During a brief visit to New York City Wanda Flor and Camila Leon, the driving power duo and founding principals behind Santiago, Chile based Egun Producciones, met with Gypset Magazine for an in-depth conversation. Seated in a typical midtown Manhattan Art Deco hotel lounge, they openly and candidly talked about the challenges of starting the company and their experiences in meeting the challenges they faced along the way. In a culture and music business largely dominated by men, these two women successfully developed a company that represents and promotes some of the most talented and creative Hip-Hop, World Music, and Jazz artists in Latin America including Ana Tijoux, Movimiento Original, Beatriz Pichi Malen and several others. Here’s what they shared with us.
Gypset: Tell us a bit about the beginning, where does Egun originate? Wanda: Egun identifies with protective spirits. There’s a connection rooted in Orishas and a deep relation to Santeria, not that we are santeras, but that we’re constantly mindful and aware of the energy of nature. That’s where we established the link we have to world music, and that’s how we arrived at working with the Mapuche cantora Beatriz Pichi Malen and several of the other artists we work with. Early on we began working with Jazz bands, we were a production company focused on organizing Jazz festivals and later began working with other music genres. Eventually we started working with Ana Tijoux in the production of her music videos, and we continue working with Anita until now. It’s been many years, many years of friendship and working together.
Gypset: Clearly the relation to Orisha and the positive connections with nature, earth, the elements, well-being, and good vibes are all there.
Wanda: Yes, there’s the strong relation and cycle between death and rebirth, and as such we’re always mindful of it and pay respect with multiple offerings of coffee, chocolate, and various gifts to honor our ancestors. So… That’s how we started working the Jazz circuit in the beginning! It was just the two of us, Camila and I as partners, and from then on the nucleus of Egun evolved into an all female production company.
Camila: Our entire staff is comprised of women, even our sound engineer and graphic designer… everyone. This is clearly an exception in a male dominated field, because there aren’t many female sound engineers and yet we have one.
Gypset: Many of us are familiar with the music of Ana Tijoux, and as I listened to the music of some of the other artists you work with a common thread of good vibes and positive messages emerged. They’re very good musician conveying a positive message without negative stuff.
Camila: We focus very much on that aspect. We’re very interested in work that is based on good practices, to put it that way, and the positive energy that each group has. We always look to generate that sort of link among artists and we look for collaborations between the bands, so it’s not just a brotherhood and it’s more like a family.
Wanda: We look for the process to be humanized, because in the end this is a market; it’s a business… you see? And as such it can be very dehumanizing, we see that a lot. However, we view artists as people so we try to preserve and respect that, we aim for closeness and to be good friends with them. You rarely see the type of relationship where a manager is actually good friends with the artist, it’s uncommon.
Camila: We safeguard the human aspect of our relationships very closely.
Wanda: Yes, we safeguard that side of the relationship very much. As a matter of fact, when Beatriz Pichi Malen performed at the WOMAD (World of Music And Dance) Festival she invited Ana Tijoux on stage to sing a couple of songs together. Think about it, it was a huge surprise for the audience! Then, by the same token, Ana invited Beatriz to do the same at a different festival where she was performing. That also happened when we went to a music festival in Colombia with Fernando Milagros; he too invited Beatriz to share the stage on a couple of songs.
Gypset: It seems that Fernando Milagros has quite a connection with Colombia; I saw an interview where he was there to perform.
Wanda: Fernando Milagros? Yes, we’ve gone there several times. He has a strong following there.
Gypset: Tell me about your individual journeys, how does each of you arrive at music, Jazz, and all the rest of this?
Wanda: I studied theater and acting, and at a certain point I started selling my classmate’s plays to make some money. I also had lots of musician friends, so many of them started asking me “Hey why don’t you help me”? And there I was!
Gypset: To sell? How, in what respect?
Wanda: Sell the play you see! I would sell the plays for the theater, because I was an actress and in order to make a living doing that I had to promote the theater company by selling plays! My musician friends would also tell me they had dates available for gigs, and I had many other friends that owned performance spaces. I volunteered myself to help them, but then I started thinking “Damn I should become a manager”! (Laughs). After all… many people were asking me about it!
