Andrés and Christina are the Latin Grammy-winning duo of 123 Andrés. Through their music and performances, children and adults learn both in Spanish and English. Their album Arriba Abajo won the Latin Grammy for Best Children’s Album in 2016. Their recent album Canta las Letras has been nominated for a Latin Grammy. 123 Andrés was among the performers who delighted the audience at Los Angeles Libros Festival this past September at Central Library. Learn more about this talented duo in the exclusive interview that 123 Andrés gave to Los Angeles Public Library.
Tell us a bit about the two of you?
Andrés: We are a duo called 123 Andrés, and we perform and create music for children and families in Spanish and English.
I grew up in Bogotá, Colombia. My parents signed me up for music classes when I was very young, just to expose me to it, but as I decided to pursue music in college and as a career they always supported me. I moved to the US for graduate school, and I kept studying until I earned a Doctorate in Clarinet Performance! Then, I decided the best thing I could do was create music for children and families.
Christina: I grew up in the Midwest. My parents were immigrants from Bogotá, and it was important for them that I be able to communicate in Spanish. Now we see so many families like mine, who are trying to raise bilingual children. It’s very rewarding to be able to support families by providing music that’s bilingual, bicultural and fun.
How did you become a singer? What does being a singer means to you?
Andrés: Growing up, I studied the clarinet. My dad also taught me to play guitar, and later I picked up the saxophone. So, it wasn’t until I started 123 Andrés that I began to think of myself as a singer! Now I see how powerful singing is. I tell students—inside each of us, from the time we are born, we have an instrument: our voice. As musicians, Christina and I write most of our songs, and we think carefully about how we will present them. What movements will we use? What visuals will help support the song? In what ways will we involve the audience? We think about singing and also how we will create an experience for the audience.
What is your creative process like?
Christina: Sometimes we have a specific goal for a song. For example, for Canta las Letras, we wanted to write a song for each letter of the alphabet! We brainstorm words and phrases to use, and we think about how the song can lend itself to a video and performing live—is there a call and response section we can incorporate? What movements should we do?
Andrés: Other times, there isn’t a goal—just a piece of a melody or a string of words that get stuck in my head. I continue repeating them over and over, and see in what direction the song takes me.
What are some singers that have influenced your career?
Andrés: Rubén Blades is an artist that I have admired since I was growing up. He has a way of storytelling with his lyrics—even Gabriel García Márquez admired Rubén Blades’ lyrics. There is a depth to his lyrics that, at the time, were groundbreaking for Latin music. What is most incredible for me, is that Ruben Blades is an invited guest on our next album, Actívate. I hear the recording and I almost can’t believe it! We’re excited to release this next album.
What place do books have in your life?
Christina: We have both always loved reading. On the road, we check books out from the library on an app. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction books about other times in history, and memoirs, like Daring to Drive by Manal Al-Sharif and The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton. Reading stories about people who have had different life experiences from me helps me think about my own life and my place in the world.
What are some of your favorite books?
Christina: I have so many! I love The Age of Innocence, The House of Mirth and Ethan Frome, novels by Edith Wharton. I thought Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover was amazing. In Spanish, El sitio de los sitios by Juan Goytisolo, La fiesta del chivo by Mario Vargas Llosa…But, I used to get hung up on only reading “excellent” literature. Now, I think the most important thing is to be constantly reading and to read a wide variety of authors, styles, and forms. Even when I don’t think a book is amazing, I am still learning from it.
What inspired you about the Los Angeles Libros Festival?
Andrés: First, we were inspired by the incredible turnout! This shows everyone what we already know: children, young people, adults—people of all kinds—are looking for books and media that are bilingual and bicultural. We were also inspired by the wonderful staff and volunteers from the library, REFORMA and LA Librería that made it possible.
Tell us your connection with the City of Los Angeles?
Christina: My first time visiting Los Angeles was only a few years ago. I did not know what to expect, other than what you see in movies, the news, and pop culture. It’s been a privilege to visit several times now and perform for children and families who are earnest, creative, and full of spirit. We have gotten to visit some of the same communities and develop friends, especially in the bilingual education community. Thank you L.A. families and educators for your kindness and welcoming, and for your passion for bilingualism!
What’s next for 123 Andrés? More music, books?
Andrés: Yes! We are working on a new album which will have collaborations with top artists from the Latin music world—Ruben Blades, el Pollo Brito from Venezuela, Luz Pinos...
Christina: We are also very excited to release our first two books, with Scholastic. Stay tuned in 2020!