On Orquisideas, Kali Uchis again proves she is the Queen of Concept, delivering a clever, thoughtful album inspired by the “timeless, eerie, mystic, striking, graceful, and sensual allure of the orchid.”
If there’s one thing that becomes clear on Orquisideas, it’s that there’s no such thing as Latin music. Or more specifically, there are many kinds of music made by Latinas. The orchid is the national flower of Columbia, where Uchis spent a lot of time growing up. It’s a poignant image, in all its vibrant fragility, begging the question: what’s possible in a supportive environment? Orchids are some of the most beautiful, striking organisms on Earth. The question Kali Uchis implies seems explicit – what would the world be like if Latinas were supported?
She uses the sweet, fragrant delicacy of the orchid as a launchpad to explore her roots as well as, more broadly, the broad influence and impact Latinas have had on music. You can hear traces of Sade on tracks like “Diosa”. “Me Ponga Loco” recalls Miami Sound Machine with a particularly dreamy vocal. “Te Mata” brings to mind Mexican balladeers like Chavela Vargas. The fact that these influences span over 80 years and come from many different countries and cultures speaks to the incredible impact Latinas have had on popular music. The fact that Uchis is worthy of being mentioned alongside such legends speaks to the strengths and charms of Kali Uchis’ fourth full-length.
Orquideas isn’t just pastiche, however, with Uchis doing her best impersonation of famous Latinas throughout history. First and foremost, Orquideas is just music – and damn good music, at that. If there’s one musician Kali Uchis is inspired by, above and beyond anyone else, it is herself. Her signature dreamy, ghostly 1980s synthpop that helped establish her as a significant voice in indie music on 2018’s Isolation is still very much in evidence and just as addictive as ever. So are the psychedelic, seductive, slow jams of last year’s flawless Red Moon in Venus.
Perhaps most importantly, we get another chance to hear Uchis sing en español, following 2020’s also-excellent Sin Miedos. Uchis is singlehandedly proving to the music industry that pop and “Latin Music” aren’t mutually exclusive and that even music sung entirely in Spanish can end up on mainstream charts. She may have taken the #1 Slot for Latin Pop – rightfully and deservedly – but Orquideas peaked at #2 on the pop charts simultaneously.
With Orquideas, Kali Uchis is proving to be a breakthrough artist in every sense of the word. Her sweet, infectious ballads sung in Spanish could make non-native speakers into full-time Latin music listeners. The subtle, psychedelic production – like on “Pensaminetos Itrusivos” – could lure in the indie kids with its Tame Impala comparisons. “¿Cómo Así?” could just as easily end up at an experimental electronic music night, with its intricate, shifting two-step beat, like something off of a Burial track.
While albums should be more than a sum of their inspirations and comparisons, those paying attention may have noticed Orquideas has now garnered comparisons to Gloria Estefan, Chavela Vargas, Tame Impala, and Burial, to say nothing of the Mariah Carey or Janet Jackson influences. This would be high enough praise to warrant at least a spin of one of this year’s most striking releases so far. Add in a killer style, playful energy, impeccable production, incredible performances, and some very important representation, and you’ve got one of the most striking pop records of the last few years.
It’s a highlight in a career with zero misses. Kali Uchis is clearly an artist on the ascent, coming in hot with two nearly-perfect pop records in less than a year. She’s clearly an artist who knows what she wants, too, seeing as how she recently turned down a performance slot at the Super Bowl halftime show. To see such a young artist – emerging from the underground, no less – couldn’t be more exciting.