Flow-bending artist aSanTIS discusses art, culture, and whether sound can solve the world’s problems in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.
My interview with Amy Santis aka aSanTIS began in the most unexpected way. The Maryland-based flow-bending artist and lyrical storyteller came prepared to engage in conversation around questions I had posed – and she also brought one or two of her own thoughtful prompts based on her curiosities around my view of learning.
This practice of taking in her surroundings deeply through observation and inquiry has come naturally to aSanTIS ever since she was a young child. In terms of her early starts in music, she notes that she began as a discerning listener.
“Just listening to music from my mom, on the radio, just being a consumer in the world of sound. But I think mainly, my mom has always loved dancing and listening to music, so that was sort of like second nature. We play music at gatherings, we play music in the car, and these songs are sort of like diaries that take us into a specific place.”
aSanTIS’s mother hails from Chile, so a number of Spanish songs are a part of the songwriter’s childhood soundtrack. “I just don’t remember their names,” aSanTIS laughed. “I actually feel like I suck at remembering song names and artists, but if I hear it, it clicks right away.”
Earth, Wind, and Fire were also a staple, specifically tracks like “September” and “Let’s Groove.” “I guess also being a part of different cultures, you know, there’s that one language of music,” aSanTIS reflected on her diverse musical influences.
Our conversation led aSanTIS down memory lane in her psyche, and she recalled one of her first performances in a school talent show.
“I sang with my friend, Jamie, at the time. We had a song in mind, and I think the music teacher didn’t want us to sing that song, I think maybe because we sucked. They were like, ‘You know, I don’t think this is your tone,’ in a very nice, not direct way was sort of the vibe I was getting.”
aSanTIS and her friend ended up singing a rendition of “Do You Believe in Magic” by The Lovin’ Spoonful, and their “magical moment” of stardom was etched in history. “I think there has always been that desire of doing music, and I know that to be true as I’ve done more of music,” she added on a more serious note.
Like music, family is especially important to aSanTIS, and she is mindful of the ways that her cultural background shapes her perspective.
“I don’t know, I was just born on this planet, and then I was like, ‘Okay, these are my parents.’ I was like, you guys are a little bit different than the outside world,” she shared. aSanTIS’s mother was born in the 1960s, so the age and cultural differences between her experiences growing up in Chile, and those of aSanTIS in the States, were pronounced.
“Within those differences, there was also a blessing,” aSanTIS noted. “Because it allows you to step up as your own person versus your parent holding your hand along the way because now it’s like, ‘Yo, you better get it together and learn some skills yourself so we can all soar.’”
“And also, just perspective, you know, there’s no one way of looking at life or doing things,” she added. “Even within a country itself, there is no one way. Even learning and connecting with different family members that haven’t grown up in the same city and how they look at life and a spectrum of living. And growing up in different spaces where there’s no one from Chile, there’s that space where it’s like, it really doesn’t matter what your culture is, we’re all just human.”
aSanTIS had a relationship with her dad who is from Guatemala until she was 7 years old, and then, he was no longer around – until recently.
“What was funny is I’ve always had a picture from information that was given to me and meeting other people that were from Guatemala and what I’ve learned,” she shared about her connection to her estranged father. “And then, 20 years later, we’ve reconnected. I was asking about his family and his culture, and I was like, ‘Whoa.’ You know when you’re outside and then you dive inside, you’re like, it’s so different in here.”
Increasingly, aSanTIS has learned to embrace the “full experience of being human” with compassion and empathy both personally and when engaging with others. “Yeah, it’s so weird you have this label – I think specifically for a parent – of what you feel like your parents should be, and then you connect with them, and they’re human. And you’re like, ‘Wait, we’re all human figuring it out.’”
A willingness to surrender to the flow of the universe manifests in a powerful way through aSanTIS’s music, which draws from improvisation, an art form she’s always been attracted to.
“I feel like that’s what I do with music, and what I found was, aren’t we always improvising?” In terms of music, “whether freestyle or flow-bending or improv – whatever we want to call it – that’s sort of like the invitation, where it’s like, ‘Wow, what’s going to show up here? I don’t even know.’”
