Deep in the backstage labyrinth of the Royal Albert Hall, I meet Majo Cornejo. At just 24 she has been the lead singer for Cirque du Soleil’s Luzia: A Waking Dream of Mexico for four years, touring across Canada, USA and Mexico before arriving in London.
I was lucky enough to see Majo perform the week before. Her voice commands the attention of the audience with its effortless versatility, moving fluidly in time with the acrobatic feats around her. The show itself is a dreamscape of Mexico’s cultural and natural treasures, each act interwoven with colourful traditions. Hummingbirds flit among candlelit marigolds, monarch butterflies migrate homeward and intricately cut-out papel picado frames the stage for bumbling cacti, prowling jaguar and a haunting solo from Majo’s character La Llorona.
Majo tells me she’s from Mexico City, and we chatter about her love of exploring London. She exudes a warm, friendly confidence and speaks openly about how she came to be involved in a production so close to her heart...
Annabel: Let’s start by talking a bit about your background as a musician.
Majo: All my family are musicians: my mother is a singer, my dad plays guitar and my uncle plays in the Symphonic Orchestra of Mexico. I started out in Mexico as a back-up vocalist, then began dubbing movies- I’m not sure of the name in English but Alvin y Las Ardillas...
Annabel: (Perhaps a little too enthusiastically) Alvin and the Chipmunks!
Majo: (Laughing) Yes, exactly! Plus some Barbie films and National Geographic documentaries.
Annabel: Growing up in Mexico with such a huge range of musical styles and genres, which were the most influential for you?
Majo: I love Latin music like salsa and boleros... but I also listen to R&B, soul, jazz, funk. I suppose if I had to define my music taste, it would be Mexican funk.
Annabel: So did you always know you wanted to be a performer?
Majo: Yes and no. In the beginning I felt a lot of pressure from my family- they are professionals, and I just wanted to sing because I liked it, not because I had to. But at 18 I decided for myself that professional singing was what I wanted to do.
Annabel: And had you ever imagined you’d be in Cirque du Soleil? How did you become involved in Luzia?
Majo: Cirque du Soleil was completely different to anything I’d dreamt about before. I was actually on a reality show for singers in Mexico, when Cirque sent me a Facebook request saying ‘Hey! We want you to audition!’
The audition took place over eight months – yes, really! It was very hard, not only involving singing but also reading music, being on stage... I remember doing an audition with clowns and suddenly wondering ‘what am I doing here?’ It was a long process, but it was beautiful too.
Annabel: What is a typical day like working with Cirque du Soleil?
Majo: I’ve actually just finished my university degree – so up until now I was balancing Luzia with my homework! I always find time to walk around the city and explore a little bit too. It’s amazing working here – I work with superheroes, not just the acrobats but everybody. We all work so hard to make this beautiful show. I feel so proud.
Annabel: So tell me a bit about the creative process, how involved were you?
Majo: The creation process for musicians was four months, but for acts like the Russian swing and the Adagio team it took longer - eight to ten months. I remember the composer, the writer, showing me the score saying ‘I have the bones here, and you are the soul.’ I always try to add some of Majo to the music.
Annabel: Have you faced any big challenges?
Majo: Being far from home. I miss the food- tacos, enchiladas, pozole... I had some good tacos in London though and when I found my favourite beer, Noche Buena, I was so excited! On tour we performed in Mexico City where I’m from – it was amazing. I think it was one of the most beautiful days of my life. My whole family was there, all my friends… it was like a dream.
Annabel: There are some spectacular surreal elements to the performance. How does the show capture the idea of a ‘waking dream’?
Majo: There are a lot of beautiful, poetic moments during the show. My favourite part is when the jaguar is in the cenote with the straps guy - that moment for me is very special. And the first time the rain comes down is amazing.
Annabel: The production is full of detailed references to Mexican culture – were there any which stood out to you?
Majo: I think the fiesta final is very real because in Mexico we have those exact kinds of parties, with a long table and everybody together, everybody dancing. The final freeze and the falling rain... it’s very cultural for me, it really represents Mexico.
Annabel: What about your character – how does she relate to Mexican culture?
Majo: The name of my character is the crying woman – La Llorona. It’s not because she’s crying, it’s more that she cries out everything that is happening in the show. She is the woman with the voice. It’s like the pregona singing in salsa music. (Here Majo briefly demonstrates this dramatic vibrato style of song. At the right volume it could easily ring out across the Royal Albert Hall.) Sometimes La Llorona’s songs are sad. During her acapella solo, she sings the story a girl and we don’t know if she is dead or alive.
Annabel: Are there any lyrics that are particularly meaningful to you?
Majo: Yes, from the last song from the first half of the show:
Ya lo descubriste. Si el cielo llora, no sirve ponerse más triste nunca jamás.
You already discovered it. If the sky weeps, there’s no need to be sad ever again.
Annabel: What message can the audience take away from the show?
Majo: Be strong, fight, continue.
Book to see Luzia at the iconic Royal Albert Hall, showing until 1 March 2020. Enter our competition giveaway to win one of four pairs of tickets to Luzia on 14th February 2020.