Up Next: Meet Eli Jas, The New York Latina Making Bachata-Pop Self-Love Jams

credit: Courtesy of Eli Jas

Up Next is a FIERCE series highlighting rising Latina and Latin American women artists you might not know about but definitely should.

Women are entering the Latin music world with full force, killing it in male-dominated urbano spaces like trap, reggaeton and hip-hop, but one up-and-comer is standing out in another so-called “masculine” genre: bachata.

The name Eli Jas might already be familiar to you. The Dominican-Chilean-Panamanian talent plunged into the scene as a teenager back in 2014 with her Spanglish hit “Tú Me Haces Volar.” The following year, the New York native was nominated for “Best New Artist” at the Premios Juventud. Experiencing rapid fame and navigating the sketchy industry at a young age wasn’t easy, so Eli, born Julissa Elise Jasmine Ruiz, decided to take a hiatus to recenter, focusing on herself and the music she wanted to make.

At 27, she’s better for it. “Comparing myself to when I was 19, all of that had to happen to get what I really wanted out of this,” Eli Jas, who is working on a brand new EP and is ready to launch her jewelry line Flourish by Eli Jas, told FIERCE.

We chatted with the entrancing singer-songwriter-entrepreneur about her early rise to stardom, finding herself when she stepped away from the industry and a toxic relationship, shining in a male-dominated genre, new music and why she’s claiming 2019 as “the year of Eli Jas.”

FIERCE: Your sound blends Latin genres like bachata with R&B and pop. I know you grew up in a Dominican-Chilean-Panamanian home in New York City. How do you think the music around you, from what was heard at home to what folk were playing on the block, informed this musical mezcla you created?

Eli Jas: I really do believe that my influences growing up helped with that, especially being born in New York, the melting pot, gave me different perspectives on what I wanted to include in my music. I’ve always been a huge r&b head, and I’ve added that with a pop and Latin music mixture. I grew up in a Latin household. My mom was always listening to music. It was that typical home where your mom is jamming out while cleaning in the mornings. When I was younger, I figured out I was good at writing poetry, and I started spreading my wings more singing and taking vocal classes. At 19, I finally opened myself up to the public and released my first song, “Tú Me Haces Volar.” This was my first step into the door. Since then, I knew I wanted to mix genres and have a different sound. I knew I was going to get backlash for it, and I did in the beginning because I mixed Spanish with English. But I had to do it to be my authentic self. It was a matter of following my intuition and being true to myself, because this is my music.

FIERCE: Now everyone is mixing Spanish with English.

Eli Jas: Exactly! Years ago, when I was 19, people hated that. I always accepted constructive criticism. But when people told me to make my songs all Spanish, I felt like I couldn’t because I wouldn’t be staying super authentic if I didn’t have English. My influences were Brian McKnight, Mary J Blige, Lauryn Hill as well as La India, Marc Anthony and Romeo Santos, who in many ways paved the way for me to do this.

FIERCE: You were studying criminal justice at John Jay for a little while before breaking into the music scene.

Eli Jas: I wanted to be a lawyer. And I can always go back and do that. But I wanted to be an entertainment lawyer. I was also studying psychology, which I think goes hand in hand with what I do today. I’m very open with people and their emotions, and the reason I was into psychology was because I wanted to understand people more. Music means having a stranger understand you in three minutes.

FIERCE: When and how did you identify that music was something that you wanted to pursue seriously?

Eli Jas: So around that time, 18-19, I had a talk with my mother. I said, “listen, I want to take this time and dedicate myself to my craft.” She said, “I’m going to give you a year. If nothing pops off, you are going back to school.” I agreed with it. Then, as an indie artist, things started to pop off, quick. MTV Tres picked up my song, and I was the most-downloaded artist they had. After that, people started listening to me, I got fans and then I got signed to a label for about a year and a half. Now I’m indie again.

FIERCE: Take me back to this moment. Was this, leaving school, something you have been taught your whole life is necessary and secure, for the arts, something that Latino parents don’t always take seriously, a difficult decision for you to make?

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Eli Jas: You know what, that’s a beautiful question. I’ve never been asked that before. I definitely was worried. As a young person in college, you want that stability and want to have a secure future. From Pre-K, you’re taught to go to school and get a job, and when you follow these rules, you’ll be successful. I’m glad I was raised by a parent who understood I wouldn’t be happy not doing what I love. Having my mother’s support helped me with this decision. She pushed me to live out my passion, and I’m grateful for that. Not a lot of people have that in their lives. She told me a while ago, “if you start this, you can’t just stop. You have to dedicate yourself. Keep going.” And I did. She made this less scary and assured me that this is my gift for the world.

FIERCE: Almost-immediately, as you said, the universe confirmed that you made the right decision. In 2015, you were nominated for “Best New Artist” at the Premios Juventud and landed Billboard chart-making hits with “Deseandote” and “Tu Me Haces Volar.” What was this like for you so early in your career?

Eli Jas: I think I probably couldn’t contain the excitement I had when it came to my music. I’m a workaholic. I was always like, “OK, OK, what’s next?” I have to battle the next thing. I wish I would have been more in the moment. I think is was something I had to learn. I did take a break, a sort of hiatus where I was just working on music and myself. When I was younger, I had that mentality of not living in the moment and worrying about dumb things. I think now at 27, comparing myself to when I was 19, all of that had to happen to get what I really wanted out of this. Now I want to build my own brand, and I am. I have a jewelry line called Flourish by Eli Jas that I hope to debut by Valentine’s Day, and I’m working on my EP. I want people to realize living in the moment can make you a better person and a better artist. My latest song, “Every Little Step,” talks about being in a toxic relationship and being honest about looking for love in the wrong places. I feel like I’m finally able to stand in my power and reclaim myself as a woman and take back my power.

