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Claudia Acuña

“Claudia has great instincts, and is one singer who is actually a musician – one of us.”  --- Branford Marsalis.

Claudia Acuña is a Chilean singer/songwriter/arranger and possesses one of the most beautiful and compelling voices in jazz and creative music.  While singing primarily in Spanish, her music crosses language barriers to communicate with power and deep feeling.  Acuña was born in Santiago, Chile in 1971.  When she was quite young, her family moved to Concepcion, the site of a rich arts community.  When she heard recordings by Violeta Parra and Michael Jackson on the radio, she decided to become a singer.  “The family did not own a television, so my imagination became my own TV.  I began to fantasize about being in front of an audience, and would search the radio for things that moved me – from Parra and Michael Jackson to Earth, Wind and Fire to Mozart to movie musicals.  When I finally heard people like Erroll Garner and Thelonious Monk, I was drawn to the music’s freedom without knowing that what they played was called jazz.”

In 1991, Acuña moved to Santiago, where she quickly became active recording jingles and doing voices for cartoons.  After seeing a film about the musicians and clubs in New York, and meeting touring musicians who visited Chile and provided encouragement, she found the necessary confidence to visit the United States.  “I was insecure, because I had not attended music school and did not speak English at the time; but I had enough confidence, plus a little bit of craziness, to follow my passion.  One day in 1995, I just said, `that’s it, I’m going to New York.’”

While Acuña had planned to study at one of the area’s jazz schools, she soon realized that tuition costs were prohibitive.  But she received encouragement when a teacher at one audition told her that she did not really need school, and that she could learn “the old fashion way” at the city’s jam sessions and clubs.  “I felt more at home in New York than I ever felt in Chile,” she explains, “even though I didn’t speak the language well and was running out of money. “  A series of part-time jobs led to work on the staff at the Blue Note nightclub, where she heard many legendary artists who strengthened her determination to find an original voice.  “I had heard Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nation Orchestra in Chile, and felt that if he could embrace Latin music, then I could bring my own background to jazz.”

Record companies began to show interest in Acuña after a tape of one of her live performances began to circulate without her knowledge.  Her debut on the Marsalis Music label, En Este Momento was released in 2009.  Acuña’s appointment as spokesperson for the child-focused relief agency World Vision Chile underscores her commitments beyond music.  “I heard about World Vision almost by accident, and grew more involved as I saw that the organization works” she says.  “I’m interested in everything that involves sustaining mother earth, and children are a priority.  Any organization that does not just label children `delinquent,’ but serves their needs, I’ll be involved.”


Return to Tribute to Justice: Remembering 40 years September 9th 2013.