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Abel’s Key to a Happy Life: Freedom to Do What You Want

Written by on March 1, 2021

Twenty five year-old Mexican-American artist Abel is forging his own path in the Chicago music scene — and he wouldn’t want to be anybody else.

Inspired by artists like Bad Bunny, J Balvin and Ozuna and influenced by a multitude of genres from reggaeton to Latin-influenced pop, Abel crafts a sound that is uniquely his own. His sixth single “Cuando” was featured on our In Rotation playlist for January. We virtually chatted with Abel about his influences both new and old, what he loves about Chicago and his idea of a happy life.

All photos courtesy of the artist.

Vocalo: As an artist with no familial musical background, could you tell us a little bit about how you realized you wanted to pursue a career in music? Is there any specific instance you can point out, or was it more of a gradual realization?

Abel: A little bit of both. Growing up, I really liked writing music but I had absolutely no intentions of making my own. Not because it was hard, but because — even if I wanted to at the time — I didn’t have any resources and none of my friends were into music like that. So it seemed impossible to even consider it. My other option was to tell my parents, and when I did I got in trouble and they told me to focus on school. So, whatever. I got over that, but I kept writing music on my own just for fun. 

Fast-forward to college: the moment that flipped the switch for me was my first concert. Freshman year at UIC, Chance the Rapper opened up for Kendrick Lamar! “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City” was huge at that time and “Acid Rap” had just dropped. I was so excited for this concert that I was nervous. I snuck through the crowd and ended up against the rail, just five feet away from the stage. Being so close made it personal — it reassured me that these guys are also human. Throughout the concert, I was observing the energy from the crowd and it got me thinking it must be an amazing feeling to be up on that stage. It was at that concert when I told myself, “I can do this … I want to do this.”

Who were the musicians you listened to most when you were a child?

I have very early memories of listening to Los Bukis and Los Yonic’s.

Los Yonic’s A lot of sad boy classics, but that’s because my dad listened to them all the time. A lot of Latin American artists from that time, the ‘70s and ‘80s. When I listen to their music now it’s crazy because at that time I didn’t realize how good their songs were. 

Middle school is when I started developing my own taste for music. My older sisters would listen to reggaeton and that’s when I discovered all the legends: Daddy Yankee, Tego Calderón, Wisin y Yandel, R.K.M y Ken-Y, Zion y Lennox, Arcángel, Tito “El Bambino”… the list goes on. It’s weird because I would listen to these artists at home, but at school I would only listen to and talk about artists from the U.S. with my friends. I hardly spoke Spanish outside of my house, and, for the most part, no one really spoke Spanish at school.

In high school, I was more into rap. Reggaeton kind of faded away from me for a bit. I was all about Drake, J. Cole and Mac Miller. I remember I would get excited for Drake and Mac Miller to drop new music. I’d go straight on YouTube and wait for someone to make a bogus instrumental and then I would write my own songs to their beats and record voice notes over the instrumental on my iPod Touch. I did it just for fun and kept it to myself. 

Has the Latinx music community in Chicago influenced your creative style?

I haven’t met many Chicago Latinx artists, but I’ve noticed that the Latinx music community is pretty prevalent on social media. It’s still early in my career and I’m barely making my way around to collaborating with these artists. A huge shout out to my boy Johnny Carter, who showed me the ropes and has stayed by my side since the beginning of my music career. He’s an amazing producer. His experience in music has helped me expand my thoughts and creativity immensely.

Aside from artists, the Latinx community influences me by keeping me motivated. Their support has helped me out so much and I’m truly blessed so say that the Latin music scene in my city has my back.

What’s one thing you would like to change about Chicago?

Its reputation of being a dangerous and violent city. Chicago’s beautiful and full of life. I’ve been to many cities, and there’s nothing like Chicago. It sucks that people from other places view this city as a danger zone. Chicago has made positive influences all over the world and that’s more of what needs to get talked about. 

What’s something about Chicago you hope always stays the same?

The creativity in Chicago. There’s so much talent in this city. I’m meeting new creatives all the time, and it’s crazy how talented they are. Even though it’s a huge city, somehow creatives all know of each other or know of someone that you know, and that’s dope. If you’re looking for any type of talent or artist, I’m sure you can find them in Chicago. You ain’t gotta look anywhere else. 

You were building a lot of momentum over the past couple of years, releasing six different singles, gaining popularity on Spotify and booking shows, when the pandemic put a lot of live music on hold. How has that experience been for you? How has it changed the way you approach making music, if at all?

It sucked. I was barely making my way around Chicago venues and my team was killing it. We had some out of state performances booked for summer 2020 that weren’t able to happen. So it really sucked! We adapted though, and we threw a virtual concert in January for the National Museum of Mexican Art. A lot of work went into planning as far as setting up audio and camera, so we all learned a lot from it. I know live shows are gonna be even better now. Besides that, nothing’s changed about our approach to making music. Making bangers is all we’ve been focused on from the beginning. 

Do you have plans for a full-length release on the horizon?

I think it’s time for a project. I like dropping singles, though. It really helps me appreciate each song as much as I can. But yeah, we’ve got too many songs piled up now so it’s time. EP on the way.

What is your idea of happiness?

Being able to do whatever you want. People think you have to be old and retired to do that, but that shouldn’t be the case. Sometimes it might just be freedom from yourself. Letting go of the “what ifs” and giving yourself the courage to put yourself out there. A lot of people are so talented but are afraid to do what they want to do, whether it’s out of fear of being judged or fear of not being good enough. At the end of the day, you must let it go and give yourself a chance. I live a happy life. 

Follow Abel on Twitter and Instagram, and stream his music below.

Interview edited for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

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