“Brilla, Brilla,” which is Spanish for “Shine, Shine,” aSanTIS’s 2021 single, showcases her warm and expressive lyrical flow, empowering message, and ability to blend genres like R&B, hip-hop, soul, and Latin seamlessly. aSanTIS’s performances feel ethereal and otherworldly, transporting audiences to another space.
“During that time, I was seeing these limiting beliefs of even calling myself a musician or doing something with music,” aSanTIS explained about the inspiration for “Brilla, Brilla.” “It felt like, no, this can’t be right. I’m just not worthy to do this, and sort of the shifting of how I see myself. Even though in my heart, I was like, I want to do music. But it felt like, how can you do music, you have done no music. How can you call yourself this?”
aSanTIS purchased a portable microphone that allowed her to connect to an app and record herself. “I was playing around with it and playing a beat, and then, I did that so long. And so, then it became the next invitation, where it’s like, ‘Alright, you say you want to do music, now put it out.’ And so, that then was like figuring out what that meant. And the speed pedal was like, I just can’t be older and regret not trying and doing this.”
What resulted from her exercise was “Brilla, Brilla,” a spontaneous poetic outpouring that reminds individuals that their life extends beyond their own. The track was produced by Eeryskies.
Look at this song for the grandparents
That still shines, shines
Shines the light of them
Inside my heart
Look here I am.
“I didn’t go into the improv with any feeling or expectation of like, ‘Alright this is the picture I’m going to paint, or this is what it’s going to be about,’ but the beat just – like I felt like my grandparents,” said aSanTIS. “And my grandmother is still alive. But it was just the whole feeling of being connected to your grandparents and being connected to even people you’ve never met that are a part of your bloodline.”
“And me thinking about, it doesn’t even stop at your grandparents, and it doesn’t even stop at your great-grandparents. And then, it just keeps going and going. And when I really think about that line, or the lines, because now I’m just thinking about my mother’s parents, or my father’s parents, but all those lines that created you, you know.”
The final line of “Brilla, Brilla” is extra special. It features aSanTIS’s grandmother’s voice, symbolically stretching back to the ancestors and reaching forward to the generations to come.
One of aSanTIS’s overarching questions as an artist is “can sound solve our problems?” I posed the question to aSanTIS, and she asked if I was willing to respond to it before she shared her thoughts. I noted the power of music to connect people from strangers to family, as well as how I believe humans have a lot of room to grow in order to become better listeners and receivers of sound.
aSanTIS replied that she is still exploring the question. Last year, she led two focus groups called Sound, Soul, Paint, in which she investigated what would happen when you allow adults to paint their arm with skin paint while they participate in a mini meditation to the tune of aSanTIS’s live performance. Survey data from the focus groups indicates that participants experienced a changed state that ranged from feeling more connected to who they truly are, more relaxed, and more grounded.
“If everything is frequency and vibration, then I think that’s where the connection lies with how sound can solve our problems,” suggested aSanTIS. “And so, I’m not sure what that looks like. Does that look like sing a song when you’re feeling x, y, z or when you’re in a state? Does it look more like do your reps so that when you’re actually in the state, you’ve done your reps so much that the body recognizes, ‘Yo, we actually know what the relaxation state is’ because we know what that bar is that we’ve set for being relaxed or at peace or whatever that word is?”
As part of her research, aSanTIS is also unpacking how sound is typically defined. “Is sound really only through our ears? Or is it that more deeper depth of how we connect to one another?” she asked, referencing a charming chance encounter with a deaf couple.
When asked for the most important lesson she has learned to date, aSanTIS said “always ask questions” has been on her list since primary school – and rightfully so. “But now, as an adult, I would say forgiveness,” she added. “It feels like it’s not important, like it’s so obvious, like duh, but I think whether that’s to ourselves, or to others, or what we thought about others, I think forgiveness is a big one.”
Learn more about aSanTIS at https://www.instagram.com/feelgoodfire/, and be sure to check out Alchemical Records on our socials for additional clips from our conversation, including why aSanTIS believes fun and playfulness are the best medicine and the influence of Bob Proctor on her work.
Cynthia Gross is a freelance writer and award-winning spiritual pop artist based in Maryland. With more than a decade of experience as an executive ghostwriter, she understands the power of each individual’s voice to create positive, meaningful change.
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