By Leslie Buttonow
In addition to having a respectable singing, producing and acting career, Erika Ender is considered one of the largest and most prolific composers in the Latin music market today. She has the distinction of being the co-writer of the international hit “Despacito.” She’s the youngest person ever inducted into the Latin Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and has received multiple awards from the Latin GRAMMYs, Billboard, ASCAP and more. Ender’s talent also landed her a spot as the only Spanish #1 song on Billboards’ Top 100.Whether she’s writing a hit song for someone, or working for her charitable Puertas Abiertas foundation in her native Panama, her mission is the same: to make the word a better place and unite people. Through her hard work and dedication, Ender has created a strong name for herself, and encourages other women in the industry to do the same, and to support one another as well.
For more information, visit erikaender.com.
The WiMN: Growing up in a multi-cultural home, what type of music do you remember listening to?
EE: All kinds of music. From Brazilian Bossa Nova, to Frank Sinatra, to Edith Piaf or Emilio Pericoli; besides everything that played on the radio from all over Mexico and the Caribbean. I was truly blessed to have a wide variety of musical backgrounds installed in the HD of my mind and heart, and that made it so easy for me to understand and jump from one genre to another in a very natural way as a professional.
The WiMN: When and how did you know that you wanted music to be what you did for a living?
EE: Since I was born, I think. I have videos as a 2-year-old girl asking my family to sit down and watch the show I had for the day, as well as doing it at school since I was five. I was always very disciplined and focused; I took it very seriously. I’ve been writing songs since I was nine and putting melodies and lyrics together ever since I can remember. Then I grew up and started a formal career at 16.
The WiMN: What are some things you did to build up your songwriting skills?
EE: I think it was a gift. Early in life, I felt the need to express myself and translate the feelings of others into songs. I remember being a little girl and spending hours listening to a lot of music, reading the lyrics and checking the credits of each song, to know who wrote them. It was my passion, as well as performing. I started playing piano by ear and later on took some guitar and piano lessons, but the main thing for me was to translate feelings into music and lyrics so that it could connect with people’s hearts.
The WiMN: As a woman in the music industry where there are many more men than women, have you ever felt discrimination? If so, how did you handle it?
EE: Yes. I think most of all, a lack of vision. In my own experience, I can say some men didn’t see the fact that a woman could write something for a man to sing. At the beginning of my international career as a songwriter, I remember sending demos Instead of giving up, I thought about finding other ways to reach my goal. I asked a male singer to sing my demos and sent the CDs as “E. Ender,” instead of Erika Ender. When the song made it to a record, I stepped forward to let them know it was me. And the song was good, so it still made it.
There weren’t as many female songwriters in the Latin market, so it wasn’t easy. There were lots of other challenges, too. But, at the end, I think when you walk this path based on collaboration instead of competition with men, focusing on doing your best to deliver results that benefit all, sticking to your moral values, respecting yourself and your work, and being persistent, passionate and professional, you can make it – and make it big. But you need to know how to swim against the current. At least that’s what I learned. I had to show that beyond the looks there was talent, brain and professionalism. And when you make it, men respect you double.
The WiMN: In a Billboard magazine interview, you said, “Women are a minority, but any woman who is determined to achieve their dreams in an honest way, while persevering with their values and talent –it’s what I have to exemplify at this time. [I have to] raise my voice and empower other women, because I am the only woman involved in what is happening right now.” What are some ways women can support and build up other women in their careers?
EE: We need to understand that we cannot compete against each other to create a stronger movement. We need to unite, work together and support each other. Dividing doesn’t help you reach a goal that benefits all. More and more, women are daring to follow their dreams in this business, and the more we support each other – without attacking men, but by showing our skills and how good we can be at what we do – we can certainly make a big difference. There is a place for all in art, both men and women. We can all work together to make better things.
The WiMN: The smash hit “Despacito,” which you co-wrote in 2017, has been praised for bringing Spanish-language pop music back firmly into the mainstream music market and encouraging other Latin music hit songs that year. How did that song impact your career, and what do you see happening with Spanish-language pop in the mainstream market in the future?
EE: It was a complete “before and after” in my career and for all of us involved. I think this song came with the special and beautiful mission of uniting the world in a certain way and breaking down the barriers of language. It’s beautiful to go to places such as Brazil, where Spanish music had never been played on the radio, and hear so many colleagues now.
Music is universal and this song had the ability to show that and reach every corner of this planet. I think it’s amazingly beautiful how the power of music can make us vibe in the same frequency, even when the words are not understood. Those are the miracles music is capable of doing. I believe it opened new doors for our language and culture and I hope it keeps growing.
The WiMN: What advice would you give to young women trying to start a career as a singer or songwriter?
EE: Dare to live your dreams. Don’t stop until you reach your goals. Stick to your values. Collaborate. Unite with others of your same genre and be open to sharing more than competing. Respect yourself and your job. Don’t take no for an answer. Evolve and be humble, but always with dignity. Be authentic and believe you are able to do and be whatever you wish, with hard work and talent.
The WiMN: Congratulations on being an honoree at the upcoming 2019 She Rocks Awards. What are you most looking forward to at the event?
EE: Thank you. I’m so happy and humbled. Being a woman supported by other women is an amazing gift. All of my colleagues are amazing females who do their best and shine, and because of that, are a light and an example for new generations. Being a part of this moment fulfills my heart and makes me feel all of the effort made throughout this rough (but still beautiful) path is worth it. This career is a roller coaster…only the ones who persevere and don’t quit get transformed from within, understand their mission, and get to live moments like this. I wish this moment could empower other women to find their path and live their dreams.
Thank you so much for this beautiful honor.
The WiMN: Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to share?
EE: I’m always doing several things at the same time. It’s like there are five Erikas in me: the singer, the songwriter, the producer, the actress, the philanthropist. All of them work on different paths that merge into a same mission: using my talents with a purpose, for the common good and doing it responsibly. Music and art itself has the power of touching and marking lives. I’m very focused on that whether releasing a CD, writing for others, producing a TV show or being the spokesperson of a determined cause.
Right now, as a singer, I just released a new single that is also in an important soap opera in Brazil and will be the main figure of a Samba School for the upcoming Rio de Janeiro Carnival, as a Cultural Ambassador for my native country, Panama. As a songwriter, I have songs out there in the recent projects of Marc Anthony, Prince Royce, Ha*Ash, Akon, Anitta and other projects in the mainstream and the Latin and Brazilian markets.
As a producer, I create and develop entertainment concepts that, in one way or another, leave something good and valuable to this society, such as TalenPro Panama, the main project of my foundation (Puertas Abiertas). It’s a talent show where students compete in different categories, but do social labor for vulnerable schools. We restore 12 schools a year in Panama and all of the winners get full scholarships that cover their college studies in Panama or abroad.
Besides that, I believe in a better world and I’m part of causes such as taking good care of our environment, or inclusion, among others. Right now, I’m the most recent Global Ambassador for Special Olympics. I think we can all use our talents in thinking of this planet as one big home we all live in, and I wish we could all unite as one big race to make it better through our skills. That’s my main project in life. If I get to change at least one life for the better, I’m happy.