Johana Marcela Pinilla is a unique talent. Born in Bogotá, Colombia, It didn’t take long for her family to realize that little Marcela Pinilla was blessed with special gifts. Discovered at the ripe age of five, she began singing traditional Spanish music in an estudiantina (or “tuna”) - a student ensemble that dresses in 17th century costumes. A few years later (and already an accomplished dancer,) made her television debut singing on the Colombian program Máquina de Sueños. Suddenly, Marcela knew exactly what she wanted to do. The television show had become the catalyst that solidified, in her young mind, what her life ambition was to be.


At the tender age of 14, Marcela’s professional singing career had officially begun. She began singing and touring in bands throughout Colombia and at 16 joined her first international tour, which lead to multiple trips to Malaysia and Indonesia. By the time she was 17, she had already earned total respect among musicians in her community and performed almost everyday of the week with the likes of Talento Latino, Grupo Cale, Niko Jazz, and Orquesta La Protesta, as well as the Colombian Navy Band. A few years later, in one of her trips to Malaysia, Marcela collaborated with Malaysian recording artist Reshmuno on his popular song Leave me alone.


It was on a subsequent trip to Asia that Marcela Pinilla’s singing style changed forever. “I walked into a jazz bar in Kuala Lumpur and heard a woman scat singing. I’d never heard anything like that before. It totally blew my mind." Thoroughly inspired, she joined the band Jazz Latino and continued to perform throughout Asia. With the addition of Marcela’s vocals, the band was invited to perform at notable Jazz festivals such as the Sunrise Music Festival, the Kuala Lumpur Music Festival, and the Kuching Jazz Festival. They also became the resident band at Nine Muses in Jakarta, Indonesia.


Marcela Pinilla’s next adventure lead her to Qingdao, China where she joined the Super Starts Band, an international rock band. After gaining experience, broadening her vocal skills, and learning to sing in Mandarin, she spent a brief time in the Philippines before moving to Singapore where continued her jazz exploration by landing a weekly gig at the prestigious club Jazz at South Bridge. It was in the cultural melting pot of Singapore that Marcela blossomed as a solo artist and began perfecting what would soon become her distinctive sound.


South America, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and five languages later, the Colombian beauty decided to broaden her horizons even more by moving to the United States. Landing in the southern city of Memphis, Tennessee, Marcela was exposed to the American musical styles of Blues and Soul. “It’s very soulful there. I learned so much about emotion and playing from the heart.”


While in Memphis, Marcela Pinilla continued perfecting her songwriting skills, which lead to the release of her 4-song EP, Ahi Estaré in 2010. While living in the bluff city, she also completed a residency at the King's Palace Cafe on Beale Street with the Memphis Jazz Trio and collaborated with several artists such as the legendary Bar-Kays, the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, the Memphis Jazz Orchestra, Orquesta Caliente, and the Delta Collective.


In the fall of 2010, a new band hit the Memphis scene. Marcela’s own creation, the Marcela Pinilla Band, provided the perfect platform for her to showcase her unique voice and mix of styles. MPB immediately began performing at all major venues, theaters, and festivals. Riding the success of her band, she gained further respect by writing and performing Un Mundo Bueno, a song that included eight young singers from the Latino community. The song highlights a campaign to raise awareness and money for Latino education. Her community involvement led to the Shelby County Mayor, Mark Luttrell, officially proclaiming October 13, 2012 as "A Day to Celebrate the Life of Marcela Pinilla." The following year, the Colombian singer also received the Ruby Wharton Award for Youth & Delinquency from Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton, as well as being named the Latin Voice of Memphis by La Prensa Latina.


May 9, 2013 brought about the release of PASSION, Marcela’s first full-length album. Ranging in various styles from Jazz, Blues, Soul, to Latin, this collection of beautifully crafted songs showcases Marcela’s voice and songwriting ability to its fullest. Claim Your Power, an original composition, is a fiery upbeat anthem that will force you to dance and urges all to live life to the fullest. Passion also includes co-writes and collaborations with Elsten Torres, Steve Cobb, Jonny Pineda, Tony Thomas, and two world-renowned Grammy award winning musicians; saxophonist Kirk Whalum and bassist Victor Wooten with whom she made guest appearances on his 2013 west coast tour.


Today, she calls Nashville, Tennessee home. Currently she is working on a project called "Lo Que El Amor Inspira".  She looks forward to continuing her musical journey in the creative mecca, Music City USA.  Marcela shares, “I love bringing people together. No matter how diverse my audience is, for that particular performance, we are all brothers and sisters living in peace. This is the main reason why I write songs and sing.”



Photographer: Christopher Parks