Salvadoran-Canadian singer-songwriter Lil América followed her passion for music
A refugee from El Salvador’s bloody civil war in the 1980s, Lil América found her second home in Canada and music. Now proud of Hamilton, the singer tells her story in an upcoming album filled with jazz and Latin influences.
“Courage. Music. Healing” which will be released in October during Latin American Heritage Month is described by Lil as an honest, first-hand experience of the hardships of immigrants and a free ticket to South America.
“The songs are very sincere and about me as an immigrant, as a mother and as a woman,” Lil said.
Featuring eight songs, Lil’s new album comes after a hiatus from her full-time job as a social worker. The pandemic has given the singer more time to work on her music and take care of her mental health.
“All of my concerts have been canceled, but this quiet time has allowed me to reinvent myself and regain my sanity. I’ve been singing covers for so long, and this time, let me look at myself and let the music come out,” Lil said.
Lil shared the stage with Hamilton’s jazz band, Solstice Trio for almost 10 years and they’re ready to return to the city’s music scene. “People crave live music. I can feel it.”
The first single and music video from the album released earlier this year “Ya Vez” “You see” was dedicated to Lil’s mother. In the video, Lil removes his makeup in front of the mirror after a concert.
“I felt it was very powerful,” she said. “It’s like stripping me of my soul, that’s what I do with the song.”
Some of the collaborations in “Courage. Music. Healing” features Lil América’s 16-year-old son Edgard Carillo, husband David Carrillo and fellow local artists Rob Fekete, Joel Banks, Glenn Marshal and Carlos Rodriguez.
Edgard, played guitar and co-wrote some of the songs on the album.
“I learned more about my Latin roots through the process of creating the songs, and the lyrics let me learn a bit more about my mother and the struggles she went through as an immigrant,” said Edgard said.
“It was beautiful because during the pandemic we were all at home. We created this good relationship and exchanged ideas. My son was born in Canada, so it was a way for him to connect with Latin American and Salvadoran roots through music,” Lil said.
It’s not everyday that you meet someone named Lil America. According to the 45-year-old singer, the name is a product of her family history and a description of her beloved relationships in Central, South and North America.
“There’s always a story behind every person you meet,” Lil said. “Lil was a dear friend to my mother who was tortured and killed during the civil war in El Salvador and América is my aunt’s middle name. She represents my father’s side.
After fleeing El Salvador, “My mother and father were against the government and received death threats, so we had to leave the country.” Lil’s first immigration experience was in Cuba. There, the singer began listening to local ensemble Buena Vista Social Club, later incorporating sounds from Havana into her creations.
Lil moved to Canada in 2004 pregnant with her second child, Edgard, and her then four-year-old daughter, Lil. When Edgard was born, the singer had to suspend her musical career. “My children were small, so I needed a stable job.”
However, being an immigrant more than once does not make things easier.
During his early years in Canada, Lil had a mix of good and bad experiences, but making the most of the tough times is what kept him going.
“My process was learning English, going to college, having kids, being a mother, continuing to study, working full time and making my music,” said lil. “For an immigrant, it’s difficult because you leave your family. Hamilton opened his arms to me, but there are some things that we also have to go for.
Recognizing the challenges of newcomers, Lil volunteered with the Hamilton Immigration Partnership Council for five years, where she helped house immigrants and voice their needs to the City.
“When you are a newcomer, you feel that the people of the city are untouchable. We are afraid to meet people who have the power to make decisions. But then, little by little, I felt heard and gave ideas, especially with housing,” Lil said.
What has changed and improved for newcomers since Lil moved to Hamilton?
“Things are more open to immigrants. I see the city trying to get more feedback from newcomers. Especially when it comes to talking about what is needed for newcomers, for example social services available for newcomers and hearing from people with lived experience,” Lil said.
Lil reflects on the idea of being both an immigrant and an artist: “Don’t think twice about it. If this is your passion or whatever your passion is, go ahead and develop it!
Lil America’s music is available on Spotify, SoundCloud and YouTube.