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Kaina's 'It Was A Home' samples the mood and music of her childhood


Artists have sampled music for decades. You know, they loop a snippet of a sound or a song underneath a track. Well, Kaina Castillo thinks about sampling another way.

KAINA: Not like in this direct sound way, but I'm sampling my life. I'm sampling my family and sampling their histories and writing that into my music.


KAINA: All these sounds in my head that form together and spit it out as what is me.

SHAPIRO: She makes music under the name Kaina. And on her new album, "It Was A Home," she pulls from the music her parents loved and from the dreamy vibe of the "Mister Rogers" episodes she watched as a kid. In the title track, she also pulls from the home in Chicago where she grew up.


KAINA: (Singing) I used to live in a little room in the little house with a crooked view.

SHAPIRO: Tell us about the home that you're referring to in this song.

KAINA: So I'm first generation. My parents are immigrants. My mom's from Venezuela, and my dad's Guatemalan. And one of the homes we settled into, one of the apartments we settled into, ended up being a place where they stayed for 16 years. And so, you know, my family, my parents were able to create this beautiful community of friends here in the U.S. and throw parties and, you know, make food and play loud salsa music. And the one regret I have about that place is that I felt like we were always like, what's next in life? You know, one day we'll do something bigger. One day we'll move out to another bigger apartment or a bigger house or whatever. And I wish that we didn't spend so much time thinking about what was next.


KAINA: (Singing) In that little room in the little house. It's not the way I remembered it. It was a home. It was a home, not a hill.

That song is about, you know, feeling so small in a space or feeling like you might not reach the next thing, but sometimes you're missing that beautiful moment right in front of you.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. So while you were there, it might have felt like a stepping stone on the way to something else. And now that you've left it behind, you realize that, in fact, it was a home.

KAINA: Yeah, exactly. And also just unlearning that for my parents, too, you know? Like, they had a way of being like, you know, like, maybe we're not giving you what you deserve or whatever. And that was so irrelevant because I have the most beautiful memories.

SHAPIRO: There's a lyric where you say your parents used to dance till the sun came up.

KAINA: Yes. Yes. Exactly. That's just fond memories of being a kid and being like, oh, God, this salsa music is so loud, and I want to go to bed.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

KAINA: But my parents are still, like, dancing around, eating food, having drinks.


KAINA: (Singing) I've always dreamt about a place big enough for us all to stay so we could be together.

SHAPIRO: Beyond the salsa dancing till dawn, were the arts a big part of your childhood back in those days?

KAINA: I would say so. I think my first photo that I remember of myself as a kid and covered and, like, fully naked in a diaper, covered in paint and...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) That's an image.

KAINA: Yeah, exactly. But yeah, I mean, my parents are such vibrant people and, like, love music. I grew up listening to Motown and classic rock with my dad and then my mom blasting salsa legends like Oscar D'Leon and Celia Cruz. And my mom was like, I was pregnant with your brother, and I was at the Celia Cruz concert the last time I ever got to see her. And she has energy like that still. Like, she's - you know, she's like, hello. Are we going to go do this thing? And I'm like, I want to go home and watch TV.


KAINA: (Singing in Spanish).

SHAPIRO: Do we hear her voice on the song "Casita"?

KAINA: Yes. At the very end, my aunt was visiting from Venezuela, so I had this, like, picture of what the choirs in salsa music sounds like. It's very, like, natural and organic and kind of like shouting energy. And it's her singing and my aunt singing and me singing and my good friend Nnamdi singing.


KAINA: (Singing in Spanish).

It was actually really funny. I mean, my mom was dropping off some food or something, and I was like, wait. Real quick, can you run in and just, like, sing this part? So it stayed...

SHAPIRO: So she didn't even know that it was going to happen?

KAINA: No. That's the kind of child I am.


KAINA: I'm like, Mom, can you make 20 arepas for me and my friend? That's the kind of kid I am. And my mom's the kind of mom who's like, yeah.

SHAPIRO: How does she feel about being on your album?

KAINA: She loves it. And like, now she gets it that every single time I'm asking her about a music thing she likes, or if I'm asking her to, like, record vocals on my track, it's because she knows I'm, like, sampling and honoring her life and that it means something to me.


KAINA: (Singing in Spanish).


SHAPIRO: I was struck by the lyric in "Friend Of Mine" where you say you could do better taking your own advice.

KAINA: (Laughter) Yeah.

SHAPIRO: What's the advice you would give yourself?

KAINA: I think I'm someone who's really good at understanding how to help other people and give them advice and definitely one of those people who, like, knows all the answers but doesn't know how to do it for themselves, you know? And so "Friend Of Mine" is me saying I could do a little bit of a better job taking my own advice in my - in the lessons that I've learned.


KAINA: (Singing) I would like to give myself as much as I give everyone else.

One of my favorite lyrics in the entire album is I won't think twice because I'm a friend of mine (laughter). And it makes me giggle to say that, to sing, like, I'm a friend of mine. And it's - I just love it, just saying you're your own friend.


KAINA: (Singing) But I won't think twice 'cause I'm a friend of mine.

SHAPIRO: Why does it make you giggle? It feels like such a strong, important thing to say. Like, you have your own back. You're going to stick up...

KAINA: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...For yourself as much as you stick up for others.

KAINA: I don't know why it does. I just - I love, like, the honesty of that song because I think I've - in life, I have a hard time saying something like that. And I love that I did it.

SHAPIRO: It's interesting to me that, in life, you have a hard time being that vulnerable when, in these songs, you're basically putting out into the world for strangers...

KAINA: (Laughter) Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...Things that it might be hard for you to say one-on-one to somebody who you know and trust.

KAINA: Yeah. A lot of my album-making process is me figuring out what I'm feeling and then honoring those feelings and then actually letting myself exist as a human in the world (laughter).


KAINA: (Singing) I'm searching for something I have within.

SHAPIRO: Kaina Castillo, who performs as Kaina. Her new album is "It Was A Home." Thank you so much.

KAINA: Thank you so much for having me.


KAINA: (Singing) Who do you have to blame? Got to just talk about it. When it all goes astray, got to just laugh about it. Apple on a tree - I want to be that sweet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Sarah Handel
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