On the Road… with Kali Uchis

The 2022 Pirelli Calendar aims to capture the atmosphere for an artist on tour. For Colombian-American singer-songwriter Kali Uchis, the shoot had a decidedly glamorous twist

Kali Uchis has been wowing audiences with her free-thinking musical creativity since she recorded a mixtape on her laptop as a teenager. Since then she’s forged a singular, multi-genre path to mainstream success by trusting her own artistic instincts and attracting a wide-ranging array of high-profile collaborators drawn to her sonic versatility, bold vision and incredible voice.

For her Pirelli Calendar photo shoot, Uchis was pictured reclining on the diving board of a hotel swimming pool in a stunning emerald dress and then emerging from the glittering water, the train of her gown floating out behind her. And while it may be a more “glamorous” situation than most musicians experience on tour, the Calendar’s photographer Bryan Adams excused the shot saying “it’s okay, we want glamour, we love glamour. A lot of it was based on the colours of the pool, so green dress, blue water, green hedges, yellow lemons. It was all sort of a colour wash and she looks incredible.”

Uchis, 27, was born in Virginia but grew up in both Colombia and the States, absorbing a diverse range of musical influences from jazz, R’n’B and hip hop to doo-wop, boleros, Latin soul and reggaetón. Her early self-produced work attracted the attention of artists including Tyler, The Creator, Snoop Dogg and Damon Albarn, who have all worked with her. In 2018 Uchis released her first album, Isolation, to rave reviews (it featured collaborations with Steve Lacy, Thundercat, Reykon, Bootsy Collins and Jorja Smith, among others). Despite being advised not to release a Spanish-language album lest it alienate her English-speaking fans, she followed this in 2020 with Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios), which includes her biggest pop hit so far, the dreamy, intoxicating single Telepatía (she also directed the video). Uchis won her first Grammy in 2020 – best dance recording – for 10%, a collaboration with Haitian-Canadian musician Kaytranada.

After the shoot, she talked about giving thanks before a show and her passion for photography.

How did the shoot go?
It was fun. The last part was a little bit tough because my stiletto kept sinking into the mud! But it was good, it was fun.

How do you manage your downtime when you’re on tour?
I try to make sure that I always take all my make-up off and don’t wear much of it on my off days because that’s probably the most difficult part, having so much make-up on all the time. And then yeah, I guess as someone who likes to be grounded I spend a lot of time in my little room in the back just writing, so I think that helps me feel like I’m still at home.

How do you stay in touch with those closest to you when you’re on the road?
I think through the pandemic it’s just been really Facetimes and WhatsApp and video calls and all that stuff because travelling has been so hard. But I’ve still been travelling a lot more than a lot of people I know during the pandemic, so I’ve still been moving around.

How was being photographed by Bryan Adams?
It was fun, it was a lot of fun. The first look I was on a diving board, so it was a little hot sometimes, but then I got to get in the pool, so I got to cool down, wear the same outfit. Then for the [second] look we were just with the plants, in the little jungle, and the photos all came out really nice. I love photos. I got to see some of them and star some of my favourites, so I love how it came out.

What does it mean for you to be part of this Pirelli Calendar?
It’s a huge honour. I really appreciate this opportunity. So many icons are going to be a part of it and amazing people that I really respect and admire, so I’m happy to be considered and to be able to do it.

What’s your relationship with photography?
I’ve always loved photography since I was really little. I had the opportunity to go to a public school that had a dark-room. I learnt how to develop film and do all of that and was Photoshop certified and learnt all about editing. I pretty much used to spend all my time in those classes because I thought it was so much fun, just being able to express yourself creatively, and my main medium growing up was always like mixed media. I always loved being able to combine photography with collage and painting and fabrics and fashion, so I think it’s just such an amazing tool to be able to capture a moment and make it look like a full fantasy but also a memory at the same time, it’s such a beautiful thing.

Do you have any routines, rituals or superstitions during your shows?
I always like to pray before shows. I always like to give thanks and, yeah, just make sure that I’m always trying to be conscious of being appreciative, being grateful.