For her SXSW performance in 2013, Gina Chavez received national recognition from NPR’s “All Songs Considered” and “Alt.Latino” as one of the new Latin artists to watch. Now with her sophomore album, Up.Rooted, she brings forth a powerful collection of songs showing she really is worth all the buzz. Chavez uses this second album to vocalize the dichotomies of her life as an ethnically mixed American woman trying to decide, and embrace, who she is and where she belongs. She ends up defining what “Americana” really means; it’s really the indigenous roots music of the Americas, America as a melting pot and America as the avenue for freedom.
“Gotta Get,” the lead single from the album and a collaboration with Grupo Fantasma, has a swanky Latin beat that inevitably makes you toss your hips back and forth. The catchy chorus emotes both a confident moveable rhythm and pure emotional frustration, “I never missed a step till I collided into you” and “now I’m stumbling more with each foot further from the truth.” It furthers the imagery of smooth choreography across a dance floor, pulling you into a more danceable, articulated Julieta Venegas rhythm. You can hear that rhythm flow smoothly as she effortlessly transitions between languages in this song and “The Sweet Sound of Your Name.”
“Maiz” is powerful and haunting, containing strains of Laura Nyro, or even Brian Lopez, as this song kept reminding me of a female version of “El Vagabundo.” The track alludes to her time doing youth work in Central America, with the subtext of NAFTA agricultural politics. It feeds right into “Siete D,” her tribute to urban San Salvador, which is so funky and fresh, it rivals any Shakira dance song.
Austin is a melting pot within the national melting pot. Here, it’s all about mixing cultures and finding an identity all your own, and whether she sings in English or Spanish, she captures a healthy dose of American soul, country, ranchera and rock music. She used to describe herself as “Sheryl Crow meets Selena or Latin folk-rock” but now, she represents something much more complex than just fusing two famous pop-stars into a label for herself. She represents a step forward for Latin music and identity in Austin, and with her deserved national recognition, in the entire U.S. as well.
Her next local show will be March 15th at Central Market North, before she leaves Texas to trek across the U.S. for the tour of Up.Rooted.
– Bailey Cool