Camila Meza: Music as a Healing Force

Photo by Chris Drukker

As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 14 – New York-inspired (Dec. 2020)

Singer-songwriter Camila Meza is a gifted and exceptionally soulful musician who has been creating quite the stir in the New York jazz scene. With her major album debut, Ámbar, the improvising guitarist truly shines alongside her chamber-jazz collaborators in The Nectar Orchestra and takes listeners on an introspective journey deeply rooted in her Chilean heritage. We caught up with the honey-voiced Meza to chat about her migration to New York from her native Santiago and how getting back to nature inspired her breathtaking single, “Kallfu.”

You can definitely hear the George Benson and Pat Metheny influence in your playing. What originally got you into that particular style of music over others?
When I grabbed the electric guitar around fifteen years old, I was mostly checking out rock players since I loved the idea of soloing, playing riffs, and the powerful energy of the music. But soon after, there was something missing; I would get bored of playing the songs the exact same way every time and wanted to get deeper into harmony because I loved colors and tensions, but I didn’t know much about it. So some of my first introductions to the endless well of jazz and its branches were George Benson and Pat Metheny. When I listened to their sound and their improvisations, I immediately knew I wanted to do THAT. The fact that they were creating in the moment, had absolute command of their instruments, and would also make music that was emotionally connected—I felt like I finally had found my music home.

How did it feel to actually perform and act as musical director for Metheny’s 2018 NEA Jazz Masters induction ceremony at The Kennedy Center? That must have been an incredible honor.
Definitely one of the highlights of my career! I still look back at it as a dream. During the process, I got to share some really deep conversations with one of my ultimate music heroes and dive into his music, along with some amazing peers and legends for this celebration. It was also very empowering to be chosen by him to make the arrangement. I’m a huge dreamer, but this one exceeded my capacity of envisioning!

You’re originally from Chile, and you moved to New York to study guitar at the New School. Is that where you became acquainted with some of the members of your jazz octet, The Nectar Orchestra?
Most of the members of The Nectar Orchestra I actually met playing and hanging in the New York Jazz Scene. I arrived in New York when I was twenty-three years old and had already started a career of performing live in Chile. So even though I moved to go to school, I felt the need to go out and become part of the scene from day one. However, school was a super enriching place for me. I learned from great mentors and teachers and connected with tons of peers who I’m friends with until today.

Your song, “Kallfu” from your latest album, Ámbar (as well as its accompanying music video), has so many incredible and colorful textures. Can you tell us about how your trip to Patagonia inspired you to write it?
Yes. This song was the final song I wrote for Ámbar—interesting because it ended up becoming like a prologue for the album. Ámbar’s leitmotif was the idea of music as a healing force, and my trip to Patagonia was medicine and liberation. I remember looking at the mountains turning blue against a lake during a beautiful dusk and feeling all preoccupations fading away, all confusions from our current civilization’s paradoxes and problems become so insignificant and irrelevant. It reconnected me to nature and its perfection! A Mapuche (Native Chilean) told me they called that area “Kallfu” in Mapudungun, which means blue. So I decided to title the song that way.

You’ve been doing a lot of great collaborations on social media with other jazz musicians. Which was one of the more “fun” sessions you’ve had?
I’d say the most recent one with my friend Shai Maestro on piano. He was in Israel, and I was in the US. I told him the name of the song and the key and just to do his thing. We’ve known each other for around ten years, and every time I play with him, it feels like he can read my mind; it’s always so fun. So this was no different, just a different space and time.

Many artists have begun writing new material since live, in-person playing is still off the table in many areas of the world. Are you working on any new projects in addition to doing your live streams? Also, have you been collaborating virtually with The Nectar Orchestra?
I’ve been mostly dedicated to envisioning my new album/project called Portal. A lot of my bandmates are currently in different parts of the world, so I’m deciding whether to do a remote recording or wait. I have a Patreon account where we have met with members of The Nectar Orchestra to revisit some ‘Behind The Scenes’ material that has been really fun to share with the public. I’m definitely feeling more creative these last few months; I was in quite an adjusting mode at the beginning of the pandemic and really didn’t feel inspired. But I’m back!

Who are some other awesome female jazz guitarists that we may not (and should!) know about?
Emily Remler was a great inspiration growing up! Mary Osborne, an unsung legend. Other great players of today are Sheryl Bailey, Mary Halvorson, Leni Stern, and Dida Pelled.

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Alexx Calise is an accomplished singer, guitarist, and songwriter. Perhaps best known for her hit song, “Cry,” which became a staple on the show “Dance Moms” and boasts millions of hits on YouTube, Calise’s raw emotion, heart-and soul-lyrics, and unmistakable vibrato have impacted thousands of young girls all over the world. Calise is currently working on new solo material and songs for licensing, and she recently released a new EP with another music project, Batfarm. In addition to her musical pursuits, she also works in public relations and marketing and owns her own party entertainment business. When not playing shows or writing music, she enjoys horror movies, exercising, or taking a well-deserved nap.