Gina Chavez brings her Indie Latin Pop to the Forbes Center in Harrisonburg
Musician Gina Chavez plays Latin Indie Pop music, but it’s more than that. It has R&B influences, rock, folk, soul and something sweet that is all her own. Some songs are in Spanish, others in English, but no matter what language she’s singing in, there’s a common thread of authenticity and spirit. Gina Chavez plays the Forbes Center on Friday, February 4, 2022, in Harrisonburg. WMRA’s Chris Boros interviewed Gina this week and they talked about Gina’s early roots when she sang school choirs.
Gina Chavez: I wasn't raised in a musical family. It really kind of goes back to choir. Quite honestly, there's some pepperings of family members who had talent, but I didn't necessarily know about them growing up. But then I heard stories of my grandfather, who passed away when my dad was really young, that he was the kind of guy that literally would walk into like a music store and could just sit down and play the piano. But again, it's not like I grew up around music. When I was 18 and kind of got inspired to pick up a guitar after years of having been in choir. I was like, Hey, Dad, don't you have a guitar in the closet, because I remember every ten years he would pull out the guitar and play a song. So there's obviously on his side some kind of musical something. But other than that, I didn't really grow up around it.
WMRA: When you were in choir, was there a moment where you said yourself: Wow, I'm good at this. Was there a teacher that said you can sing?
GC: Yeah, exactly. I actually fought getting in choir because back in my day, choir was not cool. I like to call it the pre Glee years when choir was not cool. And then we had to sing Amazing Grace. So I got to hear everybody individually and that was the moment where I was like, oh, I'm pretty good at this.
WMRA: You're half, Mexican, your half Swiss-German, but you've also talked about that you didn't really grow up with these roots, right?
GC: Yeah, for sure. So I've always felt very connected to my Latin roots, even though I didn't really grow up around. I often think about that and I don't know what that is other than you know, this idea that there are seeds inside of us that call us back to our roots. I didn’t grow up speaking Spanish. My grandmother spoke Spanish but she re-married and I really just wasn't around Spanish. Everybody spoke English. I think it was also generations coming out of speaking Spanish and it was something that would get you beat up and maybe worse. They taught their kids not to learn Spanish. And so I think there's a whole generation of us that are removed enough from that to be like, why don't we know our language? In Spanish, it's kind of like something calls your attention. And I feel like that's kind of how my Latin roots have always felt to me, is like something calling to me.
WMRA: It was really interesting to me to discover that you didn't grow up speaking Spanish, because when I hear your music and you’re singing Spanish, it doesn't sound like this is some second language to you. How do you pull that off?
GC: Our country has a long way to go in terms of recognizing the importance of learning other languages. Honestly, I have a long way to go to really be what I would say is a masterful Spanish speaker. You can drop me in any Spanish speaking country and I'll get by, I'll be fine, but I'm going to make some grammatical errors and just because you understand how to say ‘where's the bathroom’ doesn't mean you could do something poetically. But at the same time, sometimes it's almost a freedom to not have as much mastery of the language. I think because I'm not a native Spanish speaker, sometimes I allow myself to get away with things that I might not when I'm in English, but it is still pretty difficult, but beautiful.
WMRA: Your music isn't easy to define. It’s Indie, it’s folkie, it’s got this Latin twist, it rocks a bit at times. But for me the best musicians are the ones you can't put into a box. So I'm kind of wondering if you strive for your music to be this mixed bag, or is it just the way it is?
GC: It's definitely the way it is. I think I write what I feel like writing on some level. Maybe that's a detriment. In terms of the industry, it doesn't like things that don't fit into a box. But I think audiences love it. And so it is hard because people are like, oh, what does your music sound like and it's hard for me to describe something that's going to get them in the room. But once they're in the room, they love it. You probably don't have one genre happening on your playlist of favorite music and you probably don't care, right? The fact that we have to fit into boxes is pretty antiquated and I think artists are doing a really good job to stretch the bounds.
WMRA: You’re a twelve-time Austin Music award winner including 2015 musician of the year, 2019 best female vocalist, and you received a 2020 Latin Grammy nomination for your first all-Spanish EP. What do these awards and accolades mean to you? Is that important?
GC: It's way more important for me to know that I've done my best and I think in a lot of ways La Que Manda, that's my first all-Spanish language album, being a Latin Grammy nominee, of course that’s incredible to me especially as an indie artist. I think the reason that it connected with audiences and the reason that it means something to me and to other people is because I reached really deep. I stepped outside of my box in the sense that I took a chance on putting together an all-Spanish language album in a language I am not a native speaker in. I think those were the things that really meant something to me that as an indie artist I could be on the same playing field as a Sony artist. So that was what was really cool to me was being, wow, we can do this as an indie artists - it's really hard, but it's not impossible.
WMRA: Let's talk a little bit about your philanthropy work. You and your wife founded a college fund for young women in Central America. Can you talk about that?
GC: Yeah, I'll try to give you the short story because I thought the very long story. The economy was tanking in 2008-2009. So my wife and I met at the University Catholic Center – we’re both practicing Catholics, so that's a whole story as well. So I think we both have a heart for service and that's one thing I like about the Catholic Church, no matter what you might think about the Catholic Church, and there are lots of valid thoughts, Mission work for Catholics tends to be very service driven. And so we had a friend who was down in Honduras and she said, hey, I'm playing your CD for my students. You should totally come give a concert here. And it was right around the time that I had lost my job. Jodi, we were not married, she had come back from LA and it was a mission year. And so she was coming back and didn't have a job and I've always wanted to do long-term Mission work. Maybe let's just leave. So we actually ended up applying to that same Catholic volunteer program. So we went down there and we worked in an all-girls school. We taught English. We lived with nuns. It was truly a life-changing experience. I think what we know and what we think we know about El Salvador are largely negative things. But what people don't know is the incredible people that are there - the culture, the food, the music, the landscape. There's so many beautiful things about El Salvador, about Central America, and it felt so wrong to just be like, okay, well are eight months are up, peace out. Good luck. And so Jodi said, what if we started a college scholarship fund and so we asked our seniors who wants to go to college and everybody raised their hand and then we asked, who's going to college, and everybody drops her hand. And so we started talking to them about why that is. And of course, it was largely money, but I think the bigger thing is that it's not a priority for their families, to send girls to college. And in that moment, that's when the Niñas Arriba college fund was born. And then we were like, how do we do this? Well, I'm a musician. Let's throw some benefit concerts. And so to date those have become our most important most sought after concerts - fans love coming to them, but it's an incredible project. We have four graduates at this point. And if people want to find out more, you can go to GinaChavez.com and there's a tab that says college fund.
WMRA: You're performing tomorrow night at The Forbes Center in Harrisonburg. What can we expect from the show?
GC: I love to take audiences on a journey. A lot of my own life education, music education, has been travel. I've had the extreme privilege to travel all over the world. So our show is the Gina takes you on a journey of discovering her own Latin roots through the music, of sharing my life as a queer Catholic in Texas, and we have moments where you're going to want to shake your hips and we have moments that will hopefully move your heart a little bit.