An Interview with Cori Elle

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By Zoraida Diaz

Cori Elle is 22 years old and has been singing from before she was born, by all accounts.

Her mother is certain that her daughter’s proclivity for song was cemented by a steady and intense dose of prenatal initiation to music and singing. Mrs. Mayra Salazar tells of a difficult pregnancy where she was ordered to rest, and how she used to lay back in bed with her head propped up on pillows and the transistor radio resting on her belly, playing at all hours. The sounds that kept Mrs. Salazar’s spirits high escaped from the radio and permeated through the abdomen and into the amniotic sac to instill the love of music and song in her unborn child.

Cori Elle will perform at Pandora Restaurant in Hotel Villa San Ignacio, Alajuela, on Friday, June 12.

Cori Elle’s life pulse is song, and for the better part of two decades, she has pursued her passion. As a child she was the star of her family’s karaoke gatherings. At eight and ten, she was wowing her enthusiastic audience with perfect-pitch renditions and unabashed performances that heralded the immense talent bestowed upon this beautiful girl from Alajuela.

Cori Elle has never stopped singing. At 15 and 16 she was already writing songs, and shortly thereafter, as high school ended and she looked to start her life, she began formal instruction in operatic singing.

“I was interested in canto popular or Folk Singing, but at the Alajuela Conservatory of Music, what was offered was a more academic voice instruction,” she explains.

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She studied for two years and her talent began to be cajoled, harnessed, polished. The formal training uncovered a coloratura soprano with a voice range that extends into the rarified pitch of high F, known as the whistle register. Think Minnie Riperton’s “Lovin’ You,” and that highest of pitches– the one that can shatter glass. Cori Elle can sing “Lovin’ You” with a voice so transparent that one is struck by that unique gloss of the powerfully gifted.

She was a teenager whose idols were the Americans Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, the Briton Amy Winehouse, the Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, and the Russian operatic soprano Ana Netrebko. Unlike the majority of the world’s youth who idolize packaged pop stars with lesser singing skills, Cori Elle is discriminating in her musical tastes. Her interests traverse genres and she fleets from pop, to opera, to bossa nova, to boleros, to classic rock, to jazz, to folk.

Despite the rigorous training at the conservatory, Cori Elle felt constrained by the classicism of opera, and longed to experiment with freer contemporary styles where she didn’t have to “hold her hands together in front of her as she sang.” When she applied for a scholarship at the Editus Music Academy in San José, she was thrilled to win a year’s worth of instruction in popular or folk song.

It was from this collaboration with the renowned Costa Rican musician Edín Solís (two-time Grammy winner for his work as producer of Rubén Blades’s album Mundo) that Cori Elle found the springboard she needed to pursue her passion.

He taught her to “own” the stage, and improved her performances by going back to the basics.

“He reviewed musical theory, improved our rhythm with different percussion exercises, taught us to communicate with the rest of the ensemble, and supported us by setting up multiple public shows,” says Cori, “but most importantly, he taught us that for a perfect performance, all you need is practice.”

The perfectionism encouraged at the Editus Academy fed Cori’s creative passion. Last year, with talented musician John Delgado, Cori founded Avenue Records, and this month she will her first album: We Need a Change. She wrote all 12 original tracks. The title song is an electronic pop interpretation imbued with a boundless spirit that reminded me momentarily of Annie Lennox’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).”

In “We Need a Change,” she hits impossibly high notes with assurance, like a lead crystal champagne toast. And in “The Violence of Your Heart,” Cori shows that her songs can be agents for change.

“I wanted to write songs with meaning,” she explains, “I wanted to write about people who have suffered from deception, from loss, from lack of love, from bullying.”

“The Violence of your Heart” is a techno pop meditation on violence against women. It has a segment of background phrasing where the words “Violence of your Heart” are spoken over and over again. The dance beat contrasts darkly with the theme of the song, and her voice and its purity become a lifeline.

For the moment, and until the world discovers “The Voice,” Cori will continue to surprise local audiences with covers of songs originally sung so spectacularly that not many dare to recreate them. In addition to Minnie Riperton’s “Lovin’ You,” there is “At Last” by Etta James, Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why,” and “Mas que nada” sung by the likes of Elza Soares.

Cori Elle, tiny of stature (she is 5-foot-1), but with the voice of a giant, is not afraid to reach the highest note.

Cori Elle will perform at Restaurante Pandora in Hotel Villa San Ignacio, Alajuela, on Friday, June 12, 2015.