Historically speaking, the vast majority of popular music consumed in the world is in English. In countries where they don’t speak English, they still primarily listen to music with English language vocals. I believe that the majority of this has to do with America’s overwhelming cultural influence on the world, so maybe it’s time for the United States to start embracing musicians that perform in a language that they don’t speak in. The Fox Theater in Oakland hosted an evening with two artists from Mexico City, who largely perform in their native tongue.
Opening the show was Ximena Sarinana. She is currently touring to support her second record. Considering she’s spent the last few years between records working as vocalist for the Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group, and production duties on this record being handled TV On The Radio’s David Sitek, it’s a surprisingly bright record. She’s been spending most of the year touring around America, hitting up the Summer festival circuit, as well as touring with retro soulsters Fitz & The Tantrums. It is definitely her goal to crack the English speaking market this year, and her live performance is strong enough to do it.
She’s fairly unassuming at first. She is 25, but looks like she’s 15. She doesn’t look at the crowd, doesn’t move out from behind her keyboards much, and she generally comes off as pretty shy. But she can play. And she can sing. And this time around, she was accompanied by only a drummer and a bass player, unlike her Outside Lands set, where she had a fairly large band backing her. This meant that your focus was all on her, and as she belted out glorious, sunny pop music, all you wanted to do was smile and bounce.
Despite the fact that she was back in the familiar zone of a Spanish language crowd, she concentrated mostly on her English language material. In fact, she even found herself, the few times she spoke to the crowd, initiating conversations in English, only to double back and continue her introductions to songs in Spanish. Still the crowd responded with equal enthusiasm to both the languages, although the most rabid response came from the disco/hipster kiss off anthem “Echo Park,” a song about, well, moving past your hipster ex boyfriend that lives in the cool part of town. It looks like hipsters are a problem all over the world. Nearly equal was her song “Love Again,” which may be the most surprisingly straight forward love song one could ever write about a member of the band The Mars Volta. (Note: Omar Rodriguez-Lopez is her current beau)
Sarinana is an artist that every needs to keep an eye out on. She is destined for superstardom in some language or another, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this record doesn’t end up on more than a few best of the year lists.
Tu y Yo
Where Sarinana’s was very sparse and cross cultural, headliner Julieta Venegas took a very different approach to her goal of taking over America. Specifically, her attitude was “I Am Mexican. Take Me For Who I Am.” She came out dressed on a stunning black, fitted version of a huipil, and jumped right on her own keyboard to play the bouncy single “Amores Platonicos.” It was the perfect beginning to what was going to be a long and eclectic show. She jumped onto ukelele to play the Suzanne Vega-esque “Limon Y Sal.” In fact, she changed instruments for every song, depending on what sound she was going for. Her bass player played several types of deep-toned instruments, including a device that appeared to have 6 strings, was half the size of a guitar, but let out a deep rumble that would put your average bass guitar to shame. She has two musicians on stage that alternated between keyboards, trumpet, flutes, accordion, guitars, mandolin, ukelele, and whatever else they may have picked up along the way. This was one talented band that could handle anything that Venegas threw at them. The only band in popular music that has to switch up styles more often is “Weird Al” Yankovic’s.
Of course, with all her eclecticism, she seemed most at home when she played her accordion, and she can make it do pretty much whatever she wants. She could pull of the Sade meets Tango of “Seria Feliz” the mariachi of “Algun Dia,” and even managed to create a whole new genre out of a Tigres Del Norte cover that could only be described as Nortentronica.
She kept the crowd continuously engrossed, performing a 25 song, 2 hour long set that felt like it was 15 minutes long. And she did this without muttering a single word of English. I don’t speak spanish, so much of the actual language was lost on me, but that didn’t matter. The crowd ate up everything. It was an adoring and passionate audience that loved every minute of the set. She brought them through every emotion on the landscape, and she did it with ease. If anyone can cross over to an American audience without use of English, it’s Venegas.
Limon y Sal
Algo Esta Cambiando
Canciones De Amor
Bien o Mal
Debajo De Mi Lengua
Si Tu No Estas
La Que Pidas
Jaula De Oro
Eres Para Mi