In line with the release of her track Horses, a collaboration with Suff Daddy, New York-born and Berlin-based singer, songwriter, and producer Arletis Garcia curates the latest FF Mixtape, bringing together the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Stephanie Mills, and Prince.
How did you get into music and what were some of the first tracks or artists you remember listening to?
My earliest musical memory is hearing Whitney Houston at a mall with my mum. I was really young, around six-years-old. Something about Whitney moved me and has stayed with me ever since. Whitney was where it started for me. I also discovered Elton John at a young age and loved the album Too Low for Zero which my mum had on CD. Tracy Chapman was another huge influence: listening to her music made me want to pick up a guitar and begin writing songs, and that’s exactly what I did around the age of 14.
During my adolescence, Brandy was one of my biggest influences. I owned the cassette tape of her self-titled album and literally listened to it every single day on my walkman. I was obsessed with her. To be honest, I still am.Later on in college, I listened to a lot of Jazz singers and tried to sing like Ella Fitzgerald, who is another massive influence on me.
When did you realise that you wanted to have a musical career?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel a deep emotional connection to music and the notion of creating it, be it through singing, writing a song, playing my guitar, or listening to new sounds for inspiration. Even during a time when I wasn’t creating at all, I had a strong emotional reaction whenever I saw anything or anyone that reminded me of music and of being an artist. It made me incredibly sad, to the point of tears many times, that I was not doing it myself. The feeling was overwhelming.
After I began singing in public for school events, got accepted to the Professional Performing Arts High School in Manhattan, and won a competition overseas for singing and playing a cover of Zombie by the Cranberries on my guitar, I realized that other people enjoyed hearing me too. I gained external validation, which was a strong motivator in my youth. It was clear from that point on, music was more of a calling for me than a hobby.
You’re originally from New York but are now based between Munster and Berlin. What made you move from the U.S. to Germany? How would you compare the music scenes you have experienced in each country?
I didn’t want to move back to the U.S. after completing my Master’s Degree at Berklee College of Music’s Spanish campus. I was in Europe, Trump had just been elected, and I wanted to be somewhere where I could start over career-wise and feel free. Berlin seemed like the right move if I wanted to pursue music full-time. I lived there for about two years, met other creatives and developed as my own artist.
I moved to Munster in March of 2020, around the beginning of the first lockdown. I needed a break from Berlin and found an opportunity to relocate for what was supposed to be only one month. The global pandemic kept me in the quaint little town for much longer. Now I’m blessed with something I wanted to have for a long time: a family of my own. I fell in love, and we just welcomed a beautiful baby girl into the world in December. We’re looking forward to the adventures that these blessed new circumstances will bring in the future. I’m also more inspired than ever before.
“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel a deep emotional connection to music and the notion of creating it.”
You collaborate with artists across Berlin, Los Angeles, Sudan, and Brazil. Why is it important for you to work with such a diverse range of people?
I am lucky to work with such talented artists, which can be found all around the globe. The attraction to working with people from different parts of the world for me is the unique stories and styles each artist brings to the project. If you’re always working with people from the same pond, it’s hard to grow and find your own voice. If you position yourself outside of your bubble, you’re more free to do your own thing without pressure or influence. That has been my experience.
Has coronavirus impacted your ability to collaborate with international artists?
The pandemic has been challenging for all of us. But while opportunities to play shows are prohibited, more artists have reached out to collaborate with me in 2020 than ever before. I think it’s because people are home creating more. There’s lots of time and curiosity is given a chance to blossom. Someone recently reached out to after Shazaming a song of mine at a bodega back home in New York. That’s amazing to me. It’s a moment that shows us the ways in which technology can provide beautiful opportunities to connect across oceans and create with people we otherwise would have never known, especially during a pandemic. It’s so healing during a time like this.
Your latest single is called Horses and is a collaboration with Suff Daddy. What attracted you two to working together and what were some of the inspirations behind the track?
I met Suff Daddy while out one night at a friend’s gig in Berlin. I knew his music but didn’t know what he looked like. Though I was introduced to him, I was too tired to pay much attention that evening. We small-talked for a bit though: he was so down to earth and friendly. We exchanged contact information, vibed on life and music, and I ended up writing to one of the lovely tracks that he shared with me. The rest is history. It was so wonderful working with him, it’s been one of my favourite collaborations by far.
The track was inspired, like all my tracks, by my real life circumstances. I found self love and freedom after coming out of a very dark period in my life. So I just wrote about that. It was summertime, I was happy again, feeling myself, and on the verge of a new chapter. All sunshine!
“Technology can provide beautiful opportunities to connect across oceans and create with people we otherwise would have never known.”
How did you pick the tracks for your FvF mixtape?
I chose tracks that I really love and that go well together. When listened to in order, there’s somewhat of a theme of influence and diversity: there’s a Steve Lacy song right before a Prince classic, and a Stephanie Mills bop after Fleetwood Mac. Some songs are current ones I have fallen in love with, and others are oldies that have influenced me as a listener and an artist. So many essentials were left out like Pink Floyd, Kendrick Lamar, and Tracy Chapman, but maybe they’ll find their way in another time. It was so hard making this playlist. There’s so much beautiful music to choose from.
Tell me about the concept for the music video and how it relates to the song.
The concept for the video was actually supposed to be a lot simpler than how it turned out. Thanks to the director and videographer Ivan Boljat, it turned out to be something much more interesting, beautiful, and narrative-driven than initially intended. The glitz and glamor of Studio 54 was the aim for most of the scenes. I think we accomplished that while simultaneously adding a modern feel to it and also giving the video some room to be open for interpretation. If I had to describe it one phrase it would be “warm cotton candy.” With Ivan’s eye and direction, I think we achieved that.
Arletis Garcia is a New York-born, Berlin-based singer, songwriter, and producer. Her track, Horses, is a collaboration with Suff Daddy, and its accompanying music video was recently released. This interview was produced as part of our Mixtape series, in which international creatives curate playlists of music that inspires them. Head over to the Mixtape section to find out more.
Text: FF Team
Photography: Gianna Kirschner