Music Stars Making A Social Impact: Why & How Flor Bromley Is Helping To Change Our World
An Interview With Edward Sylvan
“Go for it” — I was really nervous to ask people to collaborate on songs for my albums. But I just went for it. I mean, the worst thing they could say was “no” and maybe you can get them to even say “not this time” and the next time certainly approach them again. Laurie Berkner is a very popular kid’s musician and I have been asking her to collaborate since my previous album and at first, got a “no, she’s too busy right now” but this time I went for it again and I got a “yes”. I am very happy she’s on my album and she’s an amazing artist to work with. And that shows you that if it’s in your capacity, you should just go for it, you never know what you can get until you try it.
As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Flor Bromley.
Musically, Flor Bromley wants to share the Latino-American experience with a new generation. Flor is an award-winning children’s musician that uses global rhythms, bilingualism, and the power of puppetry and storytelling to engage audiences of all ages. www.florbromleymusic.com
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thank you for inviting me to tell my story. I grew up in Lima, Peru. Lima is a very busy and dense city. I am an only child and we lived in a tiny apartment. My parents are both professionals so they worked a lot but they always had time to play with me and read to me. Music was a big part of my upbringing. I learned how to speak by singing songs and I learned to dance before I could walk. I grew up watching MTV and other Latin music channels that featured music videos from all over the world so my ears have always been exposed to a variety of music. After high school, I went abroad to NY and fell in love with musical theatre. I felt the combo of dancing, singing, and theatre was where I wanted to be the rest of my life. When I went back home, I went to college for Theatre and I graduated with a Theatre and Education Degree. I worked in theatre, TV and for the Peruvian Ministry of Education as part of a storytelling literacy program. I decided to move back to NY and got a scholarship to study musical theatre and one of my jobs was singing for kids. That’s when I made a career switch and threw myself into singing music for kids 100%.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
About 10 years ago, I was doing lots of freelance work in NYC that had to do with music and theatre: I sang at an Opera, I worked for 3 theatre companies performing as a storyteller, a puppeteer and doing one-woman shows alongside teaching artist work (theatre and songwriting) in schools, I also worked for CUNY doing literacy theatre programs for Early Childhood and Middle School, and I worked for a company doing bilingual music for kids under their curriculum. The last offered me to be part of their band having concerts in different venues. After I finished my first concert with them I wondered why haven’t I tried this before. I felt more alive than I had ever felt on a stage. I realized that was my future path and I needed to experience it in order to recognize it. Not long after that, I started creating music and I produced my first bilingual album “Chiqui Music Boom” which came out in 2015. With the success the album brought, I quit all my jobs and decided to go solo on this musical journey. That was six years ago.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
One time I booked a show for the New York Public Library and the shows at the NYPL are free to all audiences and you never really know who is going to come to them. So right before the show, the librarian comes to me and says “There are two big groups out there, one of them only speaks English, and the other only speaks Spanish”. Now, I am fully bilingual but I usually do most of the speaking parts of it in English because most of the people attending speak some English. But in this case, both groups only spoke one language and had no understanding of the other one. This was a first for me and it made me realize how important bilingualism is. Now, people are probably thinking that since I am bilingual that was not a problem. However, it is actually very hard as your brain has to switch from one language to another and translate on the spot as the words are coming out of your mouth. The songs were helpful since they were in two languages. The show came out great. The audience was happy. That experience made me realize how important it is to be conscious of one another. How important is to be conscious of the different cultures and languages people speak and how important is to teach our children about it so that they have empathy towards other cultures. That’s one of my objectives when creating music for families.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Oh, this is funny…. at the moment, it was nerve-racking, but after, it was an incredible experience. We were booked to do a show with the band at a Summer Camp in upstate NY. It was a late evening show (6 pm) but it was the Summer so I didn’t think much of it. After a couple of driving mishaps (couldn’t find the place and neither could the rest of the band), we made it. I brought the family with me. My husband looked at the place and said “This looks like a sleepaway camp, how old are the kids?”