I also recall that smoking was allowed inside performance venues at the time, but I don’t smoke and I consider it a filthy habit; so it wasn’t worth putting up with it just to make a just a few bucks. I was done! However, I kept thinking that being a manager could definitely work for me, but I have to study about it I thought, so I went to Buenos Aires take some management classes. I studied with many people, including the manager for the metal band Pantera who went to Chile to present workshops on the subject. I recall they were very crowded, but still I made my way in to speak with him. Oh and Juanes was there at the workshops too! I also took a class in sound production after that… just so that I could understand things better. It was several years ago, but from then on I started thinking “No, if I’m going do this I have to do it the way I want to do it” just so that I can earn some decent bucks and make a living from it. I thought… “I’m going to do Jazz with Egun”, and that’s how I began doing Jazz related events.
Gypset: Always working under the name of Egun?
Wanda: Yes… always. I started with the cycles of intimate Jazz. I’d get champagne; wine, chocolate and approximately 200 people would show up. There were tables where the audience would, drink a glass of champagne or wine and listen to Jazz. The bands played their set and when they were done people would mingle and socialize. It was called Intimate Jazz, because as soon as the band was done people would socialize until the event ended, or sometimes the party would move to someone’s house where things got very lively! We started with La Marraqueta band, Pedro Gris, and many other Jazz bands, and people were really interested in it. They would ask about it.
Gypset: I imagine, because from what I’ve seen in social media the Jazz scene in Chile is fairly serious.
Wanda: Yes, you’re right… but in the end the cycle begins again and things started to repeat themselves. Larger Jazz festivals started taking place, so I started looking and moving towards something else. I’m very good friends with Nano Stern and other musicians, so in the end I began searching for other things and other productions. I’ve always loved music.
Gypset: You kept moving, evolving, developing?
Wanda: Yes, that’s right. Ever since I was a kid I’ve had musician friends and I grew up with many of them; so that’s how it happened!
Gypset: Tell us about you Camila. How did you become a part of this, how did the process develop for you?
Camila: First I earned a Bachelor’s degree in art. I pursued a career to become and artist, and when I graduated from the University I found myself in a completely unknown market. That’s because studying art in Chile is the equivalent of studying to become poor (laughs), there’s no other way to say it!
Gypset: Obviously… and I believe it can be very similar here as well!
Camila: All kidding aside though, I studied. I graduated with all the energy and drive to create art, but the truth is that the university didn’t prepare me for the professional world of art. I studied inside a bubble you see? And when I emerged in the real world of art everything hit me in the face, because I realized that the university didn’t teach me how to run a business. It didn’t teach me that aside from being an artist, I had to generate or request funding from various sources. It didn’t teach me about the actual production of art and I literally found myself on the edge of an enormous abyss, so I did a completely radical shift and began studying business management immediately. I then merged both careers and dedicated myself full time to cultural and art production management.
Gypset: You started bringing people, funding, productions, and projects together?
Camila: Yes, I specialized in the area of cultural funding; I researched many projects and became a bit of an expert in the matter, and I also advised many of my friends on the subject of funding. As a matter of fact, I still advise many of them on how to navigate the process to request and obtain public funding for their projects.
Gypset: This was in Santiago right… are both of you from there?
Wanda: Yes, we’re from there and we’ve known each other for many years.
Camila: I did a lot of work pertaining to the production of plastic arts projects and after that I dedicated myself to theater productions. Both of us worked in theater and we’ve known each other for 15 years, so with each of us working in a particular area of expertise we reconnected again in the theater and joined forces. We chose to join our knowledge, Wanda brought her experience from the world of music to the team and I brought my knowledge of funding and business management. We decided to consolidate a business where we could produce cultural and artistic projects that focus directly on music. However, given the fact that I came from the world of art without much knowledge about the music business. I said to myself “Well… I’m here so I have to give it my all! In the end, I thought, how much different can one market be from the other if all of it is about culture and art? And that’s how I learned a lot, by delving deeper into everything that’s associated with sound, technique, and all the rest of it in addition to the projects that we continue to put together. That’s what brought us to where we are today!
Gypset: I noticed, as you were sharing you’re experience, that you didn’t just arrive on the scene with some ideas. You had a plan and it started studying the subject.
