Afro-Mexican R&B Singer Immasoul Is Putting Her City and Sound Front and Center
Image Source: Itzia Sánchez
There’s no doubt that the Mexican music that has come out over the years has been some of the most far-reaching and storied in Latin America, with legends like Vicente Fernandez, Juan Gabriel, and Chavela Vargas all helping to cultivate a distinct legacy. But with her R&B-tinged sound, up-and-coming singer Ilse Adriana Mercado Asencio, better known by her stage name Immasoul, is looking to show the world just how diverse that legacy can be, while championing the blending of Mexican and Caribbean cultures that collide in her hometown of Chetumal.
“Nobody really knows about Chetumal. It’s a very unique small town that shares a border with Belize.”
“Nobody really knows about Chetumal. It’s a very unique small town that shares a border with Belize. It’s different from the rest of the country because, culturally, we share a lot with the Caribbean countries,” Immasoul tells POPSUGAR.
When Immasoul references Caribbean countries, she is specifically referring to the English-speaking Caribbean islands like Belize, Jamaica, etc. The artist says many Chetumal families, including her mother’s, can trace their heritage back to immigrants from Belize, known as British Honduras prior to 1973. This gives the small town a complex cultural identity, one Immasoul admits she had to learn how to navigate.
“Growing up, I was a little bit confused and always questioning this identity. But as I got older and wiser, I began to realize where I come from is more special than people thought,” she says.
That maturity comes across in Immasoul’s music, which eschews the pop- and hip-hop-infused riffs of modern R&B for a more soulful sound, influenced by the likes of Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill. “My oldest sister is 10 years older than me, and she fell in love with mainstream hip-hop and would listen to all this cool stuff when I was growing up,” the singer recalls. “So even though my friends were listening to [local music], I was listening to Brandy, Toni Braxton, and TLC.”
Image Source: Itzia Sánchez
But while Immasoul’s music pays homage to the legends of the past, she isn’t stuck in it. The singer is always looking to experiment in natural ways that allow her to embrace who she is as a person and an artist. “I’ve always felt that my music is feel-good music, you know, like empowering music that makes you feel confident [to] embrace your sexuality and embrace who you are. It’s something that I’ve done as an exercise for me,” she says.
The music artist hopes fans listening to her tracks can relate to that message and feel more confident and sexy in their own skin -something she fully embraces with her latest single, “A Tu Lado,” a sensual Afrobeat-inspired dance song about chance encounters and chemistry. Immasoul utilizes her breathy vocals to create a sultry homage to her Caribbean roots while staying true to her own artistry. “I’m very into romance and toxic sh*t,” the singer jokes. “So I came up with the words first. And my team knew I was listening to a lot of Afrobeat [and] a lot of Aya Nakamura, and I wanted to do something like that. I tried to build the song from a story, and we all put a little bit of what we were connecting within the production. So naturally, it was going to feel like those influences.”
“There are so many cultures in Latin America, and I know that the mainstream industry has tried to whitewash all those sounds and all those roots. And while I’m not against anybody, to reduce so many cultures to one word, the reality is that it doesn’t represent us all.”
However, the singer is quick to point out that she tries to be honest in what she does. This is especially important at a time when the popularity of the “Latin” genre is incredibly high, as it is easy to obscure the influences present in the genre. “There are so many cultures in Latin America, and I know that the mainstream industry has tried to whitewash all those sounds and all those roots,” she says. “And while I’m not against anybody, to reduce so many cultures to one word, the reality is that it doesn’t represent us all.”
Image Source: Itzia Sánchez
It’s true. Afro-Latinidad is historically underrepresented, evidenced by the lack of darker-skinned Latinxs in television and film, as well as the whitewashing of historically Black Latinx genres such as bachata and reggaeton. As a proud Afro-Mexicana, who also understands the privilege her lighter skin brings, representation and using her platform responsibly are important matters for Immasoul.
“I’ve always tried to do my thing and talk about my upbringing, and my mother, and everything that is a part of me to keep the [race] conversation going,” she shares. “I don’t see it as something I have to do. I’m just trying to be true to myself, and if that somehow connects with people, that’s nice because you feel that you’re not so alone.”
The video for “A Tu Lado” addresses this in a natural way. Filmed in Chetumal and with the help of local artists, the production highlights Afro-Latinx beauty by featuring a cast of dark-skinned dancers and actors, some of whom are Immasoul’s neighborhood friends.
“I feel that the video was a nice result because it represents us, the people from Chetumal. With the girls in the video, it was important to me that they be Black Latinas in order to put that community a little bit more front row,” she says.
But while the artist is doing her part to make sure her people and hometown get their proper share of the spotlight, she’s also garnering more attention herself. Since starting her project in 2019, Immasoul has seen her audience continue to grow. In fact, this year, she takes the stage for the first time at SXSW 2023, an honor that has her so excited, she “can’t even sleep.”
Looking further into what the year holds, Immasoul is excited to grow her R&B sound while continuing to explore Afrobeat. She’s also open to collaborating with artists whose sound and approach to music would mesh well with hers. When asked about who she’d like to work with in the future, TiaCorine and Mabiland are two names that jump off her tongue, as well as Afrobeat artist June Freedom. But being the introspective artist that she is, Immasoul’s focus is first and foremost on her own music.
“I’m constantly studying and trying to see what’s out there to make my sound stronger. I’ll be dropping some R&B soon and then . . . we’ll see.”