The Grill On The Hill, located at 1624 Amsterdam Ave. (646-838-8879), is a lot like “Cheers” but with African-Americans, Latinos and a vibrant rainbow tribe.
Their new musical series—designed to give new bands a new home—the first in the series begins Saturday, Aug. 27, at 9:30 p.m. with a feisty Latina.
Karen Ortiz loves music and music loves Ortiz. The singer/songwriter knew it in her heart, from a very early age and at 9 years old, when she shared the stage with South African legend Hugh Masekela and Paul Simon at Carnegie Hall.
Fast forward to 2016, her voice is stronger and the message of her original songs stress the power of positive changes and the value of tolerance.
Originally from the boogie-down Bronx, the gifted songstress/songwriter is bringing her band to Grill On The Hill as part of the new program to promote up and coming singers in Harlem.
AmNews: Karen, how would you describe your music?
Ortiz: I think every artist has qualms with answering this question because it makes you define an extension of yourself. I write my own songs and I’m a primarily a singer, so that would put me under singer-songwriter, which is funnily a genre for a lot of people, though it doesn’t say much about the music itself. I’m unsigned, so I guess that’s indie? I write a lot of folky, kind of rock stuff, but I’m Brown so I get labeled some variation of soul quite often. I tend to not try to describe it at all. People can make of it whatever they want. I’d only describe it as honest.
As a songwriter, in this city, where do you cull your inspiration?
City life, for sure. I have a song, “Bartender,” as many artists in this city find themselves in the service industry to support their craft. In it I talk about how exhausting it is to do something for the sole purpose of building something somewhere else and living at night. The type of people you surround yourself with when you live at night, either serving cocktails or serving up songs at a venue, they’re never in work mode, though you always are. Writing songs is a way for me to deal with stress and the high demands this city has on us, especially with the cost of living … and I don’t just mean financially. The removal from all things natural and limited access to it and how we adapt is always interesting to me. I also have a song called “Dogs Used to Be Wild,” and it essentially explores to what extent we can be removed from our nature and be domesticated into becoming a totally different animal. That’s what us city folk do.
Why do you love being onstage?
That’s a good question! I don’t know if I love being onstage. I just know I have no choice. I don’t really know how to be happy without it and my mental hygiene suffers. I don’t covet the limelight. I just want to create something better than I am that has more lasting power than this useless body. What I do love is representing the underrepresented. So I won’t be making any love songs or shaking a scantily clad body anytime soon (laughs). Luckily for you. That’s just not my bag, and there are plenty of people that already do that and do that really well. They’re killing it out there with the live songs and the booty shaking and good for them! What I do love is giving someone a message they relate to that no one else is talking about but they actually deal with, like feeling kind of lost or like you’re not really building anything. Before you think I’m some saint about it, I should clarify that it’s totally selfish. I just have to do it (laughs).
In NYC, your top three watering spots?
Ha! I drink at places I notice the staff doesn’t hate their lives.
For more information, visit grillonthehillbar.com.