In January, I kicked off Women Who Inspire, a Q&A-style article featuring women who are breaking boundaries and breaking new ground with purpose, grace and intention.
This month, I'm so pleased to introduce Yare Vargas, a singer-songwriter from Bolivia.
We met because our husbands are both studying theology here in Vancouver. I remember first being struck by her hair colour (a vibrant pinkish red hue). Then I heard her sing live at a lunchtime performance, and I was completely blown away. Not just by the quality of her voice, but by how much she puts into her songs, and how much she gives of herself in her music.
(Oh, and it just so happens that she's quite the star in her country - and a very humble one at that. Her original compositions have consistently ranked as part of the top 10 hits at Bolivian radio stations, and she gets asked for autographs. For real.)
Here, Yare shares more about her journey as a musician, how God brought her through a dark and difficult time in her life, and what to expect from her upcoming EP. Read on and be blessed!
Hi, Yare! What sparked your interest in music?
"I have my parents to thank. I started singing songs I had heard in church at the age of two or three years old, and I was always singing melodies in my head. Later, my parents put me into piano classes when I was six or seven. I did classical piano for about seven years.
Then I got to a point where I didn’t want to do piano anymore. I was a teenager then, and I had to practice four to five hours a day, and I didn’t have that time (to spare). But my parents said: “Ok, you have to finish this term. You can’t leave in the middle.” I agreed. And every time I got to the end of the term, I was excited about music again and wanted to continue."
When did you first start performing?
"The first few performances I did were in my music school as part of the children’s choir. The first instrument we had to play was a recorder, and they made you perform with that instrument too. With piano, I had to do concerts regularly, either as part of an exam or for a show. I used to get very nervous... I had to stop in the middle of a song once because I couldn’t remember what was next."
How did you get into songwriting?
"When I used to play the piano more often, the only place I would sing at was in church. I didn’t think anyone would want to listen to the songs I wrote. After I left classical piano, I started singing a bit more. Then I went to England for university when I was 17 years old. That was key (in my development as a musician). Although I didn’t sing a lot there, I became good friends with people who were musicians and producers, and they took me to a lot of concerts. All of that guided the direction my music would eventually take. Before that, I didn’t really define what kind of music I liked. But I came to realise that soul, neo-soul, R&B, funk and jazz were the genres that really moved something in me.
So I started being more brave about showing people what I wrote. I would write ideas or lyrics in a diary or whatever blank surface I could find. Then I went back to Bolivia after two years in England. I started meeting new people and I joined bands that played jazz. I stopped only singing in church and started singing outside. It wasn't all that good, because those places can involve other things - like drugs and alcohol abuse - and doing gigs didn't give me much money. But I got to perform and understood what it was like to be a musician. My parents weren’t very happy then because I always came home late and I had "weird" friends. But I used to tell them: "You put me in music classes, so you can’t complain!""
Tell us about your music career in Bolivia and how your first EP, "Change", came about.
"Five years ago, I joined a hard rock band and started writing and producing songs for them. At around the same time, I got involved with PYX, a Christian band. The first band wasn’t happy about it, so they kicked me out, although we had a record ready and all the songs had been written. It was frustrating, but it was good to work with PYX because they were really focused and had a clear vision of where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do. I'm not saying that Christians are perfect, but we did share the same views.
Then I met Octavio and we decided to get married. That meant moving from La Paz to Cochabamba, another city in Bolivia, and leaving PYX. I was the lead singer and songwriter for that band. So I had to move and start all over again. God showed that He wanted me to continue my gifts there by confirming that I had a purpose for doing this, through people's visions or when people said that they really identified with my songs. So I decided to go at it on my own.
A music producer, Maurizio Alessio, had written to me a long time ago on Facebook messenger but I never replied him. Years went by. Then he wrote to me again and after recording a cover together, we felt that it’d be cool to work together. That’s how the idea for my EP "Change" started."
What do the songs in "Change" talk about?
"I wanted to be sincere about what I was going through during that time: I got married, had to leave my band and my city. So all the songs talk about transitions. The first track I released, "Walk On Water", is about taking a step of faith when you’re encountering changes. I had no idea what was going to happen in terms of my music, but I kept having this phrase in my mind that "God will be with me".
