Words by Tania Peralta. Photography by Luis Mora. Styling by Steph Major and Shira Hershkop. Make up by Alison Sharp.
In Colombia the church bells ring softly on Sunday morning. Another week has passed, another one is coming — si Dios quiere.
Mami makes plans to visit loved ones later that day — si Dios quiere.
All around the world, latinxs hope and plan for the future, even if moments away, but always — si Dios quiere.
It’s a sentiment that stays with Colombian-Canadian singer and songwriter Jessie Reyez, pulling her back and forth between two worlds: an English one, a Spanish one, and a space in between both; the continuous awareness of mortality’s fragility. Each day, she’s grateful for another – knowing yesterday could have been her last. It’s equal parts morbid and optimistic. It’s an emotional awareness that helps her work through all things, even heartache.
While successfully completing The Remix Project – a program that connects marginalized youth with the tools and support to enter creative industries – she solidified a very raw and relatable brand for herself. It’s an identity that has been created by simply staying true to who she is and strategically sharing the good and bad that comes with being not only Jessie Reyez the artist but also Jessie Reyez the woman who feels deeply.
Both her EP’s Kiddo and the Grammy-nominated Being Human in Public introduced her signature voice by way of relatable stories of love lost and gained in addition to touching other topics like abuse in the music industry and the immigration crisis south of the border. Always a little macabre, but also a little hopeful. Her collaborations have extended her talents past the Canadian market and into international charts not only in America, but also into Spanish-speaking channels.
Her major label debut album, Before Love Came to Kill Us, is expected to be released next month (March 27). Before Love Came to Kill Us is a story about love, and so of course, it’s also a story about pain. In Before Love Came to Kill Us, Jessie is the storm, but she’s also the lighthouse. It’s an album that shows mercy to both the lover and the fighter in her, but perhaps its most relatable component lies in the way Jessie mourns something that is not yet lost. It’s inherently meta. Love acknowledged is love soon to be lost eventually in this lifetime.
“These two contrasts live in my life,” she says, referring to the recurring symbols of life and death in her lyrics. Memories of what used to be are told by her willingness to be the ride or die-type through the negative parts of love and into the positive sides of death.
The positive side of death being that we always know it’s coming. The way Jessie sees it, that morbid acknowledgement is also the reason why someone might live better each day. “You might choose not to be an asshole today,” she explains. “You might confess today. You might treat somebody better today. You might be your most authentic self because you know tomorrow you may have to talk to God and recount how you lived your life.”
“The day that you meet the love of your life is the day you’re fucked.”Jessie Reyez
Then there’s the shitty side of love, “that I know so fucking well” she says. “The day that you meet the love of your life is the day you’re fucked. Because this person, you just handed them a gun…One of two things can happen: you guys either fall in love and you [experience] this passion and then statistically speaking there’s a 50/50 chance that it’s going to work or not.”
Even in life-lasting love, “you can’t escape the suffering,” she says. “You end up getting grey together and being somebody’s rock, but somebody still ends up dying first.” All love and life eventually turns into pain and death, and her fans agree. Sold out arenas with audiences hauntingly scream-singing over her own voice, “I’m willing to stay ‘cause I’m sick for you love.”
Her declaration of this ride or die-type persona is always quietly accompanied by another reminder; she could be a monster too, should she feel like it. The depth and emotion in her voice comes from the breaking of her heart and the hearts that she has broken.
She was 14-years old when she experienced this kind of pain for the first time. She cheated, but by accident–sort of. “I was on vacation,” she recalls, “and there was this random guy and I just got caught up and he kissed me. It was one of those where you’re getting kissed, you don’t fight it, but you also don’t kiss back.” The shame and pain that she felt following this moment led her to break up with her then boyfriend. Without confessing, she chalked up the break up to not wanting to be in a relationship. “I told him I wanted to focus on myself because we were about to start high-school.”
Her eyes still light up as she remembers him and what they were. It was an easy love at first. Two best friends. Dos Colombianos. No cultural explaining. No translating. Just sweet and easy until she did what she did. They were so close that while in high-school, even after the fact, he would submit homework on her behalf through email. She had no internet at home at the time. Inevitably, it’s what led to him finding out she had found someone new when coming across an email she sent to someone else. His discovery led to all of the questions that later turned into her first heartache. Not answering her calls from the initial pain, she wrote him a four-page letter to explain herself. Even though it hurt him, he received her confession with sincere empathy, forgiveness, and the yearning to still be together.
“I felt like even more of an asshole,” she recalls. “I have you and now I’m falling in love with somebody new, and now I’m fucked.” Instead of just breaking his heart she was concerned about now having to break her new love’s heart too. “In my head, I had to suspend emotion and use logic.” She remembers talking herself through it, “I love them both so if I go back to [him], you’re breaking his heart and his heart is already broken from cheating, where if I stay with the new guy you’re only breaking one heart. So then I decided to just break one heart instead of breaking two, and that’s the only reason that I ended up with the other guy and that guy ended up being my first love.”
“I have you and now I’m falling in love with somebody new, and now I’m fucked.”Jessie Reyez
It’s still very vivid to her, “how much it hurt, how much it hurt to see somebody hurt, how much I couldn’t sleep, how much it could weigh on me – and it was just a kiss.”
Her lyrics tease her ability to repeat that kind of pain again, but the memory is so vivid she never quite crosses that bridge, “I think that now, when I know that I have much more power to be even more of a bad guy, I’m like, I could fuck your friends. I could put it on, and I could be thirst trappin‘–all this shit. I could be all this stuff that I know is going to hurt somebody and I don’t want to do it, because I just know that I hurt someone so bad when I was 14 with a little bullet, that if I had a cannon now I’d probably fucking die from the pain of seeing someone else suffer because of me.”
So she writes and she sings and she works through the pains of love, life, and death over and over again by acknowledging all three and the connections they have to each other. The by-product of this pain has made for a fruitful and promising career. Jessie Reyez, la nina loca stage-diving through shows threatening to be a monster too, pretty to look at, but a monster with a cannon nonetheless.