On Latest Album, Gina Chavez Unearths Her Latin Roots

Apr 18, 2014
Originally published on April 18, 2014 6:13 pm



Texas native Gina Chavez did not come to music early on. When she was 18, she went to a country-blues show in Austin to hear singer Toni Price. It was after that she decided she wanted to learn how to play guitar. So she turned to her dad.

GINA CHAVEZ: You know, I said, hey, dad, don't you have a guitar in the closet? He pulls it out and turns out it's a 1954 Martin, which people who know things about guitars are, you know, they start drooling all over themselves.

CORNISH: A year later, she started writing her own songs.

CHAVEZ: I was actually a little too lazy to learn other people's songs, so I started writing my own.

CORNISH: Now, at age 31, Chavez has released her sophomore album. It's called "Up.Rooted." It's a tribute to her Latin roots.

CHAVEZ: It is a bilingual album and that was intentional. I think it allows people to kind of come along with me for the journey instead of going to a concert where they understand nothing of what's being sung, you know. And so, on some level, your body can get into it and then your mind and your heart can also get into it because of the lyrics. But it also is very much about my own personal roots as a Latina and connecting with those roots.


CHAVEZ: The song we're hearing right now is called "Maiz." In English, it means corn. I wrote the song "Maiz" after meeting someone actually whose home had been uprooted because they were Mexican corn farmers. And when the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement was passed in 1994, one of the effects was that North American corn farmers, because we subsidize our farmers, we were able to undersell and undercut Mexican corn farmers. And I guess, you know, that - it just completely - it infuriated me, you know. So the song was born out of that anger. And at the same time, it ended up turning into more of a lament for sure. But ultimately, it's the song about hope.


CHAVEZ: The instrument you're hearing right now is called a charango. I actually had made it for me in El Salvador. It's a 10-stringed ukulele-like instrument. They traditionally make them out of the backs of armadillos, who had a rounded back. Mine is actually made out of wood. When I had it made for me - there's a guy named Oscar, who's been making charangos for about 30 years in El Salvador, and he actually asked me - he said (foreign language spoken)? He said, do you want it out of an armadillo or out of wood?


CHAVEZ: And I was like, yeah, I'm going to go with the wood.



CHAVEZ: One of my other favorite songs on the album is called "Save Me" because I get to play mouth trumpet on this song.


CHAVEZ: (Singing) Save me a place not an inch away, not a blink outside of your gaze.

It's really just an upbeat party love song, kind of exploring another part of my heart. I started writing this song when I was in El Salvador. And I was fortunate enough to go to El Salvador with my beautiful girlfriend Jody(ph), and she actually had to leave because her grandfather was sick. And so I really missed her, and so it was this idea that kind of like, save me one moment more of your time. That's a new thing for me. I don't tend to write a lot of love songs. And this one, I just wanted it to be big.


CHAVEZ: (Singing) All I want is your heart. All I want is you in my arms. All I need, you to say you'll stay.

So the song is - it's a joyful, you know, we're - hey, don't go to work today. Let's just hangout.


CHAVEZ: Let's just be together.


CHAVEZ: (Singing) And save me.

CORNISH: Singer Gina Chavez, her new album is called "Up.Rooted."


CHAVEZ: (Singing) Save me (unintelligible) and no lies. Move in close and tell me no lies. Run your hand through my hair. Make the day just so clear. Open my eyes with your graze (unintelligible). All I want is your heart. All I want...

CORNISH: You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.