The song "Bold" came after that, because I wanted to see a change in how women saw themselves and how other people viewed women too. This song is a reminder of all the qualities that women have. Then there’s a Spanish song, "Dueños Del Mundo" ("Owners Of The World"), that talks about friendships. It's about two kids who are really good friends and how they can conquer the world."
One of the songs on your EP was birthed out of a struggle with anorexia. What happened during this period of your life?
"It started as anorexia and progressed to bulimia. Anorexia was an obsession, but bulimia was more like a drug addiction.
All throughout my life, I’ve struggled with seeing myself in a good way. I wasn’t confident, and I was always trying to do things to please people because I never thought that what I was was enough. When I lived in England, I dived into anorexia straightaway. In two weeks, I lost 20 kilos (44 pounds).
When you have anorexia, you find so many ways to hide it and to lie about it. Although you're killing yourself slowly, it doesn’t show that much apart from losing a lot of weight. With bulimia, I felt compelled to eat everything and anything that I found. It was a way of escaping many other things. For example, I felt lonely there because my family wasn’t with me. I would wake up at night sweating, and I would raid whatever I could find – sometimes even the garbage bin. I remember that I spent so much money on food and hiding things in my bag, eating them by myself in my room, then feeling really bad about it and throwing up. I was also trying to exercise all the time. But the throwing up starts to mess your body up really badly. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I felt depressed and didn’t want to see anyone. I stopped going to university. I even experienced really bad heart palpitations.
Then I had a dream that I wouldn’t be able to sing anymore because I was doing so much damage to my throat thanks to all the throwing up. When I got to the point where I was throwing up blood, something clicked in me. I asked myself, "Am I not going to be able to sing anymore?" That was something I loved to do. That was possibly the only reason why I said, "Ok, this can't go on. This is not normal."
That’s what made me look for help. I went to a doctor and also told the family I was staying with at the time. My mum came over to visit. I didn’t want to leave everything I had there, but it got worse and really affected my health. I could have finished my studies in three years, but I stopped after two years and went back to Bolivia in the end.
Out of this experience, I wrote the song “Skin and Bones”. That song doesn’t have a particular message. It’s just about someone going through something and talking about it. It’s a kind of therapy... People have to talk about their struggles, and it’s totally fine to."
What was your relationship with God like at the time?
"I was really angry at God for a long time. I wanted to get cured. I didn’t want to leave what I had in England. But now, I'm thankful that that happened. I see so many people struggling with the same issues and I know how hard it can be.
Before this, I never wanted to have children because I didn’t want them to go through something like that. Now, I can say to myself: "I can't control how they live, but I can surely help them or anyone around me." And if God wants to use my experiences to help someone, I’m going to try my best to help."
How has your faith influenced your music now?
"I want to write meaningful lyrics. Songs nowadays are so empty. My songs are not worship songs (although they could be), but my faith has influenced my songs in that I feel really responsible about saying things. I have to say them. There’s a lot that people need to hear that involve God, love, and acceptance."
You're currently working on a new EP here in Canada. What will the songs be like?
"I’m still working on the concept, but I want to talk about things that people don’t want to talk about very much but are real. Like death, lies and how easily they can be used or said, or issues that a couple experiences. Most couple songs are on two different extremes: At one end, everything’s perfect; at the other end, it's all about cheating – but what about all that’s in between? What are problems that couples are going through? I'm married and I live through that everyday, and I think people need to talk about it.
Right now, I'm mainly writing English songs. I don't do this to get more listeners. I do it because it’s the language I can write more easily in. English gives you more possibilities – you can say more things in less syllables and there’s a lot more rhyming you can do. For example, a five-word sentence in English makes sense. But in Spanish, you can't say anything with five words."
Moving to Canada has been yet another transition in your life. So what keeps you going?
"My love for music and the reassurance that this is what God wants me to do. I’ve thought about stopping or giving up many times, but every time I do, something happens that tells me "No, you have to carry on"."
Listen to Yare on Spotify, YouTube and Soundcloud, and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.