SANTA FE, N.M. — Gina Chavez likes to take people on a journey, both geographical and personal, with her shows.
The folk/pop singer says she has been able to discover her roots through music, something the Austin-based artist said she didn’t grow up immersed in as a third generation “pura Texana.”
The half-Mexican, half Swiss-German Chavez always loved to sing, but it wasn’t until a trip to Argentina in college that her real musical adventure began. She discovered chacarera, a northwestern Argentinian folk rhythm, and was inspired to come home and try to develop her own takes on the style.
She continued down that road, releasing her first bilingual record in 2007.
Later, living in El Salvador, where she co-founded a college fund for young girls, also helped “feed” her musical style, she said.
Chavez has been featured on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, was named Austin’s Musician of the Year in 2015 and, in 2014, she received a John Lennon Songwriting Contest’s grand prize for a song about her experiences working with young people in El Salvador.
“I feel like I bring my entire life to the stage,” said Chavez.
Chavez will take Santa Feans on her journey with a performance at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Thursday, as one of the first stops on a monthslong U.S. tour. She spoke to the Journal from the airport in Austin while waiting for a flight to Philadelphia to perform the first show.
“We go all sorts of places,” she said of the shows, speaking in a figurative sense. “We play songs from all over the world, especially Latin America, and then we also play songs of the heart.”
Chavez was referring to the particularly personal songs from her latest EP, “Lightbeam,” which was released in September. The songs are all inspired by Chavez’s 12-year relationship with her wife, Jodi, particularly their experiences as a same-sex couple and practicing Catholics living in Texas.
According to Chavez, she didn’t set out to write a collection of songs reflecting on their relationship. Instead, she made a conscious decision recently to step back from live shows to focus on writing, which she said allowed anything she was feeling to manifest itself.
Though Chavez described the mostly English EP of soulful pop as a “sonic break” for her, she also views it as a continuation from her first records, with a variety of styles. The first song, “It’s Hard to Love a Woman,” was something she started working on six to eight years ago. The rest are more recent.
“In a lot of ways, I think my heart was diving into the relationship and my wife and I, and how we’ve been through this journey of really having to hide our love to now coming full circle and saying, ‘Hey I’m going to share not just with my fans, but with the world, a little bit of our wedding and shout it from the rooftops,’ ” she said.
The two married in September 2017, two years after same-sex marriage became legal nationwide. Chavez shares footage from the Texas wedding in the music video for one of the new EP’s songs, “Heaven Knows.”
Chavez said she feels “blessed” to live in this day and age.
“At the same time, I know we have a lot of work to do in terms of equity for lots of different people who fall outside of the norm,” she went on to say. “But I feel so fortunate to live in a time where I can go to a Catholic Church with my wife and have people not only accept us, but also enjoy the fact that we’re there. And even that is not perfect, and it’s hard and there’s conversations to be had, and we can’t do that at every Catholic church, but I feel super fortunate.”