“Tusa,” the song performed by Karol G (and later remixed with Nicki Minaj) which has become a global anthem for heartbroken women ready to get back on their feet, was not originally conceived as a female-performed song.
In fact, says songwriter Keityn (real name Kevyn Mauricio Cruz Moreno) — who wrote the bulk of the track with his Colombian pal Ovy on the Drums (Daniel Echavarría Oviedo) — the song wasn’t even going to be titled “Tusa.”
But “Tusa” it eventually became, and today, it was announced as the song of the year at the ASCAP Latin Music Awards. Keityn, who is signed to Sony Music Publishing, is listed as the track’s composer affiliated with ASCAP along with manager Juan Camilo Vargas Vasquez. (Ovy On the Drums, Karol G and Minaj also have writing credit in the song).
“It was just another day,” says Keityn, 24, who was born in Cali, Colombia, but eventually moved to Medellín for his music career. “I went to Ovy’s house, we were chatting, and at the end of the day, he sat down to create. The moment I heard those violins I thought, ‘Wow, this can be big.’”
The violins would become the intro to the song, which initially was called “La canción [The Song],” a reference to Keityn’s storyline about memories that rush back when that certain song plays on the radio.
During the writing process, says Keityn, Karol G called Ovy — a recording artist known for his production and songwriting work with Karol G — and he played an early version of the track for her, but nothing much happened beyond that.
Karol G wasn’t particularly enthused, and truth be told, says Keityn, “I didn’t conceive the song for woman. It talks in third person. It can be performed by a guy or a girl.”
Several artists heard the song, and Sebastian Yatra came close to recording it, but didn’t. Months later, Karol G called back and asked: “Remember that song you guys played for me?”
By then, Bad Bunny and J Balvin had jointly released their album Oasis with the single “La canción.”
So Karol G took the full track, added her rap (or chanteo) and suggested changing the title to “Tusa,” a very colloquial Colombian word that is used in the song and which roughly translates to “heartache” or “yearning.”
“Honestly, I didn’t like the word,” says Keityn. “It’s too local, too Colombian. I simply used it because it rhymed. When Karol told me that was the title, I said, ‘No, I don’t like that word.’ And she said, ‘Trust me.’”
So he did.
Karol G sent the newly named “Tusa” to Nicki Minaj, who loved the track and almost immediately recorded on it. It would go on to reach No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot Latin songs chart.
“It’s a song that a woman or a man can sing,” says Keityn. “It’s a situation a lot of people go through so they identify with the song. Plus, the combination of Nicki with Karol; that was explosive.”