Private Playlist: San Cha believes we can create, no matter our circumstances

San Cha with her handwritten Juan Gabriel lyrics. Photo credit: San Cha.

Private Playlist is a listening session with Southern California’s most notable musical figures in their private creative environments. San Cha's music combines elements of cumbia, bolero, punk, and electro, held aloft by her extravagant, classically-trained voice. She cut her teeth in the Bay Area underground, taking her name from the Spanish word for “mistress” while also playing on "San," the prefix used in naming male saints. Sensing a need to break free from her increasingly constricted life in San Francisco — where she was "hanging around drag queens and always drunk" — she decamped to her family's rural farm in Jalisco, Mexico, where she unexpectedly reconnected with the ranchera tradition. In 2016, she released "Me Demandó," a cassette of home demos recorded during that period. She subsequently moved to LA and released “La Luz De La Esperanza," a luxuriant musical telenovela and performance piece at the Vibiana Cathedral, which kicked off the 2019 Red Bull Music Festival.

Sometimes I'm looking ahead, and sometimes I feel like there's no point, and I'm fighting between those two moments in my head. But I've chosen music that gives me hope and helps me to keep thinking really big — even though we have to scale down or do things by ourselves or in isolation. It's figuring out how to keep creating for yourself, and being satisfied with what I'm putting out.


"Rosa" sounds like it was all made and recorded outside. It's like a connection to the Earth and the gods: singing about la verdolaga or singing to a rosa, not singing to people necessarily, but being connected to other beings on this Earth. It's the indigenous and the African connection that a lot of us that are Latino don't really know about. It's a culture that's been stolen from us, and in this music, it just feels so alive. It's still there.


I was watching the documentary on La Lupe, "La Lupe Queen of Latin Soul." And in the documentary, it talks a lot about her relationship with Tito Puente, and how they were like brother and sister. They were also bickering a lot, but so much magic came out in this album. It just reminds me of the beautiful collaboration that can be made. It might be somebody that you don't talk to ever again, but you can still create magic. And there's the Afro-Caribbean rhythms, and the way she sings is so connected to something else that's otherworldly.


Juan Gabriel is somebody who's always been on the radio. I've been hearing his songs forever. All of my aunts love him, my mother, everybody knows his songs. Me and my guitarist did a few Juan Gabriel tracks live. So when I was learning his music — with the amount of words that he uses, and the little tricks that he plays on you — I had to physically write everything down with a pen. I started folding pieces of paper in four and made a little booklet. I would do each of the pages 10 times. And if I still didn't know it after 10 times, I would do it another 10 times, and then do the next section 10 times, and then do both of them. It was a lot.


I opened up for Combo Chimbita in Atlanta at this place called the Basement. Then I saw them in LA, and the next time they came here, I played with them.

I think my mutual attraction with [vocalist] Carolina Oliveros is that we both have classical training, but we also go really, really hard on our vocals. And it's something that's rare to see, so when we witnessed each other, we were both kinda like, "What, you exist? This is crazy." I think she's an incredible alien being that connects us to other worlds. She's magical.


In "Flor de Azalea," Chavela Vargas is singing about a flower that's been trampled over. And the chorus is like, "I just want to be the bird that comes to your window in the morning and shows you a better life." And when I think about the future, and whether or not we're going to have anything or all the same things we had, this is one of the songs that gives me that kind of hope. We can create, no matter what our circumstances are. We're still going to be here.

Check out KCRW’s other Private Playlists:
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Chris Cohen shares Algerian synth funk, avant jazz, and more far-out sounds
Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy offers an earthy soundtrack for the homebound
Mia Doi Todd recommends space-age sounds and Brazilian tunes
Neon Indian shares music for your inner monologue
Thundercat on the importance of albums as a journey
Dorian Wood is walking a tightrope and trying not to look down
Jeff Parker is busy studying music in hibernation mode
TOKiMONSTA is rediscovering her love for the guitar
Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad on finding solace in Gil Scott-Heron
Aimee Mann looks past the snark to appreciate Steely Dan’s craft
Madame Gandhi on Fela, feminism, and the bravery of Brian Eno and Jon Hassell
Alice Bag is doing the live music withdrawal dance
M. Ward is listening to music by his influences’ influencers