Gina Chavez in concert
AMP by Strathmore
11810 Grand Park Ave., North Bethesda, Md.
Gina Chavez is the kind of artist who sings about her own experiences.
“My performance persona is me, and that’s exactly what you get at my shows,” she says. “I share my story. Part is discovering my Latin roots through music and part is being a practicing Catholic who fell in love with a woman and got married.”
On Sunday, Gina Chavez brings her life and music to AMP by Strathmore, a cabaret-style venue at the Pike & Rose area in North Bethesda. Backed by a five-piece, all-male band, Chavez takes her audiences on a bilingual journey, incorporating sounds from the Americas and the Middle East.
“It’s a wide variety of music. You’ll get singer/songwriter to Latin dance band, and we have a blast. My shows often turn into mini-dance parties,” she says.
Though she’s of Mexican descent, Chavez, 36, didn’t grow up speaking Spanish. The Austin, Texas native embraced her Latin roots during a semester abroad in Buenos Aires where she fell in love with chacarera, the rhythmic folk music she heard at street fairs.
She ended up writing her own version. It’s the only Spanish song on her first album and she still plays it live. It “holds a special place in my heart” because it came to her quickly — she wrote it in 10 minutes. She credits her education at Austin public schools for giving her appreciation for a wide variety of music. She sang material as varied as show tunes to classical works like Mozart’s “Requiem.”
Today, Chavez and her band travel the world playing dates throughout the U.S. and Latin America, and far-flung spots like Uzbekistan and Jordan as cultural ambassadors with the U.S. State Department.
“I never intended to have this awesome life with music. In fact, it might not have happened,” she says.
In 2009, just when Chavez was becoming a name on the Austin music scene, she and Jodi Granado, her wife (then girlfriend), spent eight months in El Salvador teaching English to underprivileged girls.
“Everybody thought I was crazy, but El Salvador was an experience that informed my life, career and relationship with my wife. We didn’t go to change social norms or give the finger to the establishment. We were helping girls going through a rough situation in large part caused by the U.S. Despite dealing with horrendous crime, everyone we encountered were incredibly kind and giving. We received more love than we could have given.”
Shortly after their return to Austin in 2010, Chavez recorded “Siete D,” her award-winning single, which takes a stand against gang violence in Central America. At the same time, the couple established Niñas Arriba (ninasarriba.wordpress.com), an ongoing college fund that offers full scholarships for young women in El Salvador.
Chavez met Granado in school, at the University Catholic Center at the University of Texas Austin.
“Looking back, it was love at first, but I didn’t realize it was love until later. I just knew that I was intrigued and wanted to be around her all the time. Oblivious to the fact I was gay. It just wasn’t on the table as an option. My counselor had to asked me on three different occasions it I’d discerned my sexuality before I came out.”
Thirteen years later, Chavez and Granado (a high school math teacher and sports coach who additionally helps to manage Chavez’s career) are happily married and remain practicing Catholics. They attend Mass with Chavez’s parents every Sunday.
“Mother Church is big slow-moving tanker. She doesn’t turn quickly. The church isn’t going to change if everyone who knows there’s need for change leaves. Our decision at this time is to stick around. For a long time, I was a practicing Catholic but didn’t own my faith. Because I’m gay, I felt I couldn’t own it, but that’s bullshit. I’m as Catholic as Pope Francis, And I talk about this in the show.”
In her song “Heaven Knows,” she sings, “Heaven knows our souls, our story/the shape of your heart when you hold me/wouldn’t tear us apart or disown me.”
Also on April 7 at AMP, Chavez and her band are playing “Kids Pajama Jam Party,” a lively, bilingual, all-ages matinee concert with an educational twist.
“It’s a lot of fun. The audience is encouraged to dance and sing along,” says Chavez who is thinking about having children of her own. “That’s a subject currently in discussion,” she adds with a twinkle in her voice.
“I’ve been privileged with a loving family and opportunity. I like to think that through my music I can bring people together who otherwise might not know each other,” she says. “I have a platform and want to put love in the world.”