Texas-born singer and activist, Gina Chavez’s crowd-funded full-length, Up.Rooted won high praise from NPR when it was released last year and went on to top the iTunes and Amazon Latin charts. The record also won Album of the Year at the 2014 Austin Music Awards beating other homegrown acts such as Spoon and Gary Clark Jr. This weekend the Austin darling will be at San Francisco Pride, performing at the famed Austin Airstream which is currently on its Summer 2015 road-trip from the south to the West Coast.
You can catch Chavez at the Austin Airstream located at 1841 Market Street during Pride. The Airstream used to be an iconic blue and red but was recently re-skinned in a cool black and grey to resemble a vintage mic, and is unmissable. Chavez will perform every half-an-hour from noon to 6pm on both Saturday, June 27 and Sunday, June 28.
After Hanging Spoons her 2007 debut of mostly folk-inspired tunes, Chavez’s sophomore album bravely explores questions of identity, race and acceptance as she switches effortlessly from English to Spanish. With a voice that has echoes of Shakira, she also possesses the uncanny ability to channel Americana, soul and jazz with equal verve as her take on Latin rock, which features the familiar rhythms of cumbia and bolero.
A trip to El Salvador back in 2005, inspired this colorful change in her music but also ignited her desire to be part of a change. Chavez explained: “My girlfriend and I are both Catholic and we wanted to do some kind of long term service work. We wanted to go somewhere in South America as we are both Latinas. Somewhere we could improve our Spanish, go away for a decent amount of time and try to do some good work. So they sent us to El Salvador, we didn’t really have a choice.”
When they returned home, the couple set up Ninas Arriba a full-scholarship fund that helps to put girls from a gang-dominated suburb through college, at the Don Bosco University in San Salvador.
“I think people can change you. And where we were in El Salvador the people changed us. We taught girls English in a boarding school we were with them from the pre-dawn hours till the sun went down. At the end of our eight months after many heartfelt talks and eating popcorn, it was hard to just leave and say, ‘Peace out’.”
“What changed us was the way we were loved by that community from the girls, to the workers at the school, and the nuns. It is also a suburb with the worst possible crimes imaginable but it was so inspiring to see how people filled their lives with happiness, finding hope in what others would consider hopeless circumstances.”
Her experience also affected her songwriting in the album, Up.Rooted. “I will always love Hanging Spoons but it was not radio-worthy. It was essentially recorded in my bedroom. I often say that Up.Rooted is my first commercial release as it can stand on it’s own in terms of quality, sonically and production-wise.”
Sophisticated in its highlighting of issues, thematically the album is also varied yet universal. A song like “Maiz” was written after an encounter with someone whose family was displaced following the 1995 North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement which made it almost punitive for Mexican corn farmers to keep working their fields. The award-winning “Siete-D” a cumbia-rock-rap, is about the delights and dangers of the 7 D bus route which natives and visitors to El Salvador alike are familiar with. And “Sound of Your Name” alludes to loving someone despite notions of gender, race or color.
With a burgeoning music career, Chavez admits that she does not consider herself an activist in the way those fighting daily on the frontlines or in the Texas legislature do. Yet, she admits that her music can be a sort of bridge.
“One of the reasons I chose the phrase Up.Rooted for the album was it’s dichotomy. It suggests that it’s exactly where you should be, yet not knowing where that is.”
“The album was also about coming to accept who I am. The beauty that is in all of us. Nobody is singular and fits neatly in a box. We are all multi-faceted and that’s what makes us beautiful. You can be two seemingly incongruent things. Up.Rooted is about reconciling faith with a sexual identity. Skin color with your heart. I hope the album speaks to other people who are also struggling to fit in a box that doesn’t exist.”
So how does she feel about representing Austin at San Francisco Pride? “Oh my gosh, I’m so excited. I love the ACVB. They are always there to tout Austin as the live music capital of the world. And to put their money where their mouth is – they always bring an Austin musician on these road trips.”
“I am also hoping that the Supreme Court Decision on gay marriage comes through on Friday so that SF Pride becomes a celebration – a Victory Party, rather than a March.”
No stranger to parties, the Austin Airstream has hosted musicians and bands at SXSW and Austin City Limits. It has also been spotted at Chicago’s Lollapalooza, New York City’s Big Apple BBQ and NXNE in Toronto. This will be the newly-re-wrapped 1970s Airstream’s fourth road trip and it’s first to the West Coast. It will stop at Pride this weekend, before traveling to the San Diego State Fair next weekend.
The iconic Airstream was purchased and re-furbished by the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau in 2012 and has been a hit with the music-going public. It is repurposed as a mobile PR office or studio where bands can perform and be interviewed. At ACL and SXSW, media outlets as well as bands such as Haim and Phoenix love to use it as a backdrop for their interviews and shows.
On how they decide which Austin acts to take on these road trips, Shilpa Bakre, a spokesperson for the ACVB explained: “To some extent we look at the markets where we’re going. Sometimes a market requires more ‘established artists’ and other times more ’emerging’ ones. For Pride we were purposeful in our intent – given Chavez’ Latin roots and her activism in her community, we felt she was perfect for this road trip to Pride.”
“Diversity is very important for us. And we feel you can’t purposefully grow diversity. It has to be organic. It is the 25th anniversary of Austin Pride and we are proud to be able to showcase Austin as part of San Francisco Pride.”
Austin was crowned Live Music Capital of the World in 1990 and it takes the title seriously. With 250 live music venues and a proliferation of different genres of music, the ACVB also does all it can to ensure that musicians stay in Austin.
In addition to outreach programs for local musicians, the ACVB is also involved with Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. HAAM provides health care for Austin’s low-income and uninsured working musicians.
Visitors to the airstream can also enter the sweepstakes to win a trip for two to Austin flying with Virgin American, by taking a picture in front of it and sharing it on social media using the hashtag – #ATXLove. To participate you can also visit their website www.austintexas.org or click here.