Circa four years ago, there was a period during which you could find singer duendita in Paris, biking around the city alone, a little drunk. She was 17 at the time, doing press for the indie film Swim Little Fish Swim, the score for which she’d worked on two years earlier.
Today, sitting at a cramped table at Alice’s Tea Cup on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, a few years have passed. The scenery has changed, and on this particularly warm day in early spring, she’s “sober as fuck.” But the singer, songwriter, and senior at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music is still prone to wandering; she absentmindedly smears clotted cream and jam on a buttermilk scone for over an hour as she weaves together a discussion of art, feminism, and thoughts on living.
“This is what a nonbinary fem hood bitch from Queens looks like…and this is beautiful.”
“It’s hard to appreciate other human beings, you know?” The pale yellow of the jasmine tea duendita ordered matches her butter-colored muumuu, and when she leans back, the faux fur coat slung over her chair threatens to devour her. “It takes work to sit down and think, wow; to see other people’s beauty.” Yet it’s the uncovering of that beauty that the Queens native most wants to achieve through her work; it’s the baby hairs and gelled-back buns of the women she grew up around.
“My whole existence is to make people who look like that beautiful. I can be like ‘This is what a nonbinary fem hood bitch from Queens looks like,’” she says, presumably referring to herself, “and this is beautiful.’”
Still only 21, the artist, born Candace Lee Camacho (a name she refers to as her “government” name), knows she can come off as having an inflated sense of self-importance. “When I was growing up, people would tell me that I was egotistical and narcissistic, but we’re all narcissists. The only thoughts I’ve ever heard are my own. We’re individuals, and it’s thinking about our own needs first that makes us think about others. That’s how you truly love people, by reaching an understanding with yourself.”
Much of duendita’s work addresses this duality of interior exploration and external expression of affection. Deeply emotive, her voice floats through the complexities of caring, and it’s caught people’s attention. This is not an album, a collection of songs inspired by Rene Magritte and released as a guerilla audio accompaniment to the MoMA’s 2014 exhibition of the painter’s work, received critical praise, and “one of one,” a short single released in 2015, helped to spawn a fan base that she doesn’t take for granted. Her recent work, generally dropped as singles on her Soundcloud, Spotify, and iTunes without a clear schedule or strategy, has kept both critics and fans coming back for more. “We text, we call, sometimes I do video concerts from my bedroom and just sing to people on Periscope TV. I just want to reach people and talk to them.”
“There’s a reason I’m alive when the Internet exists,” she adds. “I have a platform. I don’t have much of a platform, but I have a little platform.” Her online platform is, she says, an opportunity to represent herself authentically, but she represents more than just herself. Her commitment to her hometown, and to her “people,” runs deep. “I grew up in Jamaica, Queens, and now I go to NYU Clive Davis. It’s pretty freakin’ awesome. I don’t even know where I would be if I didn’t get accepted and didn’t get a scholarship. They’ve really made an investment in me and I can’t wait to return that 20 fold. Anyone who believes in me is making a huge investment, and I’m ready to flip my blessings. Like a hustler,” she adds, laughing, “Imma flip my blessings.” But she cuts herself off mid-laugh and her wide grin fades. She’s serious now. “No, I am, and I’m excited about that.”