DMV-based Salvadoran-American artist and dancer Chipelo discusses his debut single, the importance of cultural representation, what inspires him to give back, and more.
For Salvadoran-American artist Chipelo, music is a lifestyle. The DMV-based musician, dancer, producer, and actor fuses his diverse talents into his art seamlessly to create a vibrant full-mind and body experience for new and existing audiences alike, and the Towson University senior is just getting started.
Join contributing writer Cynthia Gross as she connects with Chipelo to discuss his debut single, “SIN TI,” how he prepares physically for high-energy performances, the importance of cultural representation in his art, what inspires him to give back to the community as a mentor for youth in Baltimore, and his upcoming performance at TreeFort Fest in Rockville, Maryland on June 10.
Chipelo aka Benjamin Molina has been immersed in music since childhood. He has fond memories of being introduced to Spanish music and Salvadoran culture by his parents at home, and English and American culture in school, as a first-generation child.
“My parents would treat me almost like a party trick: they’d go to family parties, put on music, and tell me to dance, then everyone would watch me,” Chipelo laughed. “I dove deeper into music through Danny Elfman’s Spider-Man soundtrack; I was in awe of how I could follow the story solely with the soundtrack, no words being said, and wanted to be a film composer then.”
Over the years, Chipelo’s creative interests evolved, and he came to realize that he wanted to become a music artist himself. Chipelo took early inspiration from Michael Jackson. He also taught himself to play guitar, piano, bass, and the bongos.
Of late, Chipelo cites Puerto Rican artist Rauw Alejandro, also known as the “King of Modern Reggaeton,” as his biggest influence. “He is one of the only male Latin artists that really is a performer; he puts a lot of work into dancing and having choreography with backup dancers,” notes Chipelo.
“He even had Jabbawockeez for his most recent tour,” Chipelo added. “That was sci-fi styled based on his album Saturno, and it was so cool to see everyone dress up in the theme to his concert. He has a very set idea and sticks to it. He knows that to have the audience engaged and have fun, you need more than just running around stage singing; you need to perform.”
Indeed, this commitment to providing a transformative experience for audiences as a norm and not an exception is evident in Chipelo’s art, including his debut single, “SIN TI,” translated as “Without You.”
“You know, I used to wake up hurtin’ when you’d be in my dreams / Your face stung too much to see / Remining me how it used to be,” Chipelo sings in the opening lines of song. The past tense “used to” is intentional, as these are decidedly some of the only lines in the song that center on grief over the loss of a past relationship. Instead, “SIN TI” focuses more largely on the freedom that comes from knowing you’re better off without whatever it was you left behind.
Lyrics like “All I gotta do is speak some Spanish / And the white girls eat me up like I’m organic” add levity, and Chipelo laughed that this line, in particular, always commands attention. On a more serious note, he said “SIN TI” serves as a “personal expression” of how he has moved on.
“The chorus is really where it comes out, because in English, it translates to ‘Look at me now/ I’ve left you behind/ I want you to hear everything I’m saying/ Now it’s your turn to feel how much it hurt for me/ You let me suffer, now it’s time for me to really live and/ I’m tired of being so nice/ I want to enjoy what life has to offer.’”
While watching Chipelo’s colorful, dynamic performances, audiences cannot help but wonder how the artist prepares his body physically to be able to dance and sing simultaneously for prolonged periods. Chipelo said that he begins intense practice routines at least two weeks prior to a performance.
“I start early because I need to build up the stamina to sing and dance without sounding tired. I’ll practice the performance, and then run it again and again. When I’m tired, I’ll rest and do it again the next day. By the time of the performance, my stamina is up, and I can breathe better and still perform, but I’m also used to how my body moves and can avoid shakiness. I recently started boxing to do more cardio to keep my stamina up as well.”
In 2022, Chipelo’s impressive stage presence captivated a panel of celebrity judges at Coast 2 Coast Live, the largest showcase of artists in the world. “It’s funny because I wasn’t even going to attend the competition,” Chipelo recalled. “I was practicing for it, yes, but two days before, I got sick, so the day of the performance, my bones ached, and my throat was super sore, making it hard to really sing. I was practicing at home but couldn’t hit the highest notes, and I decided I wasn’t going to go anymore.”
Chipelo’s parents reminded him that the event presented a “huge opportunity” since the winner would go to Miami to compete to win the $50,000 grand prize, and he reconsidered. “I took every pill and drank every tea we had and went to the venue,” said Chipelo. “My friend, Alex, was still on his way, because he was supposed to be my backup dancer, but he didn’t arrive in time for my performance. I was feeling okay at that moment, thanks to all of the medicine and a bit of adrenaline.”
Chipelo gave the best performance of “SIN TI” that he could in spite of the circumstances, placing second in the competition, which is an admirable feat hands down.
This electrifying energy carries through to Chipelo’s latest single, “JUEVES,” translated as “Thursday,” which released on June 2. The Latin-influenced dance banger oscillates between an orderly college campus to a wild party scene with abundant libation, where individuals are free to indulge for the evening. Sometimes, you just need a release from the stresses of daily life, and “JUEVES” provides all that and more.
The music video for “JUEVES” highlights Chipelo’s passion for storytelling, which is strengthened by his ability to blend varied art forms into a synthesized experience. Chipelo incorporates both Spanish and English lyrics in his music, and he notes that embracing the entirety of his identity is a stance that he does not take lightly.
“I’m very prideful of who I am and where I come from because as a kid, I wasn’t,” he shared. “In elementary and middle school, I used to want to be white because they always got all the cool stuff and representation in movies and TV shows, but as I got older, I realized how blessed I am to be Latino and also grow up in the United States. It makes me who I am, and I probably would not have pursued music if I wasn’t Latino.”
“There’s something about our music that I grew up loving and that’s so unique, and that uniqueness makes me, me,” he added. “There are probably other people who think very similarly to me, and I can be that icon that I never had growing up, so that’s who I want to be, someone people can look up to and be inspired by, so it’s important that I am authentic in my music and represent where I come from.”
And Chipelo is already actively equipping the next generation with the skills needed to embrace their authentic selves as a mentor for I AM MENtality, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that empowers young men in Baltimore to tap into their leadership potential.
“I believe it is super important for kids to have mentors from similar backgrounds because it is easier for the kids to trust, believe, and relate to what you are saying,” explained Chipelo. “You can be the best and most supportive mentor, but kids will connect and trust you instantly if they know you’re like them. You’ve been through what they have, and you’re an example of ‘I’ve made it out,’ meaning that they can, too.”
“SIN TI” and “JUEVES” offer “just a taste” of what Chipelo brings to the table, as the emerging talent continues to hone in on his big sound, bold choreography, and impactful message. A senior business administration major and marketing minor at Towson University, Chipelo says the most important message he wants audiences to take away from his recent releases is that “I’m not here to play; music isn’t a hobby I’ll do for a year or two, and then stop.”
For Chipelo, music is an extension of who he is, and come what may, he is here to stay.
Chipelo performs live on June 10 at TreeFort Fest, a private event in Rockville, Maryland, which he describes as “a really big house party.” Stay tuned for his upcoming releases this summer, which he says will consist of a new song every month.
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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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.”
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