Panamanian singer Sofía Valdés has just released her debut EP Ventura, and it's a beautiful collection of songs she's been writing over the last four years. Inspired by Brazilian and Panamanian music, it's her way of modernising the sounds she grew up listening to for a new audience.
We spoke to Sofia about writing and releasing Ventura, as well as her adorable corgi and her favourite Lorde album. Speaking to Sofia, it's no wonder that water is an ever-present theme in her music - much like a body of water, Sofia speaks with serene confidence that comes from knowing who you are, and the artist you want to be.
Cool Accidents: Hey Sofia! How's it going - have you been up to much today or just keeping it easy?
Sofía Valdés - A little bit! I have been around my house a lot, cooked a little bit and walked my dog a few times.
What type of dog do you have?
I have a baby corgi. She’s three months old now.
Oh cute! At the start of lockdown we got a golden retriever who's 11 months old now and it's been amazing.
I was thinking of getting a really big dog but I realised she is supposed to grow kinda big, like a medium-sized dog, but already she is stronger than me.
It’s amazing. Dog strength is on a different level. Almost as soon as they realise they can do it, they’ll do anything they can get away with.
Yeah exactly. I had a lab as well and it was a brown lab, he was the cutest! I was 9 when we got him, and from then on I’ve been like ‘I don’t know if I can do big dogs’ because I was 9 years old and he would just push me and jump and I would just fall in the pool.
We’re pretty lucky that our dog is quite timid but if she wants to give you a shove, she will. If you are at the dog park with her she will just barrel through all the people’s legs and they just have to try and not fall over.
I totally get that.
So firstly, I wanted to congratulate you on Ventura. I know that it means good luck and good fortune in Spanish. Do you feel very lucky at the moment? It’s a hard period to judge that but how does luck manifest in your life?
We're in a pandemic so I don’t feel lucky, but I do feel lucky in a lot of ways. I have a house and I can eat right now, and especially here in Panama we're dealing a lot with those things, so I feel lucky but also, it’s such a weird time to be releasing music. I was just so happy to put this body of work out finally because I had been working on it for the longest time.
I did want to ask about that actually. You’ve been making it for the last four years. How do you feel those songs that are on the EP relate to each other after releasing it now in a time that is different from when you started writing it? For example, the ones you had written back in 2017/2018 - when you listen to those songs now, how do you feel about them and how has your relationship with them changed?
I usually hate the songs that I wrote years ago, but Amsterdam, for example, was such a significant song at the time because I was going through something. The person I wrote it about, she was going through something and it was such a joke song yet we both loved it. It ended up being my senior performance song, my last song. It just holds a lot of really good memories. I think with the other ones there’s a part of myself that I have to put out in order to find this new sound and what Sofia is going to do next.
I don’t know why I just talked about myself in the third person!
When you create something though it must feel like it’s going beyond yourself, you’re putting it out there to the world. As a writer sometimes you find yourself talking about yourself in the third person because it doesn’t belong to you anymore.
It definitely feels like that. It’s also because I go on my Spotify and I see me with the make-up and the hair and the outfits and I’m like ‘what the hell’. I don’t see us as one in a way. It’s so funny because at the beginning it used to bother me if anyone played with my songs in any way and now, they can be playing whatever song and I just don't realise that it’s me, if that makes sense. I feel like it’s something else going on there. I don’t know who that is.
How do you perceive Sofía Valdés the artist versus Sofía Valdés the person? Are there two different personalities or is there a lot of crossover? How do you get in that mindset to be an artist versus who you might be when you are hanging out with your dog?
I think it is exactly the same. The only difference is that I see being weird is that I am here, yet other people are being able to be with me without me being there – through my music. With that comes a persona that everyone builds in their head.
You know, we have relationships with songs and moods that are attached to a song and memories and what the person might look like. That’s someone’s imagination, that’s what people will think, but I’m over here walking my dog in the park.
It takes on a life of its own in many ways.
Yeah exactly! I think so, at least.
Building on that I want to ask about water. I know that this imagery of water is present throughout the EP and you’ve spoken about how important water is to you?
I did not do that on purpose.
Did you grow up around water? Do you love swimming? I wanted to know more about that.
That’s what I find kind of strange about all this! Everyone has been like ‘yeah when I hear this EP I think I’m close to the water and the beach’ and I’m like ‘where are you listening to this?’ I don’t hear any of these things. But I did grow up by the water, by the ocean and every weekend I was swimming in the ocean or in the pool.