Wanda: Obviously! I told myself that if I was going to be a manager I was going to be the best and work with the best! (Laughs) And in order to do that I had to learn about the technical aspect of things, I had to know about the cable for the bass, connections, amplification, etc., because I didn’t want to be fooled! I wanted to be able to say “Hey, look this is not correct here or there” when I have to. It’s true!
Camila: Yes, things like that happen!
Wanda: Besides, it’s a very male chauvinist field. People always think we’re the artist’s girlfriends and not the bosses.
Camila: That happens a lot.
Gypset: That’s why I wanted to ask you, how was the situation at the very beginning? When you began to say “Hello, we’re Egun and we want to do the following” How have things turned out given the fact that you’re women?
Wanda: Working in different scenes, because Jazz and Rap audiences are very different! But we’re very serious; we’re diplomatic, well organized and punctual. Besides, I had a great ally from the world of Jazz in Pedro Gris. He played in La Marraqueta, one of the Jazz bands we worked with, and helped me a great deal when I was working in a cultural center. That made things a bit easier at first. On the other hand, starting to work on other types of festivals was a lot more difficult. Generally speaking the people in that circuit are men, 10 or so years older than I am on average, and they’re a very tight knit group. They worked in big production companies that had a considerable amount of time, so they were like “who’s this”? We had to be very well backed; otherwise they would not give us the time of day, until now.
Camila: That is a constant struggle. You’ve created a space for yourself, you’ve earned it, but you have to defend it constantly. In the end that’s what happens to us, we have to defend our space, because we are women working in a 100% male dominated work environment.
Gypset: Is it a matter of them putting you down?
Wanda: No, not so much anymore… but there are differences. For example, a while ago we were working at a Hip Hop festival in Chicago with Jonas Sanche. It was a very heavy Rap scene with lots of bling, and the assigned stage times were very limited and strict, so when one of the performers started taking too long with his equipment and turntables. I had to jump in and assert myself saying, “Come on let’s go…now it’s our time to go on”, but everyone there was really cool and respectful about it! Things have worked out very well here and we’ve never had any problems.
Gypset: Tell us about the shift from Jazz to Hip Hop, how was it breaking into the world of Rap?
Wanda: It began with Ana Tijoux.
Gypset: How did you meet her, what were the circumstances?
Wanda: We met through mutual friends in the scene. I used to work with her on her video productions at Egun and we worked on several things, but eventually I started working directly with her.
Camila: It was a sort of natural shift to open a mutual path within the market.
Gypset: A way to form alliances?
Wanda: Sort of… Ana really took off after her work at Egun productions, much the same as Beatriz Pichi Malen did. As a matter of fact Beatriz has played at the Municipal Theater in Santiago and completely sold out the venue. Included among our artists now we also have Movimiento Original, an excellent Reggae / Rap band that’s received raving reviews and done very well everywhere they play.
Gypset: I’ve noticed Movimiento Original has a really positive message and an excellent vibe overall.
Wanda: Yes, they recently played at Jamming Fest and completely knock it out of the park! Their set was at 2:00 and the place was packed, they drew a huge crowd.
Camila: Everyone in the crowd was a fan, they knew the lyrics to the songs and sang right along with them.
Wanda: Residente chose them as the opening band when he performed at Moviestar Arena in Santiago, Chile recently. They’re doing very well and have quite a following. We also have Rulo, former bassist of the Funk band Los Tetas, who recently released a solo project called “Vendabal”. Aside from opening shows for Mon Laferte and working with excellent musicians he’s also a great person, and that’s definitely something we look for in our artists.
Gypset: Tell us what motivates you, how do you select or stay tuned to what is new?
Wanda: Look, right now we have quite a bit going on and it would be a huge challenge to constantly look for the latest. However, it’s the music that always makes the difference and to get to know the artist as a person. This may sound a bit hippie, but we’re always looking for that detail. When the artist is too much of a “star or celebrity” that’s a big letdown for us.
Camila: We have a very clear view about “ego management” and how to deal with those situations so they don’t interfere in our work relations and teamwork. We know that “egos” can be over the top in this business, so we’re constantly working to keep that to a minimum and prevent it from getting out of hand. Musicians and artist always have it to some degree, but we’re constantly trying to rescue the human side and keep things leveled.
Gypset: In the end it’s important and much easier when the artist is friendly and level headed.
