La Mala Speaks: An Interview With Maluca

Maluca is an iconic NYC artist who, since her breakthrough release "El Tigeraso" in 2009, has blessed multiple records with her signature vocal delivery, toured around the world, and collaborated with a wide array of artists and producers, including Diplo, Robyn, Dillon Francis, Jubilee, Nguzunguzu, and Sam Sparro. Cell Vision correspondent Lyle Hodges spoke with her about her music, her influences, and what she has been doing to stay motivated and help out during the COVID-19 crisis.

words and interview by Lyle Hodges

all photos by Dereck Brewer
assisted by Josh Davis and Catherine Walsh.

Every year, hometown heroes from all over the world move to New York City, lured by its rich musical history, hoping to become “New York” artists. Like Frank Sinatra sang, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere!” But for Maluca, a native New Yorker who grew up in downtown Manhattan’s East Village, no journey was necessary; she emerged, already a genuine NYC artist. Maluca’s music reflects the colorfully motley East Village neighborhood she grew up in: the corner bodegas, the underground clubs, the punks, latino locals, the attitude, the sounds of the block, the whole vibe. Her sound represents a melting pot; her sound IS New York City. I sat with Maluca recently and asked her to give us an accurate backstory of how her passion shifted from hobby to career, as well as what she’s currently been working on.

CELL VISION: How did you get your moniker, “Maluca?”

MALUCA: My uncle gave me that name as a kid. I started using it on MySpace, and it stuck.

CELL VISION: What and who have you been listening to lately?

MALUCA: Been listening to Diana Gordon, Rosalia, Bad Bunny, and La India. Old 90's NYC club classics, salsa, merengue, and bachata.

CELL VISION: We’ve noticed that people have been a little stumped when trying to describe your sound. How would you describe your music?

MALUCA: Urban, Tropical, Electronic.

CELL VISION: Last year, you dropped a single called “NYC Baby”, a track where I hear a little Shannon, Debbie Deb, and Jellybean Benitez. Who produced that track? Is that the vibe you were going for?

MALUCA: Sam Sparro produced the track. Yes, correct, it has all of that in there. It’s very freestyle inspired. The sound on my album is a New York sound.

"NYC Baby" by Maluca

"A lot of folks out there are beat makers, they are not PRODUCING records!"

CELL VISION: Last year, you also guested on “Mami”, the lead single from Jubilee’s most recent album. How do you choose the producers you collaborate with?

MALUCA: I choose my producers based on the actual meaning of a music producer. Someone who has a vision, is musical, and can arrange vocals and music. A lot of folks out there are beat makers, they are not PRODUCING records! They have no idea what to do with vocals besides putting on a reverb effect.

"Mami" by Jubilee feat. Maluca

CELL VISION: Now that we’re talking producers, I read that you got your first real start by a chance meeting with Diplo while doing karaoke. Can you walk us through that story and tell us what happened?

MALUCA: I was working at a bar/club called 205 (when it was cool), and it was karaoke night upstairs. Diplo just happened to be there, and we sang together. I had no idea who he was. A while after a meeting, he asked me to send him what I was working on, I did, and “El Tigeraso” was born.

"El Tigeraso" by Maluca

CELL VISION: So now that we are in the middle of a global pandemic… What have you been up to the last 5 months?

MALUCA: Protesting, resting, making some music, lots of kundalini, lots of spirit work. Learning a lot about indegenous spirituality, writing, watching shitty TV, lots of eating, self care.

"I took this time to stay connected to myself, first and foremost, during these crazy times."

CELL VISION: What did you do during the NYC lockdown to stay connected to your fans? A lot of artists were doing IG live and Twitch “concerts,” did you do anything of that nature?

MALUCA: I took this time to stay connected to myself, first and foremost, during these crazy times. But I did offer free meditations to my online family earlier in lockdown.

CELL VISION: Many artists really dove into writing and recording during Quarantine, were you able to create during that time? How did the emotional effects of the lockdown or the tension of the pandemic affect any new music you wrote?

MALUCA: It's been hard to be creative during these times. I’ve definitely channeled my anger, frustration, and sadness into the songs I've been writing.

"We are conditioned in America to feel like our self-worth is connected to productivity. For example, your question earlier was 'what have you been doing?' not 'how have you been doing?'"

CELL VISION: The climate of the country shifted at the end of May with the murder of George Floyd—it was a major emotional shift for the world. How did that particular event and everything that followed affect you as a person and an artist?

MALUCA: It's felt like a massive racial "me too" situation. During the first phase of quarantine, I was thinking, "How can I help?" I went hard, delivering content on both my platforms (I have a wellness platform as well), with meditations, talks, etc. After George Floyd’s murder, I went from seeing no one in quarantine to full-on [attending] protests daily. It took a toll on my nervous system, and I fell into a depressive funk. We are conditioned in America to feel like our self-worth is connected to "productivity." For example, your question earlier was "what have you been doing?" not "how have you been doing?" It's not an attack, just an observation. We are obsessed with productivity and material success in this country instead of our and others’ well-being.

CELL VISION: We saw that you just released an EP of vintage gems from your back catalogue, called STIMULUS and all the Bandcamp proceeds from that are being donated. Can you tell us the details of that EP and the organizations that you're donating the proceeds to?

MALUCA: Nguzunguzu and I have been friends for a decade, and over the years, we made some bops! So we thought why not release them and offer help from within our creative wheelhouse. We decided to split proceeds between For The Gworls, a party/community that raises money to assist black trans folx with rent and affirmative surgery, and Egna Legna Besidet, an activist organization for Ethiopian domestic workers in Beirut.

STIMULUS by Maluca and Nguzunguzu

"Fuck plans. Do what you want, release what you want, whenever you want! There are no more rules."

CELL VISION: No one knows when musicians will be able to tour again, but do you have any tentative plans for 2021 or any scheduled releases for any new material in the near future?

MALUCA: I'm just in this moment. What I’ve learned during the pandemic is, fuck plans. Do what you want, release what you want, whenever you want! There are no more rules.

Maluca and Nguzunguzu’s Stimulus Pack EP is out now and available on Bandcamp via the link below.

'STIMULUS' EP on Bandcamp