Ynairaly Simo portrays the Bronx (and Tweenage Zest) in 'Vivo'

Whenever Ynairaly Simo’s mother asks her what she wants to eat at home, Simo told him the same: moro de guandules con bistec, or rice w...


Whenever Ynairaly Simo’s mother asks her what she wants to eat at home, Simo told him the same: moro de guandules con bistec, or rice with pigeon peas and steak.

But what if they dine out? It must be mofongo – a Puerto Rican dish made with fried plantains – from a store two blocks from where Simo lives with his family in the West Bronx.

Fordham Heights’ rich food culture is a part of what makes their life so full there.

“We are proud to live in the Bronx and we are proud to be Latinos,” Ynairaly’s mother, Ydamys Simo, said in an interview. “And we always encourage him to do this: always be proud of who you are. And never change the essence that makes you you. “

Ynairaly (pronounced ya-NAH-ruh-ly) Simo, 14, is the voice of Gabi, an energetic and eccentric preteen, in the animated musical “Vivo” on Netflix. Although Ynairaly was born and raised in New York City, both sides of her family are Dominican.

“I’m very happy to play Gabi and to be Dominican,” Simo said in a video interview, standing in front of a canary yellow wall in his mother’s bedroom. “Because girls my age – or younger – can say to themselves, ‘Oh my God, she’s Dominican! And is she an actress? I could be an actress. I am Dominican. ‘

Simo felt a similar spark when she saw Zoe Saldaña as Gamora in Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.” She immediately adored the character of the Green Warrior and researched who played her.

When she realized that Saldaña was playing Gamora – and that the actress was Dominican – it hit her: she could one day be in a Marvel movie, too.

Four years later, Simo and Saldaña would end up working together. Saldaña plays Rosa, Gabi’s mother, in “Vivo”. Since their recording sessions were held separately, the two have never met, but Simo still hopes to meet his idol.

“Vivo” is Simo’s first big role – although she’s been playing for years – and she’s worked alongside a cast of “icons”, as she put it, including Saldaña.

Lin-Manuel Miranda voices the titular, Vivo, a Kinkajou singer-musician; Buena Vista Social Club legend Juan de Marcos plays Andrés, the owner of Vivo; and Gloria Estefan plays Marta, Andrés’ former musical partner and unrequited love.

Due to the nature of the vocal performance, Miranda was the only cast member Simo met in person. She was more than familiar with her work – she had, in fact, auditioned for a role in the film version of “In the heights” – and was looking forward to collaborate with him.

Miranda spent one-on-one time with Simo in the recording studio, helping him pinpoint the high notes of his lead voice and the low notes of his chest voice. (Simo attends Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music, where she learned that she is naturally a viola.)

The actress sings on five songs on the soundtrack of the film, including “My Own Drum” – an earworm rap about being true to yourself – and his remix with Grammy winner Missy Elliott. Miranda, known for her rapid-fire rapper, guided Simo for her first time in the genre.

“He taught me: take a deep breath,” Simo said. “And then learn the words, spit them out and make sure you say them, say them very loud.”

Onscreen, “My Own Drum” is set in Gabi’s tornado in a bedroom (her backpack is full of mud) in Key West, Florida. It presents, in the words of director Kirk DeMicco, “almost like a Busta Rhymes, a fisheye lens, fun-house scene,” meant to take Vivo out of her comfort zone. Here, the role matched the actress.

“There was that exuberant rudeness that she just had, and that moxie that you can’t even play,” DeMicco said in an interview. “The way she delivered her lines” and “the little improvisations she did, the way she filled things in, the texture was just right her. “

Simo’s father, Joseph Simo, is a huge fan of the stage, the song, and the soundtrack. It’s his “No. 1 choice ”every time he’s at work he said: He goes back to the soundtrack and listens straight from start to finish.

“One of the things she’s always wanted to do is inspire kids: Latinos – and all kids who love to play and listen to music – to follow their dreams,” Joseph said in an interview. “And I said to him the other day, ‘See, your dreams are coming true.'”

Simo’s parents are, of course, his biggest fans: two weeks after the start of August, they had already watched the film 16 times. (The film began airing on August 6.) They aren’t planning on stopping anytime soon.

They have supported their daughter’s artistic career since her beginnings. At the age of 3, Simo started modeling. When she was 5, she started playing – doing smaller gigs, like commercials. “Vivo” was her first singer role (although since its inception she has performed the Brooklyn Cyclones national anthem, the Gotham Girls and the New York freedom).

But the road here was not easy. In July 2019, while “Vivo” was in production, Ynairaly underwent nearly 10-hour surgery to correct advanced scoliosis. Twenty screws and two metal plates later, doctors told her parents she might not be able to “move like a normal child” – at least for a while.

The day after the operation, the physiotherapist asked her to take a few steps, one step at a time, her father said. She walked 20. That same summer, she learned to swim. She Danced. A month after the operation, she convinced doctors to let her return to Los Angeles to record.

Her family called her “Ynairaly the warrior”, or Ynairaly the warrior. “Because that’s what she is,” her mother said. “She’s really determined.



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Newsrust - US Top News: Ynairaly Simo portrays the Bronx (and Tweenage Zest) in 'Vivo'
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