Wanda: That humanizes the artist! Ana is that way; she’s a real sweetheart and always dedicates time to the children. She can spend a good deal of time taking pictures with her fans. People approach her after the shows and she has no problem spending time with them. Most of our artists are that way, Movimiento Original has been at the airport and people approach them, but they always make time for the fans. We love that about them, it shows they’re real and accessible.
Camila: It shows that even with notoriety and fame, artists have to be conscientious and wear that sensibility on their sleeve, because it connects them with their audience.
Wanda: We’ve traveled to indigenous communities, to rural schools. We’ve gone with Ana to Coyhaique in southern Chile to bring educational sessions, traveled to far away places and connected in a very direct manner. All of our artists have a commitment to this type of work.
Camila: All of our bands participate in social outreach activities in schools.
Wanda: As a matter of fact, our contracts with the artists include participation in this type of show. Something meaningful that brings music to disadvantaged children in small communities, children that have not been exposed to music up close. A while a go we went to a small town where the children had never even seen a saxophone, so they experienced that in complete amazement.
Camila: That was an incredible experience. We traveled with the Mapocho Orquesta to Pucao, a small community in the island of Chiloe, where there was only a single teacher for the entire school. For those children to have an activity that exposed them to live music, where they got to see and touch real instruments for the first time in their lives was a truly touching and emotional experience.
Wanda: The teacher told us the students only knew instruments from photos in books and I almost cried. That was during a twenty shows tour of northern, central and southern Chile. It was so touching that I always felt like crying at the shows.
Camila: The band had a social awareness and an interest to bring an activity that mixed music with education; it played an important social role for them. Their purpose was to bring a show, a performance aimed at school children, to communities where they simply don’t have access to Jazz music and culture, and in many instances receive very limited education at all. We traveled by bus and brought all the necessary equipment along to set a stage and put on a concert.
Gypset: In your view, what is the direction of the music market in Chile?
Camila: Social media has contributed a lot to its exponential expansion, and there are many music festivals in Chile providing ample room for growth. For example, I lived in Peru for a few years and there is a stark contrast between the music market there and the one in Chile. It’s much different! There are lots of productions going on in Chile, similar to what’s going on in Colombia with their music market.
Gypset: As a matter of fact you will have 2 or 3 artist performing at Lollapalooza Chile right?
Wanda: Yes, and we had many of our artists in La Cumbre del Rock too. We always have Egun artists at the major festivals, even Beatriz Pichi Malen performed at Lollapalooza. The idea is to also develop our own festivals and other shows that highlight Egun artists. It doesn’t stop at one thing, because we’re very enterprising and are always looking for ways to expand our bookings. It’s not just about presenting the artist, it’s also about getting their music heard and included in other projects. For example, Fernando Milagros, who writes theatrical music, will have his work included in a television series about the boxer Martin Vargas entitled “Pega Martin”. We aim to have our artists’ music included in films and various other projects.
Camila: Fernando Milagros is also developing a project in parallel to his solo work called “Laguna y el Rio”, children’s project that mixes animation with live music and story telling. He’ll be presenting it at Lollapalooza on the Kidsapalooza stage this year. This work promises to be very different and lots of fun.
Gypset: Are you bringing artists to the US market?
Wanda: Yes we’ve brought Fernando, Ana, and various other artists already. We’re actively exploring other ways to introduce them here.
Camila: Beatriz Pichi Malen has performed here several times, and several years ago she was invited by the Rockefeller Foundation to be part of an event focusing on women’s issues.
Gypset: What’s your take on Chilean artists singing in English, do you talk about it or even consider it as part of process? What do you think about it?
Camila: I don’t really think it’s a big deal, we’re living in a globalized 2018 and it doesn’t really matter. You can sing in Spanish, English, French or Chinese and it’s all the same, provided the music and vibe are there!
Wanda: However, there are many aspects of Latin-American culture that are profoundly rich, and that’s what we focus on. For example, Beatriz doesn’t sing in Spanish, she sings in the Mapuche Mapudungun language only. She was invited to sing in Spanish on a show a while ago, but she declined because she doesn’t do it. Regardless of that fact she still enjoys enormous popularity, and has performed with many other artists nonetheless. Residente invited her to open a show for Calle13 in Chile and other artist have also wanted to work with her, but she only sings in Mapudungun. In addition to her, our other artist also rescue elements of Latin-American culture. Rulo uses Cajon percussion rhythms, guitar styles, accordion, etc. Ana’s record “Vengo” is marvelous in that respect!
