional shot. © Nina Rodríguez

Nella, the singer of Iberia’s song Volando, won a Latin Grammy for Best New Artist. One of today’s most promising singers, we stole a few minutes from her to talk about what it feels like on days when the stars seem to have aligned in your favour.

Nella Rojas (Margarita, Venezuela, 1989), better known by her first name, arrived in Spain thanks to Javier Limón. One song by this talented young singer was enough to dazzle the producer of the likes of Paco de Lucía, Diego el Cigala and Buika. In less than a year, she has become one of today’s most relevant voices. Nella fuses traditional music, jazz, pop and some flamenco, a combination that has won her a Latin Grammy for Best New Artist, sharing prominence in a gala with other stars such as Alejandro Sanz, Rosalía and Aitana.

This recognition comes at a crucial moment in her life, a few months after releasing, with the support of Iberia, her debut album Voy, a flawless exercise in fusion the Venezuelan singer wrote alongside Javier Limón, merging pop rhythms and melodies with folk overtones. This is also the premise of the song Volando, written by Limón and performed by the artist, a song with which Iberia pays tribute to its employees and to the Airbus A350, on which Nella has flown to cities such as Panama, Boston, Havana and New York on the Volando Tour.

How does it feel to win such an award?
What can I say! When they said my name, I couldn’t believe it. It took me almost two minutes to get up from my seat. The first thing that crossed my mind was all the work, effort and sacrifice that have been poured into this project that, after all, is what I want to do in life. Winning a Grammy gives you a lot of visibility, even more so being the only nominated artist not supported by a major record label. We’ve got here thanks to the painstaking work of a team of ten people. I’m super grateful because this wonderful exposure will allow me to reach a wider audience.

Has your life changed at all these days?
I’ve been getting so many congratulation calls and have made so many interviews and all that, I think I'm going to need a new phone! (Laughs) At a show in St. Louis (Missouri) the day after the Grammys, I noticed a completely different vibration. I felt I was floating on the stage and that people who hadn’t heard me before came with different expectations and greater enthusiasm. People believe a lot in this award and that, of course, makes you more interesting.

Madrid producer Javier Limón, winner of 11 Latin Grammy Awards, is your mentor. How did that happen?
Javier and I met years ago in Boston. He heard me sing a Venezuelan song that always catches people’s attention because of its very particular melody, harmony and lyrics. It’s a meringue song about a woman who gets up early to sell cotton, Spanish spirits and other staples. Javier was captivated from the start. We met after that and he introduced me to some Spanish songs and to songs he’d written. Coming from someone like him, they were perfect for me.

Volando is probably the song that more visibility has given you so far. How did it come about?
In a meeting with Iberia, Javier said that the name of the new Airbus, the A350, contained the perfect length for a song. And so he wrote Volando, a 3,5-minute-long song. We then travelled to Toulouse to play it during the flight. Go figure! Over the past few years we’ve forged a beautiful relationship with the entire Iberia family, so dedicating the Grammy to them seemed obvious to me.

“Over the past few years we’ve forged a beautiful relationship with the entire Iberia family, so dedicating the Grammy to them seemed obvious to me”

Playing a show on an airplane isn’t very common…
Singing to an airplane is very odd and may come across as quite cold. However, the team’s reception made me realize it was much more than that. We struck a chord we didn’t expect. It all ended up becoming an incredible experience that has taken us very far.

Your music combines Venezuelan folklore with other genres such as jazz and pop. It could be said this is a great moment for traditional music. Is this something you've always pursued?
I would be lying if I said yes. I started singing pop. Fusing it with folklore came later, after an experience I had while living in Boston. I don't know why but I started feeling nostalgic for my country, I missed my family and my home a lot, and I felt I had to go back to my roots. I knew that I needed to connect with the music made in my country. That’s evident in La Negra Atilia, which is also my first song in Spanish, and which has become a lucky charm in my career. I think the public appreciates honesty in an artist and the fact that they feel their music and truly believe in it.

I understand you’re now an expert in Spanish music.
I took a real interest in Spanish and Andalusian music later on. The first song that really captivated me was Ojos Verdes by Concha Buika. It blew my mind! I discovered other contemporary artists such as Silvia Pérez Cruz and Sandra Carrasco, and of course some of the greats, including Paco de Lucía and Camarón. I fell in love with the relationship flamenco generates with the public, an honesty I sometimes feel has been lost with so much overproduction. I think it’s the responsibility of our generation to recover folklore and bring it to the present time.

"I fell in love with the relationship flamenco generates with the public, an honesty I sometimes feel has been lost with so much overproduction"

When did you realize you wanted to dedicate yourself to music?
I’ve been singing since as far as I can remember. At the age of 11, I told my parents that I was serious about it and started taking classes. I spent hours on end studying and educating my voice without realizing it. While my friends played Nintendo, I locked myself in my bedroom to read and sign lyrics after school and until the evening, day after day.

You trained at Caracas’ Escuela Contemporánea de la Voz and at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. How important was that training?
I think you’re born with a talent and that it’s up to you whether to educate it or not. In my family, for example, there are no musicians. I was the only one crazy enough to embark on this adventure. But if you heard my mother or my sister sing, you’d see they have a very good ear and that they could also have dedicated themselves to singing.

You’re currently living in New York. What’s that city offering you at this moment in your life?
New York gives you a lot but also takes it away from you. You develop a shield and a strength that helps you see what you’re capable of. When I moved there, I’d already released Me Llaman Nella, which made it much easier for me to face a city that is sometimes so intimidating, and which exposes you at all levels. In New York, you can be singing at a corner and suddenly see Herbie Hancock walking by. You never know what can happen.

In addition to music, you’ve also taken your first steps in cinema with a cameo in Asghar Farhadi’s film Everyone Knows, in which you play some of your songs.
That’s a funny story. Asghar Farhadi had called Javier to write the music for his movie. One of the songs he sent was El Fin de Fiesta, in which I sing, but with the idea of ​​offering him the song, not the singer. It turns out Farhadi loved it with my voice and asked me to travel to Spain to appear in the film. When Javier told me, I went crazy. I was going to sing in a film with Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Inma Cuesta in the audience! It was incredible, one of the best experiences of my life.

This is without a doubt the year of Nella. Do you believe success comes when you’re in the perfect place at the right time?
I do, but above all I believe in effort and work. Visualizing yourself is also important. In fact, I usually draw myself in situations I want to happen (I keep one receiving the Grammy!). I truly believe that without focus and discipline none of this would have happened.