There is the place in which you physically exist, and then there is the metaphorical place where your heart and soul rests.
Argentinian musician Lorena Guillén, now calls the U.S. home. But as a touring musician, she also believes that the place where she belongs exists within herself. Her place is a mobile concept for her, she says. It is a space in which she surrounds herself with those who matter most.
In 2018, Lorena’s album, “The Other Side of My Heart,” featured the stories of Latina immigrant women in the U.S. She conducted oral histories with six women who shared their dreams, fears and immigrant experiences with her. Lorena said, that as a Latina immigrant woman, she was compelled to share these stories through tango. The basis of that project was very much rooted in the theme of place and belonging—or sometimes—of not belonging.
Her second album with her group, the Lorena Guillén Tango Ensemble, will soon be available on all streaming platforms. You can follow its progress on Facebook at "Lorena Guillén Tango Ensemble" or through her website: www.lorenaguillen.com
She is also preparing for a concert tour through the South of France, in which she will perform with bassist-composer Alejandro Rutty, baritone Scott McLeod and pianist Anja Arko. They will feature an entire program of work concerning global warming and conservation of the oceans as part of the "Building Ocean Stewardship through Music" program organized by the US Consulate in Marseille.
Lorena spent some time sharing her thoughts with us on creativity, the healing powers of music and how she integrates place into her music.
This journal is one of art and healing. Do you believe music to be healing, and if so, in what ways?
Yes, it is. Scientific studies have proven that music is a very effective tool in many types of therapies designed to work with people that are on the spectrum (kids with autism, in particular) to adults with Alzheimer’s, among others.
In what ways do you, yourself, find it healing?
Every time I feel stressed or down, I know that if I go and play something or listen to music, I will feel better. For example, I wrote my song "Desde lejos" which can be found in my first album, a few years after my dad died.
It was at a moment that I had the bitter sensation and fear of forgetting details of his persona but also the sweet memories of fragments of him. This song captures that and it helped me to accept it as part of life. The melody is fragmented as my memories were, but deeply felt, in particular in the extended vocalizations, like a primal expression.
What is your earliest memory of music?
I clearly remember some of the songs of my favorite TV characters from my childhood. Movement and music were very interesting to me from an early age.
Why and where does it come from?
My parents told me that I used to be a very lively girl who liked to sing all the time. And I have to confess that I have found many pictures in my family albums with me clearly singing at the top of my lungs—I may have been 3 years old at the most. I used to organize music presentations in which I directed and staged my little brother and I to entertain the rest of the family. I also loved writing short poems from an early age. I still have some of those notebooks.
Can you share with us how your interest evolved into a career path?
Although my parents were not musicians, they recognized that special interest I have, and when I asked for guitar lessons, they got me a teacher. I studied guitar since I was nine, and when I was 15 years old I started to take voice lessons with an old Italian ex-opera singer who then lived in Buenos Aires.
My high school music teacher was my main music mentor. He encouraged me to get into the National Music Conservatory. That opened a whole new world to me. I met all sorts of people; I got involved with different groups and ensembles and started to perform wonderful music, from opera to popular styles.
How has music and your relationship with music evolved through the years?
Looking back, I remember my early years as a musician and as an avid and energetic performer who was open to try different things, but maybe without a clear artistic direction. As the time went by, I realized what I wanted to say through music—and for that I needed to create my own music. Music became my way of expressing my vision of the world around me.
What is more difficult—creating original music or performing music?
Both present different types of challenges. Creating new music is exhilarating and draining. I become obsessed, and when I am in the process of writing a new song, that's all I can hear in my head. Performing the music of others is a challenge in the sense that I need to find a way of making it my own. I am at a point in my life in which I only want to sing songs that speak to me. There are melodies that give me room to permeate my persona through its notes; those are the only ones I really want to sing.
What does the concept of "Place" mean to you?
I created my own "place." It is a mobile concept for me. I have worked very hard to make my "place," a space where I can have the people I love the most around me. It is a space in which I can feel comfortable, secure and free of being myself.
From an immigrant's perspective what is the significance of place?
As an immigrant, I have been forced to consciously create my "place." But I feel lucky for that. It has made me stronger than what I always believe I could be.
Does place show up in your music, and if so, how?
Yes. Sometimes the concept of "place" appears in my music in a very particular way, with a certain nostalgia of the "place" I used to live in, my family and friends in Argentina, the streets of my former city.
You can clearly hear that in one of my last songs, "Como Exótica Flor." But more frequently, my music ponders about my "place" in this vast and problematic world, like in my song "Inmensa Soledad."
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