Beat the pandemic blues with uplifting, cross-cultural music by Fort Wayne’s KelsiCote

When Cote Godoy moved to Fort Wayne from Santiago, Chile, to make music with his partner Kelsi Lee, one of the first things he noticed about the city was its wildlife, like squirrels, which he didn’t have in Chile.

But as Cote has made Fort Wayne his home for the past two years, he's found that the simple joy of encountering these creatures has faded in some ways.

“I still like them, but I don’t notice them as much,” he says. “I think that happens with life all the time. To be alive is a gift, which we sometimes take for granted.”

Like the joy of squirrels, the simple wonder and beauty of living often dissipates as life becomes more commonplace or complex. But nestled away in a cozy, cottage-like home on the northeast side of town, Kelsi and Cote seem to have found the key to keeping the precious spirit of childlike wonder and joy alive, nurturing it like the vegetables and herbs in their backyard garden.

Amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic and rising racial tensions in 2020, they are generously sharing their harvest of hope and strength with the world in their band KelsiCote’s new album, “Ayün,” released in July. “Ayün”—which is also their 9-month-old daughter’s middle name—means “love” in the language of the native Mapuche people of Chile. It is a love that sees the light in the other, even when there is also darkness.

“We are not singing romantic love songs, but we sing to a universal love in some way,” Cote says.

KelsiCote's new album “Ayün."

It is this powerful, universal love KelsiCote believe can help humanity overcome challenges that plague the human spirit, like a global pandemic. The songs on “Ayün” represent a collection of the band’s work with their “amigos” co-creators over the past two years, highlighting rhythms and lyrics they’ve found uplifting and enlightening as they navigate life’s questions, Kelsi says.
Like nearly all aspects of Kelsi and Cote’s lives, their music is a seamless fusion of North and South American cultures, as well as the English and Spanish languages.

“For me, the songs honor and give thanks to the constancy of the cycles of the earth,” Kelsi says. “The album itself is a prayer for the future of humanity in a state of awakening.”

Songs like “U R UR Temple,” for instance, speak to the importance of staying on the sunny side of life, which gives people the energy and encouragement to make changes in themselves and the world, Kelsi says.

Along with empowering listeners, the album pays homage to the couple’s home in Fort Wayne, featuring songs like “Indiana,” which share the natural beauty they’ve discovered here—the soft roll of thunder, the pitter-patter of rain, and the soothing hum of cicadas.

“There’s no comparin’ the haze of your sunny days. Blue skies, white puffy clouds, summer fairs in my town. Oh, Oh, Indiana,” Kelsi sings.

Spanish songs on the album, like “La Vida Que Traigo Puesta” (The life that I wear), express similar concepts related to beauty, strength, and self-awareness using South American influences.

“That song says, ‘The life that I wear, I wear it like a garment,’” Cote explains. “When you have that feeling of realizing you’re alive, there’s so much you can do.”

Since Kelsi and Cote met in Chile in 2012, they’ve been collaborating and creating music together, pairing her voice with his instrumentals and composing songs organically. Bouncing off each other’s ideas has been a habit of theirs from day one, Cote says.

“I remember the first time we had a date, we started to create ways to put people together in an artistic space with concerts and some international food,” he says.

Over the years, their different paths and achievements have influenced KelsiCote, too. After singing in high school show choir, Kelsi spent time during college studying and living abroad in Europe and South America, where she was inspired by new music forms, like sacred Byzantine chants in Greece. By the time she met Cote playing at an open mic session in Chile, their shared passion for songwriting and world music were a natural fit.

Growing up in Chile, Cote started playing music at age 5 and pioneered Santiago’s community arts Open Microphone Movement. Having studied music development in Chile, he was sponsored by the Chilean Department of Education and Culture in 2015 to provide interdisciplinary clinics to colleges and universities in the U.S., combining academia and arts.
It was on this trip to the States that he and Kelsi recorded their album, “The Hum,” in a sound studio at the University of Saint Francis.

Now, in addition to composing and playing music together as KelsiCote, the couple also runs the inclusive bilingual education enrichment program, Musical Conexion in Fort Wayne. The program works with children in-person to bring music and bilingual learning to educational settings around the city, ranging from public, private, and charter schools to YMCA programs for underserved communities. During COVID-19, Musical Conexion is adapting its model to move entirely online and make these lessons available to families and teachers in Fort Wayne and beyond for free, using web videos, Cote says.

He and Kelsi work with sponsors to make the program possible, and they have received a lot of support for their work, which initially surprised Cote when he launched Musical Conexion in 2017.

“One of my fears coming to the United States was that I speak Spanish, and I didn’t know how that would go in Indiana,” he says. “But my feeling when I bring this Spanish musical program to the schools in Fort Wayne is that they love it. The kids learn all the songs; they sing all the Spanish words, and they say, ‘Buenos dies, Mr. Cote!’ So my experience has been completely different from what my fears thought.”

Cote says he’s proud to call Fort Wayne home now because the city has been welcoming to his diversity and culture.

“I feel this city needs more diversity, and I feel grateful to share my culture here, and people really like it,” he says.

Another surprise he’s encountered in Fort Wayne is the quality of musicians he’s met here.

Before moving to the U.S., the couple lived in Santiago—Chile’s capital and largest city—for about five years, where they collaborated with talented artists around the country and in Argentina. Now, despite living in a smaller place, Cote believes he’s found some of “the best artists in the world” right here in Fort Wayne. Their band mates, known as the "[email protected]," have grown to include the Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s violinist Derek Reeves, cellist Jane Heald, and pianist Tommy Saul, bass player Casey Stansifer, and percussionist Colin Boyd.

During pre-pandemic times, the crew often met in Kelsi and Cote’s home to practice together, each bringing their own musical backgrounds and traditions into the mix from classical to jazz, folk, and ambient sound.

“It’s a cultural exchange for everyone involved,” Kelsi says.

While KelsiCote and the [email protected] would usually be busy playing songs from their album around town this summer, the pandemic has canceled many of their performances. They still have two shows on the books this fall in Fort Wayne. In the meantime, they’re using the unexpected change of plans as an opportunity to compose music for their next album and, most of all, enjoy some time with family.

“Every crisis presents an opportunity,” Kelsi says. “And even when everything outside oneself seems dark, we must nourish the light—the good within each of us to make necessary changes inside ourselves. Art and music help us in this endeavor.”

For those feeling the weight of the pandemic on their hearts and minds, she says doing something creative has helped her and Cote overcome the darkness and see the light.

"In times when our hearts are heavy, and we're uncertain about the future, being creative can help to transmute energies of fear into energies of hope and strength for the future,” she says. “Perhaps this chapter of feeling time in a sort of vacuum for many can hold space for creativity and exploration of the artist that lies latent in every one of us.”

Experience KelsiCote live this fall

KelsiCote will perform live at the River Drums at Promenade Park event in September and at the Clyde Club Room’s Friday Night Vibes in October. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram for details.

Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.
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