Camila: All of our artists have that focus, the deep-rooted connection to our native culture. They not only rescue cultural roots to preserve them, but also to expose and fuse them with other rhythmic elements from a vast source of Latin American music. Rulo’s work has strong elements of Peruvian waltz, Chilean Cueca, and Brazilian percussion. He explores a number of styles and mixes them in a variety of ways. The music of Fernando Milagros and Movimiento Original is also deeply rooted in that wealth of influences.
Wanda: Movimiento Original includes a variety of sounds and rhythms from northern Chile in their latest record, it’s part of their focus… and that’s a form of Egun you see? It’s powerful and it makes us very happy, it’s hard work… but we’re very happy. The phone is constantly ringing and there’s always something going on, but it’s our work and it keeps us active and satisfied.
Camila: However, regardless of all the activities we have going on, we always pause and make time for our families.
Gypset: Please tell us more about that.
Camila: Well, we’re both moms! Wanda has a 20-year-old son and I have a son that recently turned 7 years old, so we give ourselves that family space. We’re both very obsessive about our work, we focus, concentrate, and sometimes overexert in our demands at work, but we also give ourselves the time to be with our families. We’re very supportive of each other in this matter.
Wanda: There are dates on our work calendar that can’t be missed!
Camila: We have a master calendar at the office with all the important dates written on it. It includes birthdays, anniversaries, and other important dates that are blocked and can’t be overlooked. It’s family and that’s our foundation.
Wanda: It’s always difficult to leave when we have to travel and we miss our loved ones right away when we do it. My son is older now, but I’m still a total mom. They’ve helped us every step of the way! There were many times when my son Amaro had no choice and had to go on tour with us. Those were the conditions at the time; it’s the way we had to do things.
Camila: Me too, sometimes I take my son to work and he gets to spend time there with us. Wanda and I support each other quite a bit in this regard, because we’re women and understand what having a demanding job and being a parent means, in addition to all the other challenges and responsibilities that come along with that and having to meet them at 100%. You can’t let any of that slip by, so we give each other lots of support on being mothers.
Wanda: Yes, you have to be on top of everything, business, musicians, festivals, contracts, home related responsibilities like making sure the bills are paid, dinner is ready, etc. Everything.
Camila: On my son’s birthday Wanda usually asks “Did you buy a present for him, did you get a cake… a piñata”, etc. just to remind me. And it works both ways!
Wanda: Besides, our families love each other and get along very well, so there’s a sisterhood there. However, we also have guidelines in place with regards to work and unless there’s an important event happening on a given night, we ask our musicians “Please don’t call us after 8:00PM unless it’s something extremely important, because that’s our family time”. And we also respect our lunchtime, because in the past we used to answer phone calls all the time and it became absolutely insane. Now, when we’re having lunch, if the phone rings we just let it ring and give ourselves the time to be with our family. That space is always there for us.
Camila: It’s a matter of setting our limits, because if we don’t set that time aside we can literally work 24 x 7. Work non-stop all the time.
Wanda: We try to set our cell phones aside when we’re having lunch at work, unless it’s something very important. There are many of us in the office, we have a team of people and they’re all women, so we make the time and we really enjoy having lunch together. Some are vegetarian; others are vegan, etc. We have a variety of food around the table and we really make it our time.
Camila: We maintain that ritual as an important element of what we do.
Wanda: Keep in mind that aside from the female artists we work with, we also have other professional women in our team… graphic designers, sound engineers, etc., and the positive vibe is always there. We’re able to sense it among our team members. Many thought that things would easily get complicated among us, but the reality is that we support each other and we’re there to back each other through difficult moments. There’s zero drama among us and if one of us is sad the others try to lift that person up. It’s truly marvelous and we’re very fortunate in that regard.
Look, the field we work in is very hard because there’s lots of male chauvinism, so it’s challenging to make our way and defend our position. Having to be firm yet friendly and kind, because I can be easy going or very tough when I have to, but in the end love conquers all! (Laughs out loud).