“If I can make a teacher’s salary as a comedian…” is what Dave Chappelle supposedly told his father, long before his success. Brian Collazo made a similarly practical deal with himself as he began to pursue a career in music. Born into a musical family, he discovered his talent and passion for singing early on, and went on to sign a deal with Columbia Records at a young age as a member of Trio Elán, a family band he shared with his cousin and older brother.
Since then, he has spent his time balancing his career as a professional singer for hire and his own musical projects, including Live Society, an eight piece soul meets pop-rock indie band. Once again playing alongside his older brother and cousin, the group lasted ten years before Collazo decided to launch his own solo project—this time with a more pronounced emphasis on soul and R&B. “In the band, I was very happy with the music I was making,” he says. “[But] even without realizing it, you start to make concessions.”
He called the new project BSKi, an old school nickname of his that recalled not only the early days of hip-hop, but one of the many musical influences that would come to define his new sound. Moreover, growing up in a Puerto Rican household, just outside New York City in Rockland County, meant listening to anything from Stevie Wonder to George Michael to Prince, El Gran Combo to Eddie Santiago. “I grew up on R&B, hip-hop, Latin music,” he says.
It’s the musical DNA of what Collazo refers to, tongue-in-cheek, as sancocho funk, a blend of different ingredients like the traditional Puerto Rican/Latin American stew from which he borrowed the name. “I’m a product of all these influences,” he says.
BSKi began in 2014 when Collazo booked his first solo gig. He also started to write songs and assembled a new band. Then, however, things took a turn. “Just as I started writing and recording the songs for the record, I ran into a vocal problem,” he says.
Collazo had developed a sulcus on his vocal cords. Worse than a polyp or nodule, he explains, it meant that his range would begin to diminish during sets. The quality of his tone had also worsened over time. In short, his instrument, after 6-7 years of singing full-time, had become overworked and unreliable.
One option was surgery, though there was a chance of scarring. He delayed as long as possible before agreeing to the procedure. “[It was] the scariest decision I ever had to make,” he says. If successful, the recovery would last anywhere from three to six months, with no talking the first week and no performing for the first three.
“So much of my identity is wrapped around this one thing I do,” he soon realized. Hours before the surgery, Collazo shared a very personal note via Facebook reflecting on that very question of identity. “I have no idea who I am without it [singing],” he wrote. “I’ll have three long months to figure it out.”
In the meantime, he found temporary work at an office and passed the time binging on Netflix (including all seven seasons of the West Wing). Uncertainty aside, he also decided he would continue his music career—even if he had to pick up another instrument in order to do so.
In the end, it took four months total for him to recover, but not without a few missteps along the way. “I definitely remember trying to come back too soon,” he says with a laugh, recalling an open mic and an ill-fated attempt at a Stevie Wonder song.
Fortunately, he was able to start performing again, booking practice space at a rehearsal studio so as to have privacy as he worked his way back into form. By December of 2016, he released his debut record, Keep It Light, a five-song EP produced by Greg Mayo, that showcases his myriad of influences.
“The real intention here was to do a record true to myself and the music I grew up on,” he says. One clear example is presence of Latin percussion throughout the record. “I wanted to do something exciting rhythmically, something that would make me want to dance,” he says.
Nowadays, the band is focused on recording its second EP, due for release later this year. The intention is to explore more complex rhythms and feature more Latin percussion. A new single, “You’re A Dream To Wake Up To,” is also on the way, as well as a possible collaboration with his cousin, Luis Alfredo del Valle of Buscabulla.
Looking back on his experience, Collazo is thankful for the second opportunity, “It gave me me a renewed sense of purpose,” he says.