When Panamanian singer-songwriter, Sofía Valdés, was eleven years old, she took out a piece of paper and began to plot out the rest of her life. Somehow, about a decade later, everything seems to be going according to that plan. Lately, Valdés, who grew up in prominent musical family, has begun to set the music world aflame. Recent releases have garnered hundreds of thousands of YouTube views, which, for the songwriter, is especially synchronistic. It was when she discovered the streaming platform at seven years old that her mind exploded with possibility. While her father wouldn’t let her watch things on the website for a few more years, the mere reality that so much music existed outside of the radio was a crucial realization for the burgeoning artist. Today, Valdés fixates on songs, hers and those produced by other musicians, and she brings this meticulous comportment to her forthcoming EP, Ventura, out Friday.
American Songwriter is exclusively premiering the new live video for her song “Little Did I Know” below.
“I know I’m a very obsessive person,” Valdés says. “If I want something, I know I’ll get it, just because I will work hard. I will do whatever it takes to get that thing.”
Valdés’ music is often subtle, calm—cozy, even. But still waters run deep. As an artist, she is savvy, even if she can’t always put her finger on why. Perhaps it’s because music, songwriting and performance are in her bloodstream. Valdés’ great-grandmother, Silvia De Grasse, and grandfather, Miguelito Valdes, were famous Latin artists, albeit before Valdés’ time. But while she’s never met her grandparents, the young musician knows that their skills and talents are part of her DNA.
“For me, it’s something that’s very normal in my life,” Valdés says. “I don’t think about it so much. But I’ve seen it [show up] mainly with rhythm and how it’s so important for me in my wording and phrasing when I write. But at the end of the day, it’s my family, it’s who I am. My home and my culture are my normal.”
Valdés says she considers Panama her home, in the truest sense of the word. But she has also lived all over the globe. She’s studied music in Liverpool and Michigan. She’s spent time in London, New York and Los Angeles for work. She’s lived stints in Hawaii with her boyfriend and, today, she’s staying with her family in Panama City, Panama during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My boyfriend was making fun of me for this,” Valdés says. “There are these ‘air plants,’ which are plants you can put wherever you want. They don’t have roots, but they still grow. He said, ‘You’re an air plant.’”
It’s no understatement that Valdés has been able to flourish as of late, even at a young age. Her new EP excels from beginning to end, opening with the reflective track, “Handful of Water,” which speaks to the fleeting nature of, well, everything, and concludes with the island bop, “Oceans Away,” which itself ends with the lyric, “Nothing lasts forever.” The four songs in between are also significant. Each has an idea behind it, each stands on its own. On “Amsterdam,” which boasts the great Argentinian poet, Jorge Luis Borges, reading verse as it begins, Valdés shines, showcasing the power of her full voice at the song’s skyscraping crescendo.
“I always just want to be able to transmit emption,” Valdés says. “I think I’m a very calm person overall. Singing has always been natural. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know how to sing. It was something that even when I didn’t sing, when I’d never tried singing, I knew I could do it.”
Growing up, if Valdés encountered a song or guitar riff she liked, she learned it. She’s industrious, driven. She wrote and recorded her 2021 EP in her bedroom. She says she’s actually never worked in a full recording studio, though she looks forward to the day when she does. That part of the plan will likely come to fruition soon. In the meantime, Valdés will continue to study lyrics (Bonnie Raitt is a current favorite), melodies (Bobby Womack) and bass lines (Paul McCartney). But Valdés is not pushed by a need to understand theory.
“I’ll get drawn to a song’s feeling,” she says. “And if I love that feeling, I’ll want to put it in my music. I get it all from feelings, emotion.”
Valdés says she wrote some of the songs on her new EP during recess with friends when she was seventeen and some were composed alone at home. While some of the tracks focus on love and romance, Valdés says she is thinking about new ideas, too, like those relating to her family or personal struggles. She wants to elevate her next work in more cerebral ways. Perhaps, too, that’s all part of her path ahead. Perhaps it was written and so it shall be for the hardworking talent. As the future unfolds, Valdés says, she hopes that joy and an even-keeled nature keeps her grounded amidst her many ambitions. Creative discovery, after all, has always been the name of the game for the artist.
“I hope I’m happy and calm,” Valdés says. “Those are two things I struggle with—mainly the calm one. I hope I can write and be focused and keep working and just keep going. There are lots of things I want to do. When you write something that makes you melt just listening to it, knowing you created it, that’s the best feeling for me in the world. Finding a melody that is so good that you get shook from it, that’s my favorite thing.”