Tony Cummings reports on Puerto Rican American soul sister BLANCA
Blanca and the music critics may have different ideas about what to call the music she made during her 10-year career with Group 1 Crew - Wikipedia calling them a hip-hop band, the Dove Awards labelling them CCM and Blanca herself referring to her music as "heavy pop sounds" - but one thing is certain. Blanca's new career as a solo artist has made a successful launch. The Puerto Rican-born singer's eponymous debut album has made number seven in Billboard's Christian charts and even touched that publication's mainstream album chart at 196.
Blanca Elaine Callahan (originally Reyes) was born on 13th January 1986 and from the time she joined, with Manwell Reyes and Pablo Villatoro, Group 1 Crew in 2003 it was her powerhouse soulful vocals which delivered the hooks to the team's successful run of albums 'Group 1 Crew' (2007), 'Ordinary Dreamers' (2008), 'Outta Space Love' (2010) and 'Fearless' (2012). 'Fearless' in fact delivered three number one hits on US Christian radio. In January 2013 Blanca announced that she and her husband Ben were expecting their first child and that was seen as the reason for her departing from the group. The Callahan's son, London, is now two years old and is old enough for Blanca to recommence her singing career as a solo. She told JesusFreakHideout what the transition was like from being a group member to a solo artist. "The transition was definitely scary. It was an emotional roller coaster. It felt like it was a split between family because it's what I've known for so long. Leaving that just felt extremely scary. But now, looking back, it's cool to see the Lord's faithfulness and that God had his hand in it all. I'm exactly where I need to be and Group 1 is exactly where they need to be. I'm glad I took the step of faith."
Blanca's first single as a solo, "Who I Am", charted number one on Billboard's Christian Airplay chart while her 'Who I Am' EP, again released through Word Records, also charted. Blanca spoke about the differences between her G1C work and her solo releases. "I feel like there are some similarities just because I was part of Group 1 Crew, so a lot of the things I enjoyed - the rhythm, the heavy pop sounds - are still things that I carried over. But content-wise, I'm sharing from a more personal place in the journey I've been going through. So there's a sense of growth in lyric and hopefully a better take on who I am."
The main lyrical theme of 'Blanca' is finding your identity in Christ. Said the singer, "That was my main mission on this album. When I looked at it as a whole, I wanted the message to be about identity and just knowing that you can be real, be true to who you are, be true to everything God is calling you to be, and that you can love God and still make great pop music. I wanted it to be genuine. I think I got that message across. The writing process was really fun. At first, I was scared out of my mind because I had never really done it alone. Going into some of these writes, I was very intimidated and wondering how it would turn out. But then you get with songwriters that do this for a living and they are able to capture your heart in these stories and songs. It was super fun. By the end, I had 50 songs and I was ready to write more."
One of the first songs she wrote for the project was "Who I Am". She admitted, "I feel like when I listen to it, it brings me back to that place where I was a year ago and how scared I was in transition and just feeling so overwhelmed. That song has a lot of meaning to me." Two of the standouts on the project are her collaborations with rappers Tedashii and Lecrae. She said, "It was a dream come true! I love those guys so much. I'm a big fan of the 116 family. I knew going into this record that if I had anyone on it, those would be the guys I would want to reach out to. I'm so glad that they agreed."
Two tracks attracting particular attention on the album are "Surrender" and "Different Drum". She spoke about both. "'Surrender' has a lot of raw, vulnerable emotion behind it. Again, just keeping on with the theme, I want to be transparent and real and connect with my fans in a genuine way. The song just shares a bit of my struggles in feeling like I try to take control of situations, do things in my own strength, want to figure it all out, and do all the right things as a Christian; but sometimes our heart is so far from the motions and the routine. It's definitely a vulnerable song, but I love that it made the album. 'Different Drum' is crazy how it came together because it was so last minute. It was towards the end of the writing process and I had been out for a week and a half already. I was so ready to come home. We threw the writing session together last minute on a Saturday. I was like 'maybe I should just cancel and go home.' But I didn't. I met with Parker [Welling] and Casey [Brown] and it just flew by. We were having so much fun. We had the concept of a 'different drum' and then Casey (who is the producer) started making a beat that was all drum driven and it really inspired me. Next thing you know, we were just flowing and the song was done."
The singer/songwriter spoke about the challenges of balancing the demands of motherhood and pressure of pursuing a career. "God has been teaching me a lot about how to trust him when I don't have things figured out. It's very hard for me at times. I like to worry. I have to make a choice every day to say 'you know what, today I'm choosing to put everything going on in my life in God's hands' and know that he's going to take care of me, my family and my career. As long as I keep him first and work hard, then he will put all the pieces together. It's not my job."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.