As the Austin, TX-based singer/songwriter Gina Chavez has explained in interviews, her sophomore effort up.rooted, which was released last year, is ““a rhythmic exploration of who I am” – “a sonic garden of stories from an ethnically mixed woman on a journey to uncover her lost Latin roots.” And although her parents were of Mexican and Swiss-German descent, Chavez grew up listening to to Lyle Lovett, Little Richard, Michael Jackson and others artists that a typical Texan teen would likely have listened to at the time. Interestingly, her musical journey back to her Latin roots was influenced and informed by Austin’s famed Continental Club, a semester abroad in Buenos Aires and mission work with young at risk girls and women in El Salvador with her partner, Jodi Granado. As a result, the material on the album feels like a whirlwind tour of the contemporary and folk sounds of Latin America as the material sonically draws from cumbia, bossa nova, pop, reggaeton and folk. And the album is also highly notable, as it features an All-Star team of Austin music scene veterans including Adrian Quesada, formerly of the incredible Grupo Fantasma, The Tosca String Quartet, the incredible Grupo Fantasma horns, David Pulkingham and others.
Since the release of up.rooted, Chavez has had a busy year. Chavez and her sophomore effort dominated this year’s Austin Music Awards, as she won Musician of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, for “Siete-D,” Best Latin Band and the Esme Barrera Award for Music Activism and Education for her and her partner’s work with at risk girls and young women in El Salvador that includes the duo’s college fund Niñas Arriba, which offers full scholarships to a private Catholic university. “Siete-D,” which open discusses both the beauty and inherent danger of El Salvador also won the 2014 John Lennon Songwriting Contest (JLSC) Grand Prize. Chavez has also shared stages with a diverse and impressive array of artists over the past year, including Grace Potter, Grammy winners La Santa Cecilia, Latin Grammy winner Gaby Moreno, Mexico’s Carla Morrison, Argentina’s Federico Aubele, Las Cafeteras, and the aforementioned Grupo Fantasma.
Back in April, Chavez headed a successful benefit show for Niñas Arriba that featured Mother Falcon and former Asleep at the Wheel frontperson Elizabeth McQueen. She was also picked to represent Austin in Project ATX6, a collaborative project, which sends 6 Austin,TX-based artists on the road to play at international music festivals and public exhibitions. Clearly, all of this should suggest that Chavez’s star is on the rise — and big time.
Recently, Chavez and her backing band were invited to take part in NPR’s Tiny Desk Sessions, and Chavez’s sessions which features slightly stripped down versions of three album songs “Fire Water,” “Miles De Millas” and “Siete-D” and from the footage you can tell that the Texan singer/songwriter is a charming, beguiling figure with an effortlessly soulful vocals. “Fire Water” sonically is a percussive and slow-burning soul/pop song that features blasts of keyboards and a sinuous bass line. And the live version is absolutely sexy. “Miles De Millas,” the second song of the set is as Chavez mentions is a bilingual (and breezy) cumbia that discusses long distance love affairs with an urgent, flammable passion as its narrator tells her lover that how much she can’t wait to touch, kiss and embrace them. It’s such an infectiously danceable song that I can picture graceful couples in love dancing to this song in a sweaty club. “Siete-D,” which closes the set out continues the breezy, yet danceable feel of the previous two songs; however, the song sounds joyous and curious in a way that reminds me of Walt Whitman, if he somehow became familiar with Brazilian music.
From the footage, Chavez is a captivating, charming presence, who makes it seem as though she were performing in a small room for you and only you. And with that in mind, you can catch Chavez and her backing band on tour throughout the fall. Check out tour dates below.
Tiny Desk Concert Tour Dates
Friday, Sept. 25 | Houston | McGonigel’s Mucky Duck
Saturday, Sept. 26 | Dallas | The Foundry w/ The Effinays
Friday, Oct. 02 | Kansas City, MO | Knuckleheads
Saturday, Oct. 03 | Little Rock | South on Main w/ Handmade Moments
Sunday, Oct. 04 | Springdale, AR | Day Festival Sponsored by Knorr
Friday, Oct. 16 | Hanover, NH | Dartmouth College
Wednesday, Oct. 07 | Providence, RI | The Spot Underground
Thursday, Oct. 08 | El Paso | Day Festival Sponsored by Knorr
Friday, Oct. 09 | Tucson | The University of Arizona
Saturday, Oct. 10 | Los Angeles | Hotel Cafe w Mitre
Sunday, Oct. 11 | Berkeley | La Pena w/ Diana Gameros
Saturday, Oct. 17 | Goldthwaite, TX | Goldwaithe Music Festival
Tuesday, Oct. 20 – Saturday, Oct. 24 | Halifax | HPX Festival with Project ATX6
Friday, Nov. 06 | New York | Bowery Electric with Karikatura