Two weeks ago, the world fell in love with 11-year-old Sarai Isaura Gonzalez, the star of the new music video for Bomba Estéreo's song "Soy Yo.” An anthem of confidence and empowerment, the video follows a quirky young girl on the streets of New York City, from the barber shop to the basketball court, as she confronts bullies with wicked dance moves and glitter confetti. The video has racked up 3.5 million views since it dropped September 7 and has been praised for its inspiring message.
Since the Colombian band exploded onto the music scene in 2005, frontwoman Liliana “Li” Saumet has become one of Latin America’s fiercest female artists, known for her bold and unconventional singing style and colorful, tropical vibe. The band, founded by Bogotá native Simon Mejía, initially grabbed attention with upbeat hip hop and dance music inspired by traditional styles from Colombia’s Caribbean coast, where Saumet grew up.
"Soy Yo" is part of Amanecer, the band’s major label debut, which was released on Sony US Latin last year. It was nominated for two Latin Grammys: Record of the Year and Best Alternative Music Album. At the Latin Grammy ceremony, Bomba also performed live a remixed version of their single "Fiesta" featuring Will Smith, a fan of the band.
I recently spoke to Saumet, who is in the middle of an American tour, about the viral “Soy Yo” video, being a new mom and the October 2 referendum in Colombia, which will decide whether to approve an accord to end Latin America’s longest running conflict.
Univision News: Why do you think the "Soy Yo" video is connecting so strongly with people?
Li Saumet: I think all of us have been in a similar situation, that’s why it’s had such an impact. We’ve all felt identified, in some way -- someone has treated us badly, or like we’re different, or less, or they’ve made fun of us or we’ve made fun of them. This video, which represents the experience of a Latina from a Latino neighborhood in New York, reflects one of so many examples of intolerance in the world right now. There are people suffering because of their sexuality, race, social status, age, for so many things. We wanted to make a video with a message and in the end, everyone identified with the message. It’s been incredible.
Do the song’s lyrics come from your own experience?
Li Saumet: Yes. I was a bit of a weird kid, too. The song speaks about loving yourself as you are, it speaks to the fact that I don’t care what people say because they’ve criticized me so much. It really doesn’t affect me anymore because I love myself as I am, and I don’t need anyone’s approval. This is an anthem about power, and to say ‘I accept myself.’
How did you find Sarai and how did you know she was the right pick for the video?
Li Saumet: The video production team [led by Danish director Torben Kjelstrup] did a casting and among all the girls, she had something special. She liked Bomba [Estéreo] and she liked to jump and dance, and so she was the chosen one. And she has something special. She has some sort of angel inside of her and I think that the world could see that in the video. She has become a heroine for all girls and for anyone who’s been judged or mistreated.
The song was also used in a Target ad featuring four powerful Latina women. It seems like women are especially connecting with the song’s message.
Li Saumet: Without meaning to, that’s what happened. It’s something that women have to say. We’ve all been mistreated at many levels across the world. I think this is an anthem of power, yeah, to say 'I accept myself.' As women we have to accept ourselves. So I’m glad it turned out this way. Hopefully many women can feel identified and take the song’s lyrics as a message.
What would you say to a kid standing in front of you who’s being bullied?
Li Saumet: I would say that in reality, the people bullying you are the ones who are lost and confused. People make fun of others because they have no other escape. Something is making them scared, and that’s why they’re making fun of you. Let it make you feel proud. Keep moving forward and smile at them with love. Love combats war.
You’re a new mom. How has it been touring with baby Astro?
Li Saumet: It’s been great. We’re happy to be able to show him things, that he can travel and absorb all that he sees. I think that’s going to make him a different person, too. That he can go to concerts from such a young age, maybe it will open his senses in a different way.
Colombia will soon vote on a historic peace accord. Has this impacted you as an artist?
Li Saumet: It has been impacting me a lot. I think it’s ridiculous that we have to vote on whether we want peace or not. I don’t understand how that question is even on the table. Peace is a right. It’s a right that we all need. And forgiveness is one of the most lovely things because it’s healthy. Although many bad things have happened in Colombia, and surely they’ll continue to happen, the best thing is to forgive and try to move forward peacefully. Not in war.
All Colombians have lived through war, unsure whether one day we would see a peaceful new society. But we’re seeing it. It’s happening. And still there are people thinking about whether they should vote for it or not. It’s just crazy.
September 24 - Las Vegas, NV
October 1 - Austin, TX
October 3-4 - San Francisco, CA
October 6 - Los Angeles, CA
October 8 - Austin, TX
Full tour schedule here