I do remember my place where I found myself very calm, was in this certain beach – actually I’m very close to it. I remember if I was feeling happy or sad or anything I would just go there and I’d put my phone and earplugs on and just play music with my friends. We were all silent, we would just lay there and look at the sky and listen to the ocean.
We would spend two hours just doing that. It was the happiest place for me. The feeling of being there has always stayed in my heart and I can’t get it easily, it’s just when I’m there. I think maybe those things followed me and how much I thought about things at that beach and how much I dreamed of doing music. When I write music and write songs that’s when it all comes out.
I’ve always lived in front of the water. I lived in Northern Michigan and I was in front of a lake, and then living in Liverpool you’re by the ocean as well, you’re by the sea. I feel more comfortable if I am around water, for sure.
I think there might be a subconscious connection there.
Yeah, definitely. I literally did not realise until now that every song has some sort of water lyric.
I think people just draw from what they know. Even if you are in a different environment to maybe where you thought of that verse, it just comes out.
That’s how people know that I actually wrote the songs because I repeat stuff, themes.
What’s the name of that beach you grew up around?
It’s called Coclé. I’m away from the city. It’s not actually a beach, it’s an area, it’s a province here. It’s really big but there's a lot of little beaches everywhere and rivers.
Building on that then, this idea of water and drawing from your Panamanian roots, that’s something that’s very important to you to express through your artistry and through your music. How do you feel that does come across through your music? Having grown up in Panama and living there now, when you are writing music do you feel that connection coming through?
It’s funny because a lot of people ask me that, but I feel that my culture and everything about it has influenced me more on a personal level. Panama is my home and where I find my normal, my friends and my family.
It’s comfort. I think musically, I have been very inspired by Brazilian music like bossa nova and definitely some sounds from here as well, from Panama – there are some rhythms that I really like and artists from here that I look up to a lot and I feel they really helped me learn how to write songs.
So you are drawing influences from there, are there any current artists that you are listening to at the moment? When I listen to your music and I listen to Pink Sweat$ I hear the inspiration - I get that summertime beachy feeling. Do you listen to much hip-hop or more classical music from the '60s, '70s and areas like that?
I had my time. I remember that in my senior year I was very into hip-hop music and rap, because being in Panama I had never been exposed to those styles of music. When I got to the US my roommate was like ‘you don’t know who this is?’ she was like ‘Kendrick (Lamar)’ – very obvious artists and she played me his music.
I remember she introduced me to Frank Ocean and my mind was blown. I also got introduced to Motown and gospel music as well and from my friends and I was like ‘what is this?’ I knew about old rock music and folk music and obviously pop and bossa nova and a lot of French music, I was very into French music then, but I didn’t know the others and it was crazy.
Is that still the case in Panama? Or is the generation now a bit more exposed to hip-hop and rap, and more contemporary genres?
People are way more exposed to that. When I’m talking it was like 2015 and I had just discovered Spotify and now everyone has Spotify, everyone can look at music, whatever they want. I was just listening to the people that I liked, and people were talking about artists like Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Stevie Nicks. Those were the first people I went to because that’s what the artist I was listening to at the time said were here influences. From there I started finding more and more and more.
Finally, you’ve mentioned before that you want Ventura to soundtrack the lives of people listening to it, what album would you choose to soundtrack your life and why?
I will say this album because it is the first album that I loved in its entirety and I’d never had that before. It is Pure Heroine by Lorde and I remember I was thirteen when I heard the album for the first time. Royals came out, and then I went to the album and I heard each song with lyrics.
I didn’t understand half of the things she was saying because I didn’t speak English well then, but it was very visual and I could understand it just because she was saying very descriptive, visual things and that’s how I understood her lyrics. But I didn’t know the concepts. I have that now in my writing, like Handful Of Water and stuff like that. Very visual stuff because that’s how I understand things, I guess. I would say Pure Heroine by Lorde, definitely.
I think that is a really good point as well, about trying to make your music as visual as possible, because people will often listen to lyrics and then visualise what you're writing about in their own mind.
And it was such a mood, it was such a mood that album.
How do you feel listening to it today compared to all those years ago?
It’s still the same, to be honest. I cannot play the album nowadays because it is too much for me but I had never heard anything like that when I was that age and I just remember she puts so much space in her songs and I would blast her songs (on headphones, not on speakers), but I would feel that everything was the sound, if that makes sense. I could calm down in her sound. That for me was very inspiring and I realised how much someone’s voice and the sounds can affect someone’s mood. Maybe that is something obvious but for me when I was younger it hadn’t clicked yet.
It’s a revelation realising you can envelop yourself in someone else’s voice.