30 Jul Vanessa Forero
Photo and makeup by Mimi Lomax | Courtesy of Vanessa Forero
An accomplished artist, Vanessa Forero is a bestselling author and an acclaimed singer-songwriter. From Colombian and British descent, Forero learned to play the piano at age four and composed her first musical piece when she was only nine. With her first album released a couple of years ago, she set the tone and showed the world her incredible songwriting skills and talent. Forero is currently working on a new album and a follow-up to her bestseller, The Girl with No Name.
By Victoria Adelaide | July 30. 2018
Victoria Adelaide: You co-wrote your mother’s memoir, The Girl with No Name, with your mother, Marina Chapman. How did you come up with the idea for the book?
Vanessa Forero: Originally, we didn’t think to write a book. We had a bit of a difficult time in our family and, in those moments, we always like to look at the positive side of things. At the time, my mother seemed quite fragile, which was something I didn’t usually see. I thought I had to capture her story before she forgot it all. So, we started making little notes and conducting interviews to keep the story within the family. I’d always known the story a little bit. I don’t think she even knew it fully, in order, with all the events lined up and connected. Then, I started writing it from the beginning to the end. It took me two years; I didn’t realize. At some point, we both took a step back and were like, “Whoa, it’s amazing!”
VA: Your mother said she didn’t want to tell her story because she wanted to protect her family from being mocked and her children and grandchildren from being bullied at school. How did you handle it when you were younger?
VF: Yes, she didn’t really speak about it. Sometimes, if we picked a banana at the market, she might have a sudden memory like, “Oh, that’s the same type of bananas I had in the jungle,” but she was never really telling us the story. We knew she had lived with monkeys in the jungle and all of that, but we never spoke about it with our friends because we thought it was the most normal thing ever. We just assumed that whatever our childhood was, it was the most normal childhood. I still don’t think it was strange. It was the only way we knew; we actually thought everyone else was weird—we were the normal ones to be climbing trees. A lot of people were shocked when the story came out because we never talked about it much.
Photos 2, 4 & 5 by Mimi Lomax | Photo 3 by Carl Bromwich | Courtesy of Vanessa Forero
VA: Then you went to Colombia. How did it feel for you to be there witnessing it all with your mother?
VF: It was incredibly life-changing for me and I don’t mean that lightly. We’ve not really been raised as an emotional family, because mom is very much the survivor type. So, we’re all very much like: get on with it, jump out of the tree; if you fall over, get back up—very much of a survivor mentality. Emotions like crying and grieving have not been a big part of our family life. But the minute we went to Colombia and mom was confronted with all those memories, that she had not really had time to think, get angry, or cry about, she got very emotional. Seeing how my mother got emotional in Colombia when she went to Ana-Karmen’s awful house, how she got angry and then started crying and having memories, I was like, “Whoa, my mom is human!” I had never really seen that side of her! Seeing my mother breaking down and showing her humanity suddenly set me free to be able to feel as well. I started crying in Ana-Karmen’s house, and that was really unusual for me. Something unlocked in me and, ever since, I’ve not been the same. There was one particular thing that really got me. Because I spent two years writing mom’s story, in my head, at some point, I started thinking it was just a story and I was just writing a book. But then, we went to Colombia for the first time, just me and my mother. We found the neighbor of the Santos family; he was a musician. He looked at mom and he remembered her. He was like, “Oh, you are the girl that used to be tied up to the tree in the evenings! I remember coming home from my gig and looking over the fence to check if you were still alive. You were just tied to the tree there and I used to hear you screaming.” My mother was like, “Yeah, yeah! I remember you coming up from your gig and you were one of my favorite bits of the night.” And all this weird conversation like “you were just tied to the tree and I checked if you were alive”…just witnessing that conversation made me feel this was not just a story. I have just been writing about this guy and this tree. That really shook things up and made it real.
VA: You said: “Now, after facing a few fears, I’ve literally found my voice on the other side and discovered there’s a lot I want to say over here.”
VF: Definitely. I’ve written instrumental music my whole life, I write film/TV scores, but the minute all of this happened with mom, when I started feeling, I couldn’t say enough with instrumental music. Instrumental music says a lot but there is something more that lyrics can say when they’re attached to it in a song. So, I started writing lyrics and I realized there’s a whole side of myself I’ve never expressed—being a singer-songwriter. I’m very musically minded. I see the world in sound; I understand myself in sound. Sometimes, if I’m sad, I sit at the piano and I play out what is going on inside of me and that’s how I understand how I’m feeling, like a journal. For me to just sit down and say, “Ok, who am I? Now I start feeling all these things, so I’m going to write a soundtrack to myself, so I can maybe listen to it and see who I am and what I am.” So, I just started choosing instruments and melodies that caught my attention and I played with words. Eventually, the first record I released really helped me figure out myself. Ever since, I started dressing differently, living differently—everything reflects me through sound and music.
VA: You’ve been playing since the age of nine. How did it all start?
VF: I think that’s when I wrote my first proper piece of music. It was about an alien. (laughs) I’ve always been playing. My dad said as soon as he could sit me on the piano, he put my fingers on it and I started moving them. I got piano lessons quite early, maybe at four or five. I didn’t talk much as a child but I did play the piano a lot. I think I must have expressed myself through music more than words. It’s just my language.
VA: How many instruments do you play?
VF: Hmm …I’m not sure. I have all kinds of instruments. They are just tools; I just pick up something and make a sound out of it I suppose. I feel like I’m the instrument. If you look in my house right now, I have a piano, two keyboards, and 12 guitars. I have some flutes in the corner, some tribal drums, lots of shakers, thumb pianos, etc. I guess when you are a composer, you have to play a little bit of everything.
VA: What are you working on right now?
VF: I’m working on a new album. The first one was a bit of an experiment. Since then, I had to live out the effect it has had on me, I suppose. I moved three times, left some big relationships, moved to big new cities, and everything got thrown up in the air. I went back to Colombia on my own last year. I brought back lots of instruments. I locked myself away for two weeks, then I just started writing new songs with those instruments and that’s what I’m working on at the moment. Ending one phase of my life and starting a new very different one. I’m currently about 90% finished with recording and then the songs need to be mixed. I just did the music video this week. Sounding very tribal, very wild, raw—there’s a lot of Colombian influences but still English as well. It’s a mixture.
VA: Beyond your mother’s story, would you like to keep writing books?
VF: I do love writing. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle and a similar process to music creation. It’s all about problem-solving and bringing life in what you want to say. But I think music has my heart more. I’m currently writing a follow-up to The Girl with No Name, and I think once I’m finished, I might just write little articles, a blog, or maybe poems. It’s mainly the music for me and I’m leaving the writing world to the amazing writers out there. (smiles)