Crisol de géneros, A Melting Pot of Genres: Talking with Edna VazquezJuly 24, 2018
Nectar Lounge regulars are no stranger to Edna Vazquez. The powerful singer, songwriter and guitarist based in Portland has graced our stage numerous times before, and has consistently brought the house down with her emotional lyrics and incredible vocal presence . We’re thrilled to have her back on August 9 as part of a stacked bill featuring Latinx indie artists, including Peru’s Novalima, Argentina’s Chancha Via Circuito and fellow Portland artist Y La Bamba. We asked Edna some questions via email about her musical influences, songwriting process and experiences in the mariachi world.
Nectar Lounge: Your live performances are breathtaking, from your guitar playing to your powerful voice. When did you first start making music? Have you been singing your whole life?
Edna Vazquez: I started making music in my 20s. I was at a point in my life where I was learning to survive on my own, and without the mariachi band (Vazquez was kicked out for requesting equal pay). I started singing at the age of 8 in a church choir and at 13 I learned the scale in the guitar and I began to bring out sounds that I imagined. I remember trying to learn a song for my grandmother as a gift for her birthday, she was blown away and so was I. That’s when I discovered I could play and sing. I’ve been immersed in music since.
NL: Every time I see you perform I look forward to your whistling! Is that something you’ve always been able to do? When did you decide to start incorporating that into your music?
EV: I’ve been whistling since I was eight years old. The whistle was born to actually kill my fears when I was little, thanks to my grandpa and his wise advice to scare all evil through my whistle. I learned how to emulate all of those songs that I liked and heard from the radio, all genres. So I guess that’s been my practice since I was very little, until today.
I decided to incorporate the whistling when the mariachi band kicked me out for requesting equal. All I remember was not giving up, even though it was a challenge to survive independently. One day, I took my guitar, my heart and voice and went to a restaurant to play for tips in 2004. My first client that day was a table with a drunk gentleman that was heart broken, and his friends. I started accompanying myself with my guitar and started singing, but something was missing. That’s when I decided to whistle melodies from the folkloric songs I knew. I played, sang and whistled to incorporate each element, and it worked! The guy and his friends thought it was odd that I could do such a thing as whistle, which was “not proper for a lady,” but they, and I, loved it. I discovered my solo career right there! Then I lost my fear of losing the mariachi band, where I felt constantly unappreciated. A month later I was hired back into mariachi because clients were requesting “la muchacha” (the girl). Of course, I got equal pay after all.
NL: You were one of the first female mariachi vocalists in the Pacific Northwest, and it clearly came with some challenges. Have you seen more women take the stage in recent years?
EV: It was a challenge, but it gave me so much to appreciate. I learned to stand up for my ideas as a composer and a songwriter.
I’ve seen women come and go. Occasionally I’ll do mariachi performances but very exclusively. It feels really good now to be able to hire them and be appreciative of their work on my own terms.
My respects to all women who have stood up, endured and are now taking the stage, such as Flor de Toloache. They are one of them!
NL: You’re from Jalisco, Mexico, the birthplace of mariachi music. How has that style influenced the music you write today?
EV: Mariachi music has influenced the music I write, but mariachi hasn’t been everything in my life. My way of composing/writing was influenced by all the genres of music I was exposed to since I was very young. I learned the importance of our Mexican folk music in my town as a child, and in my teens I was exposed to all the emerging rock and pop bands that included Café Tacvba, The Cranberries and Bjork. My grandpa made sure I got cultured in jazz and classical music, as he was a clarinet player at an orchestra.
One thing I got without a doubt, from mariachi, as well as jazz, was the power of being able to express an emotion through music! The passion to let out such feelings, exposing yourself to everybody. The power of becoming so vulnerable and naked to the world, and of course, the elegant way of hiding messages in poetry and metaphors. We Mexicans have a hard time expressing vulnerability, we don’t talk much about our feelings. We do it through lyrics and music. Then magic is born delivering this melodrama. We make you feel it with us. And why? Because it’s something pure that we all, humanity, has in common.
NL: That’s a wide variety of genres you grew up with! Beyond the three you mentioned, who are some of your biggest musical influences?
EV: Nina Simone, Freddy Mercury, Ray Charles, Dolores O’Riordan, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, James Brown, Chopin, Mozart, Saint Du Preux, Cerati, Piazzola, Los Gatos (Chile), Silvio Rodríguez, Violeta Parra, music in old films, oh I love music in old films.
NL: You mentioned all-female mariachi group Flor de Toloache, who you’ve collaborated and toured with. How did you first get connected with them?
EV: We got connected with them during a show at the Roseland Theater (in Portland) when they were touring with The Arcs. It’s been an amazing journey with Flor de Toloache. They are a constant inspiration and give a sense of realization as a woman musician. Women work differently, and it is an incredible experience collaborating with them.
NL: I heard that you’re writing new music for an album to be released this year. Can you talk a little about that process, and what we can expect from the new music?
EV: Indeed. The album is in an organic process, I am letting things flow and working out a lot of details. It will come out next year.
I’m doing various collaborations with Pink Martini, and Flor de Toloache, so stay tuned. You can expect a very original genre-crossing of Alternative Rock, Jazz, Folk, and R&B. Hence: Crisol of genres.
NL: You play Nectar Lounge on August 9 alongside Novalima and Chancha Via Circutio, plus another Portland artist Y La Bamba. What can folks expect from this show? Why should they come out?
EV: For each of my shows, my goal is to energize and let the audience leave thinking and feeling that we are together in this world, and that we cannot continue to be so hard on ourselves. That there is hope in life, even in what seems negative. To live is an art form, it’s a privilege and a gift to be celebrated every day.