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Kat Dahlia on being inspired by Celia Cruz and her hometown

It was a beautiful sunny, winter afternoon in Miami – temperature not higher than 75 degrees. We were in the middle of interviewing singer-songwriter Kat Dahlia, who in January released her debut album, “My Garden.” Out of nowhere, in cliché Miami Vice fashion, we were interrupted by a police boat chase. Standing at the abandoned Miami Marine Stadium in Virginia Key – a modernist concrete stadium right on the water, built in 1963 for power boat racing, we heard a loud siren. It was a police watercraft chasing two renegade jet skis that had just zoomed by us a few seconds earlier. In no time, the patrol boat was towing the two jet skis back to shore.

Dahlia, who was born Katriana Huguet here in Miami, said “I love it. He’s aggressive!” thoroughly enjoying the brief action scene unfolding before us. Unfazed, without missing a beat, she continued the interview.

The 24-year-old artist is just as focused and unfiltered as her songs. She also doesn’t waste time with small talk or forced smiles. In the middle of a hectic promotional schedule, waking up at the crack of dawn to do interviews, she showed up for Fusion’s acoustic session at the Marine Stadium ready to belt out two songs a cappella and answer our questions. Even though she was visibly tired, she seemed to be in no hurry and lit up as soon as the camera turned on. “I’m really excited that the album is out and I feel that the fans are excited and happy,” she says about “My Garden,” which was three years in the making, interrupted by a vocal chord injury last year.

Dahlia burst into the music scene in 2013 with her autobiographical rap song “Gangsta” in which she dismisses dudes who, as opposed to her, have no hustle to show for themselves. Her powerful, soulful voice goes from raw like Amy Winehouse to a grittier, harder Rihanna who raps in Spanish and English. Born to Cuban immigrant parents who struggled financially and divorced when she was a kid, Dahlia moved to New Jersey when she was 21 to pursue music while waiting tables, and ended up in a toxic relationship.

“I’m the fourth of seven kids,” she said. “When I was living in New Jersey I felt all alone sometimes, which I wasn’t used to because living here I had so many brothers and sisters, there’s always someone.” In her song “Tumbao,” which is a tribute to Celia Cruz and her modern classic “La Negra Tiene Tumbao,” she shouts out all of her siblings. “I guess I was having a moment wrote down all their names. It sounds cheesy now but I that’s my family, they’re part of who I am,” she says unapologetically.

 

Dahlia moved back to Miami a year and a half ago and is now getting ready to move to Los Angeles. “I dont think I’ve lived in one place for more than a year since I was 9 years-old,” she said. “I need a change of pace, be closer to the entertainment world and be inspired again.” Before heading west, however, she got a tattoo of the Miami skyline in her forearm. “It’s home, I’ll always have a piece of Miami in my sleeve.”

Watch our previous live session at Marine Stadium, with band Buscabulla, here.

Videos shot by Ingrid Rojas and Lara Fernandez; edited by Ingrid Rojas.

Sound by Juan La Riva.

 

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