FIERCE: Another one of your recent singles is “Ahora,” which I love, a song about moving on from heartbreak and learning to love yourself again after giving so much to someone else. At the start, you sing in Spanish, “you stole my tears. You stole the years I gave you. …  You stole my time, everything that was in me.” These lyrics are relatable and song so beautifully. Tell me, after feeling like so much of you was taken by someone, how do you reclaim that, how do you get that back?

Eli Jas: Well, I’m a very spiritual person. I believe in going into yourself and finding your inner goddess, channeling that inner goddess. Learn to love being on your own. When you’re attached to someone it’s because you are not comfortable being on your own, you’re not comfortable being single. Because of that, I was attracting the wrong things and being in the wrong relationships. If you want to reclaim your power, you have to realize who you are. Look in the mirror and see your beauty. Reprogram your brain into believing you are that goddess, that queen. Doing this blew my mind. I was like, “wait, I was allowing this to happen to me.” This is me being totally transparent. I was really upset with myself. So I also had to forgive myself. It’s important to do that, reflect but also be gentle. “Ahora” is a reflection of that.

FIERCE: A lot of times in relationships, from romantic to parenting, women give themselves up whole and decide to focus on ourselves or prioritize self-love once that companionship ends or shifts. How do you think we can focus on ourselves and our self-love and self-care while we are still in these relationships?

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Thank you to everyone showing love to my new single, “Every Little Step”! This song is close to my heart and it’s important to express it so that we stand strong in our value. I love you all! 🔥 this is just the beginning of this new phase and so happy to have y’all here with me. #JASFAM 💖👑 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ¡Gracias a todos por mostrar amor a mi nuevo sencillo, "Every Little Step"! Esta canción está cerca de mi corazón y es importante expresarla para que nos mantengamos firmes en nuestro valor. ¡Los amo a todos! Esto es solo el comienzo de esta nueva fase y estoy muy feliz de tenerlos aquí. #JASFAM 💖👑 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #bachata #womenpower #elijas #flourishbyelijas #bachataladystyle #bachatalove #beauty #femaleentrepreneur #fashion #dominican #latina #nyc #latina #vocalist #singersongwriter #creatives #chile #panama #bachatadominicana #bachatalove #bachatastyle #style #bestvocals #studio #newyorkgirl #indiemusic #indieartist #glamgirl #maybelline #female #girlpower

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Eli Jas: I think for women to channel themselves again. Personally, I like self-help books, like Eckhart Tolle and Don Miguel Ruiz, that teach you how to take back your personal power and be aware of how you feel. Even as artists, it’s hard to express yourself because you don’t always know how you feel. It’s an artist’s job to put into words how we feel and put that into the world to understand you, but you have to understand yourself first. It’s about learning what makes you feel loved, because people have different love languages. But I love to meditate, read books, work out, eat well and take care of myself. This also means rewording phrases. Maybe I didn’t get something the first time around. Instead of calling myself an idiot, and speaking negatively to myself, I try to be encouraging. Changing your perspective, saying, “you’ll get it next time,” is helpful. And I want it to help others. I hope the people who wear my jewelry or listen to my music get a boost of confidence, to feel good and loved.

FIERCE: Talking about relationships, the one between women singers and the bachata music industry hasn’t been great. What do you think are some of the biggest barriers women face in bachata and how do you navigate this?

Eli Jas: I feel like the barriers started when I started at 19. I was told by certain producers, “you are female, so they’re never going to play you on the radio.” This is a male-dominated genre, and I understand that people have an old way of thinking, but I feel like it’s my responsibility to change that. When I’d get those comments, I’d say, “you’re not going to like it yet, but you will.” That’s what being an authentic artist is, breaking barriers by being yourself.  So I try not to think about that and not create that negative energy. When I’m on stage and speaking to people, I prefer to think I’m dominating this male-dominated genre.

FIERCE: You’ve stated that “2019 is set to be the year of Eli Jas.” What do you have in store for this year that you can tell us about?

Eli Jas: I’m working on my EP. It’s going to have my Spanish music, mainly bachata music, but I’m also experimenting with English music as well, mixing genres. I’m really excited for people to hear that. I’m collaborating with more artists, many of them indie artists that people might not know yet but will love when they hear them. I’m no longer with a label, but nothing has changed except now I have this team that believes in me. I’m excited to do more shows, have people wear my line, do a tour in Peru and work with a couple brands.

FIERCE: You’re 27 years old, still early in your career. Tell me, what do you hope people can say about Eli Jas in 10 to 15 years?

Eli Jas: I think the most rewarding thing people can say is, “she’s really authentic in her power.” I want to represent women in a beautiful way, to help us diminish our fears. I want people to feel like I’m a voice for myself and them, that I got them. I want them to relate to me, and know I’m here and that I’ll always be just a regular person like everyone else. So tweet me, hit me up, and I will be that girlfriend.

Catch Eli Jas’ latest music video “Asi” below:

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