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A. Chal Is Banking on Himself

In 2021, Alejandro “A. Chal” Salazar walked away from everything he thought he always wanted. 

Up until then, the Peruvian-born singer-songwriter and producer had spent three years signed to Epic Records under Sony Music. He established his hazy, rap-meets-R&B sound on bilingual releases like 2016’s Welcome to Gazi, 2017’s On Gaz, and 2018’s Exotigaz, his first under Epic. Quickly, people got to know him as a forward-thinking, inventive new voice, leading to features with French Montana and ASAP NA$T.

He also landed hits like “Love N Hennessy” and “000000,” which today have more than 40 million and 68 million Spotify streams, respectively. “Love N Hennessy” reached the top 20 on Billboard’s Rhythmic Songs Chart in June 2018. Later, 2Chainz and Nicky Jam jumped on the remix.

But despite the success, Salazar was starting to feel like he was losing control over the creative direction of his work.  “To be honest, I would hear ‘000000’ and feel like I was listening to a Justin Bieber record,” Salazar says. “I cared about having ‘hits,’ but if the people around me weren’t seeing what I was seeing, I had to take a couple of steps back before I lost my power.” As popular as songs like “000000” were, they led to bigger questions about what he wanted to say in his music: “One day, one of my friends told me, ‘Damn, you have so much more depth to you than what you’ve put out there. I wish people knew that.’ That really hit home for me.”

Following his 2021 project Far From Gaz, Salazar decided to part ways with his label. “It was a mutual decision,” he says. “I was thinking about how I was going to age as an artist, as opposed to just milking fuckboy Latin anthems. The music I submitted during that timespan, was a combination of how I was feeling but also really trying to satisfy my label and my managers.”

Salazar went on a creative journey to regain his autonomy, a process that led to his introspective, unexpected new album Espíritu. But to figure out who he wanted to be as an artist, he had to start from the beginning: He was born in Lima and raised in Trujillo, a coastal city in northwestern Peru; he moved to Queens, New York, with his parents when he was five years old. Though he spent a lot of his adolescent years growing up in Boston, he attributes a lot of his musical versatility to Jackson Heights, the Queens melting pot where he was always surrounded by a multitude of cultures. “My family used to play a lot of Andean flute music, with guitars, and huayno, and then I came here and I heard rap, R&B, and rock music for the first time,” he says.

Salazar started pursuing music when he was in high school. His stage name, “A. Chal,” is an homage to his younger brother, Icchal, who died shortly after birth following complications. The name “Icchal,” from the native Indigenous language Quechua, is also a mountain that his father grew up near in Peru. 

After leaving his label, Salazar took a two-year hiatus to get reinspired and figure out what would come next for him. He had been living in Los Angeles, but he started traveling around the world and spent time back in Trujillo, connecting deeply with his roots. In between, there was plenty of uncertainty. “I’ve run into people who met me in 2017, ’18, and they would ask me, ‘Do you still make music?’ ” Salazar says. “I would feel like I had to explain myself because I’m trying to prove to people that I’m still worthy. I’m still good.” 

Now, he’s ready to remind the world exactly who he is. Espíritu, his new 14-track album, is his most intentional to date. “This project is setting the foundation for this new chapter of me,” he says. “I’m starting from scratch.” On it, he draws from everything from rock to New Wave, tipping his hat to acts like the Peruvian proto-punk band Los Saicos and the Mexican group Caifanes. Songs like “Walk On Everything” and “Saico” offer a totally new perspective of Salazar, showing his musicality and versatility now that he’s free to pursue the sounds he likes.

But most importantly, Salazar honors the ancestors and the spiritual rituals that shaped him as an artist. “My spirit is what has me going right now. I’m talking to people from a spiritual place in this project, especially from the chaos that I’ve been in, leaving the label, moving around the world, trying to get back to NY, trying to figure out how to do this on my own. The only thing that grounds me is my spirit,” he says of the meaning behind the album title. “I was giving you a vibe before — this is more than that, this is me now.” 

Purposely set to have no features, Espíritu is a testament to his evolution, with the visuals and production choices embracing his Peruvian indigeneity more than ever. “The essence of Indigeneity is being in touch with the sun and moon, a shamanistic vibe, it’s naturally in me. Anytime I approach music, I look for that, naturally,” he explains. This is also the first time he shows his face on the cover of a full-length LP. “Now you can see my face, the Peruvian flag showcased [on the cover of one track], like now you know things about me. I was giving you a vibe before, this is more than that, this is me now,” he says.

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He’s taking a chance on himself — with no team, no management, no label. AJ Ramos, YouTube’s head of Artist Partnerships for Latin Music and Culture, has known Salazar for the past eight years and has seen the multiple transitions in his career. “From being an independent artist to being signed to a major label to coming back to being an independent artist, he’s matured,” Ramos says. “He understands no one is going to go harder on his career than him.”

And Salazar is going all in: He’s currently plotting a North American tour in the spring. No part of him regrets betting on himself.  “I don’t know what will happen after this. Maybe it all goes bad, maybe it doesn’t. In my head, I see it though. I see the future and it’s good.”

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