Sobre Sound sat down with the lead singer of Femina-X, Daniela Riojas, to speak with her about "Frida's Heart" the song and the making of the video which premiered at The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center.
Sobre Sound: Can you tell me about where the song "Frida's Heart" came from?
Daniela Riojas: I started writing it at the Vermont Studio Center when I had a residency there. I went in November when it was real dark and lonely, I was having to reevaluate my work and was starting on a new project. At the time, I was researching philosophies on how to achieve complete wholeness and also researching individuation, which is confronting different parts of your psyche so you can get an idea of what darknesses are inside you but through embracing those darknesses you can find different levels of enlightenment. I wanted to try to integrate these ideas into photographs and I had taken my auto harp with me ...and .... i was going a little crazy haha
SoSo: And that's how the song begins, with the just the harp..
Daniela: Yeah it does, and I just remember being lonely and it was really cold outside - but the chords felt good to me because they sounded Spanish, they had a southern or desert quality and being from the edge of the desert in Eagle Pass, it reminded me of home. I would also keep myself comforted reading Frida Kahlo's diary, its super intense. You see her going through dark times but with love teeming out of her, and I identified with her being ok with pain. She made pain beautiful and it's kinda cathartic, seeing her go through traumatic events but still create beauty out of it.
The lyrics themselves tell the story of how i feel her inside of me, her heart beat her shivers in me, there's something haunting about Frida, and I feel that haunting inside of me as well. Its kind of a lesbian fetish story at the same time, haha - I'm saying our tongues are playing and we're merging as two people, so I imagine that we're morphing into one person in the desert. At the end of the song - the sun comes up, we are a melody we are complete- so i figured that would be a type of climax.
I'll make a verse and then repeat it over and over until I can get a song structure out, and then continue the story with the rest of the lyrics. I remember coming back and playing it for Alex (Scheel), and he began playing guitar over it and took the song into a weird place in the middle, where it slows down with the guitar solo, so he wrote that part. I told him, "I don't understand why you want to do that," and he was like, "I don't either - it just feels right." So we just went with it, I trust him, haha.
the following is an early version of "Frida's Heart"
SoSo: How did the music video project get going?
Daniela: I just had my solo exhibit last year in September where I met the director of Brick and she suggested to me I apply for The Artist Foundation. The exhibit experience had it's ups and downs but still applied for the grant. We went out to Marfa to shoot a video for "Frida's Heart" last year, the day after Thanksgiving. We shot so much stuff, but as soon as we got back, I knew I wasn't going to use any of it. It was photos and footage I ended up using for "Finding Patterns", which is the first song in our live set (you can see it here).
SoSo: How did you meet the director Laura Varela?
Daniela: She was doing a documentary screening at UTSA, about veterans, I was at school at the time and she was a badass to me because she's a female producer/director, and I went up to her, very matter-of-factly, shook her hand and said: "Thank you for everything that you do," and just left. I was so nervous, haha. I've followed her work over the years like her Luminaria installation, her documentary and feature film experience. I'm really into ethnographic documentaries where the white man goes into a secluded tribe and takes really candid photos of people who have had no exposure to western culture. While, the video came out very cinematic, which I wanted, but I also wanted to try to capture that ethnographic feel, where the viewer is witnessing something in its natural state.
I work with a lot of guys, and I love working males, but it was nice to work with a female on this project and try to strengthen the collaborative bonds between women in the community. She's from El Paso and I'm from Eagle Pass, she's a freelancer, I'm a freelancer, so there were these relatable qualities. Laura new exactly what I was going for with the river: she's like "That's brilliant! Let's do it!", I talked with a couple of other people and they were like, "It's an amazing idea...." but you could tell they weren't incredibly thrilled because it wasn't their idea, but Laura, she took it and ran with it like it was her own.
SoSo: I have my own idea of what I saw at the premier, but why don't you tell us in your own words what we're seeing.
Daniela: I knew I wanted the video to be a separate story and not try to recreate or depict the lyrics. I also didn't want to get into creating a Frida Kahlo character... everybody does that. I wanted to have independent stories speaking to each other, and the song itself just as a song, sans the story, is conducive to a story line: it has the ups and downs, and the different elements take you on a journey. I had been researching the San Antonio River and the rich indigenous history of the Yanaguana. They found evidence of people living in Brackenridge Park for 11,000 years and the river was crucial to their way of life.
People know me as this witchy, mystical girl and can get kinda annoyed by that, but I feel there are real spirits connected to the river's origins. And I see them, I feel them, it's not like I'm not trying make it up in my brain, and I feel it, like on a very real level. So it makes me really sad to see the river disconnected from it's origin, The Blue Hole. You see other parts of the river thriving but it's highly commercialized and I wanted to go back to an ancient quality. Like, who is Yanaguana?
I'm a type of sacrificial gift that's been sent, that crawls out of The Blue Hole, an origin cut off from it's baby. And is if almost by instinct, I collect items to bring to the shamans, I lay out the circle and then right when the beat starts, that's when they aggressively take me - what's funny, is that we began filming before the Ayahuasca ceremonies and in Colombia, it was like that, the purging process can be very intense and aggressive- its necessary but the pay off is super beautiful. So the shaman, they cleanse me with the water and then cover me with earth, I start to invoke a spirit as they use their instruments over me, and I begin to convulse and dance - in rituals around the world from voodoo to Brazilian rituals to Italian cleansing processes, its a sacred dance for people. They were drawing symbols on me, I'm basically being cleansed and purified in preparation for the sacrifice. I go to river, drink the water, they pour it on me - I do another brief dance in a more sober frame of mind and then I do the "crrrr" (neck cut motion).
SoSo: Was this fun for you, or was it more work-like? Ever wake up in the morning like: "Oh no! more shooting?"
Daniela: Hahaha, well... the most difficult part we shot before we went to Colombia and when we came back we had to shoot more things. So, in the video there's a month between shoot dates and it was harder the second time around, and I don't know.. I don't know why - I think in the begninning I felt very adventurous but the Colombia trip really sobered me up to the extent of ritual and how deeply important it is. So the second time around I think I was a little burned out on ceremonies, hahaha. But it worked out really well.
Everyone who worked on it was super positive, Laura, Andrew and even Ricardo, as soon as I would get frustrated Andrew would look at me like: "Dude. We're going to do this. It's ok. I'm here until the end, we're going try this until we get it right."
Executive Producer/Executive Director/Editor: Daniela Riojas
Producer/Co-Director: Laura Varela
Director of Photography: Andrew Gonzales
Costume Designer: Fabian Alejandro Diaz
Special Effects Make-up: Miguel Cantu
Set Photographer: Ricardo Romero
AC: Brock Easterly
Production Assistants: Irene Varela, Sandra Torres, Chris Craddock
Starring: Alex Paul Scheel and Jeff Palacios as shamans