. I responded I didn’t know, I certainly didn’t ask. Oops! When the person in charge came to talk to us she said kids were in between 9–16 years old. Usually our shows -and definitely our playlist for that day- are for kids 2–9… My drummer looked at me and said “are we still doing ‘Kitty’?” I said…. “YES! It’s all about how you approach the song and the banter you have with the kids”. I have to thank my middle school teaching artist experience that taught me how to handle any type of audience for this. So we started the show a bit hesitant and definitely nervous. We didn’t want the kids to feel the show was for babies, and we didn’t want to flop. Well, we didn’t! The kids had a blast, and so did we. At the end of the show, the whole camp did a circle dance as we were rocking to “Fiesta”, one of my songs. That was probably one of the best concerts we have ever played so far. That taught me that music is universal, that kid’s music and songs with a message work with any type of audience, and that kids just want to be nurtured and have fun. But now I definitely ask the audience ages to be prepared. Now when they ask me which ages our shows are geared for I always say we have played for 0–16, so really any age. It’s music for all audiences.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Right now I am releasing my third album for families with the 8 Pound Gorilla Record label called “Pachamama”. My two previous albums have been bilingual and I am taking a slightly different path on this one: this is my first dual-language album, which means that half of the songs are primarily in English and half of them in Spanish. Translating the songs and finding the right rhyme and cadence to them was definitely harder but I am very proud of how it turned out. The title of the album “Pachamama” means Mother Earth in Quechua, the language of my Peruvian ancestors. The album is a tribute to nature and to celebrating cultures, mixing Peruvian elements with different music genres.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
We all have heard representation matters but people don’t really understand the logic of it. We feel that being reflected in our idols makes a difference and it does! But it also makes a difference in the way you look at other races and cultures. Growing up, I watched the dubbed Spanish version of “The Cosby Show” and it was one of my favorite shows. The parents were both a doctor and a lawyer (just like my parents) and the kids always knew how to follow their hearts. I identified with the family immediately, I didn’t look at race. I always thought people that lived in the US had money, no matter the race. When I was a little bit older and I watched “The Prince of Bel-Air”, the same message came across. So to me, the race didn’t have a pre-determined concept. This is why our diversity should be represented in all types of roles. A similar thing happened with “Who’s the Boss?”. I always thought male maids were common in the US and how great that was. I thought that was the reality. I didn’t think that was the “exception” and what made the show “different and funny”. We should all think that way, we should all watch shows (and make shows) that break the mold and show us possibilities. Shows that show our diversity without pointing out the diversity. Those shows were important back then, and they still are now. With my music I try to show families the diversity of music all around the globe, having genres like Cumbia, Bachata, Huayno, Country, Hip-Hop, etc, mixed in, so that they enjoy the diversity of all cultures.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
“Everybody has a different journey so don’t compare yourself to others”
We always feel that if we do everything another successful person has done, we will get there too and we expect it to happen fast. Well… we don’t really know the actual journey of the successful person. When I first started, I compared myself to other bilingual family musicians and I expected to follow the same paths that they did. But I have had opportunities, awards or accolades and also obstacles that they haven’t and vice-versa. You don’t know unless you walk in their shoes. I have made my own path and they have their own. We have different journeys and I don’t own theirs. They may have started their path years before, or they know someone or have difficulties we don’t see, or maybe they were at the right place at the right time. I know now my journey is not theirs, so I focus on my own and I try not to look at others, I have faith I will get where I need to get and that’s not necessarily where they are.
“Success is not how many shows you book but how happy you are in your life”
I recently shared a meme about this with a group of female musicians for kids. We, as humans, especially as women, have so many balls to juggle. Some of us are moms, some are entrepreneurs, some are both, some are single, some have to take care of ailing parents, some have gone through a divorce, some are homeowners, some live with their parents, etc. So how can we measure “success” in all of these different paths? It’s definitely not how many shows you book (although it feels nice to book a lot), it goes deeper towards how well you manage to balance everything and feel happy in your own life.
“Having kids will slow you down, but somehow you will do what you need to do to make it work”
When I first started I had just given birth to my first kid, I decided to release my album then and there because I thought “a kid is not going to stop me”…well…it won’t, but it definitely changed my priorities. It was different than I thought and I had to change my priorities. Yes, women can do it all, but it’s going to take more time sometimes. I was very upset when things weren’t moving fast enough but I had to slow down to enjoy my beautiful baby and I don’t regret a single moment.
