“I grew up under a dictatorship in Chile and I didn’t know any other reality,” mused Latin Bohemian vocalist Lorena Isabell, who is on the cusp of an album release and celebratory concert June 10 at the Music Box.
“We didn’t have a constitution, and there were no such thing as individual rights. Especially as a teenager, my family struggled and my parents were terrified of all of the horrendous situations that go along with a government like that.”
The notorious regime of Augusto Pinochet resulted in thousands of executions, imprisonments and other human rights violations. “We didn’t have it as bad as many other families – but the brutality of that system... I think it made me the person I am today.
“As a musician, as an artist, there were not many opportunities in Chile — especially as a singer with a political point of view — there was always the threat of reprisal. My family didn’t want me to speak out, because people who did would disappear all of the time.”
Still, an independent streak set in. “In high school, I rebelled and did it anyway. I went to protests and demonstrations and I played music with a social content. When you are young, nothing scares you.”
Isabell credits divine intervention with leading her to the United States 25 years ago. “God brought me here and put me in the spotlight.”
She’s been involved in music since her arrival. “I met many other Latino musicians through my first husband, who was involved in the arts. I started doing concerts, and I put together a band with [local violin player] Jamie Shadowlight. I really didn’t want to because my family was against it – but once you start to sing, you cannot stop. Singing is food for my soul.”
Her new album Hoy features Isabell’s affinity for the bolero, a dance-centered genre of slow-tempo Latin music. “I knew them all from childhood, because my father is a fantastic musician. My music is for anyone who wants to fall in love – if you want to escape, I know how that feels. We went through 400 songs to find the ones we play.”
Does she miss Chile? “You can never forget where you’re from. Chile will always be a part of me, but I’ve been here half of my life, even if I can’t lose my accent, I feel like an American!”