“Have the courage to say no”
Sometimes events and venues will try to “lowball” you, so don’t let it happen. I did an event once and they were trying to pay me way below my pay rate. I really wanted to be a part of the event, but I had to fight/negotiate to get what I think I deserve. The children deserve an artist that can give them excellent entertainment and an artist that’s happy because that artist can pay their bills. It’s so hard to say no, so maybe negotiate, and if it doesn’t feel right, then “no thank you, but please do keep me in mind when you have the budget” might feel better. If they value you, they will understand.
“Go for it”
I was really nervous to ask people to collaborate on songs for my albums. But I just went for it. I mean, the worst thing they could say was “no” and maybe you can get them to even say “not this time” and the next time certainly approach them again. Laurie Berkner is a very popular kid’s musician and I have been asking her to collaborate since my previous album and at first, got a “no, she’s too busy right now” but this time I went for it again and I got a “yes”. I am very happy she’s on my album and she’s an amazing artist to work with. And that shows you that if it’s in your capacity, you should just go for it, you never know what you can get until you try it.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Some artists are always focused on the result. But the creative part is the best for me. Especially in family music. One artist once asked me “what’s your favorite place to write a song” and I laughed: I have two kids, I never have time to sit and write songs the “proper way” so I write songs on the go: while driving, while on the train, while making dinner, while playing with my kids. That’s how my song “Peas and Carrots” came to be. My husband and I were serving dinner and we started to rap to entice our daughter to eat her veggies, the “I like peas, you like carrots” chant began and we laughed and I said, “that would be a good song…hold on let me write that down”. The song went through a whole revamp and the idea of mixing hip-hop with a Peruvian song came after, also the collaboration with SaulPaul…but the main idea started that way. So be alert, you never know when the next big hit is going to come from.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would create the free travel movement. I am a believer that you learn the most while traveling while living in another culture. I feel all children should experience this. It not only broadens their horizons but they start thinking differently about other cultures. I experienced this as an exchange student when I lived in the US for a year but I also met people from around the world in the program and that completely changed my vision of the world and it definitely changed my life. If we can give opportunities like this to every child I think the world would be so much more empathic, which is what the world needs right now.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I can’t just mention one (laughs). Definitely my family: my parents who encouraged me to follow my dreams, my husband who is my biggest fan, my kids who give me joy everyday. In terms of career, I have to mention my producer Sinuhe Padilla. He makes me sound better! With our first album, he guided me through it all. Our partnership has evolved so much since then and I couldn’t have a better person to work with so I’m very grateful for his musical experience and all he brings to the album.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
When I graduated High School my yearbook quote was “Nothing is impossible. Follow your dreams.” Well, now I know that there are definitely things are very hard to achieve and dreams that sometimes change along the way. But if I didn’t believe that back then I would have never left Peru and come to NYC by myself to be an actress. I never would have looked for jobs to stay in the country. I never would have thought how difficult it was going to be for an immigrant to follow those dreams. So, I think my life lesson quote still stands. You gotta go follow your dreams, and just by doing so, you are living your dream.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Right now, I have to say Tony Danza. Like I mentioned before “Who’s the Boss?” was a big part of my childhood and there is a song in my new album called “Luz” that has a particular connection to him. I wrote “Luz” as a song to encourage little ones to shine their light through difficult times and it was inspired by my life story surviving a time of terrorism in Peru. Terrorism hit Peru very hard in the 90s. Terrorists would set off bombs in all parts of the city and particularly on electric towers so there were a lot of outages all the time when I grew up. One day they decided to bomb one of the buildings in my neighborhood. It almost felt like it was my building. Before the event, I was watching “Who’s the Boss?” while eating dinner and when the bomb went off my mom and I hid in our kitchenette while the pots and pans started to fall from the shelves. After the event, we didn’t lose electricity but I was in panic mode. I was nine years old. My mom sat me in front of the TV and started asking me questions about the episode to keep me calm. The paternal figure of Tony and the way he told Samantha things were going to be ok, kept me sane. He would never know how much he meant to a little girl in Peru back then. It was an awful time for a lot of families, lives were lost, people were injured physically and mentally. When I was recording the song in the studio I started crying. I hope my song “Luz” brings hope to little ones and helps them to remember to shine their light. I wish I could thank Tony for “being there for me” and encouraging me to shine my light always.
How can our readers follow you online?
I am active on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and recently TikTok. I will be posting all of my concert dates and fun updates/stories on these social media outlets. (@florbromley)
My music is also available on all streaming digital platforms.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Thank YOU so much. Gracias!