Mexican pop singer sees future up north
By Moira E. McLaughlin
Friday, Dec. 9, 2011
Mexican singer Ximena Sarinana's second album is a first for her. The self-titled release showcases sweeping arrangements and pop sensibilities similar to her debut effort. But it differs in one important way - it's in English.
"I feel like my vision of life is fuller because I have influences from two cultures and I understand how two cultures work, so that gives me a better perspective on life," Sarinana says by phone from somewhere between Austin and Phoenix in the middle of her first headlining U.S. tour. "But also it's very hard as an artist to justify what you're doing. People in Mexico, at least, can be very harsh with artists who switch languages like that. . . . People just want to make you their own."
Sarinana, 26, is the daughter of Mexican filmmaker Fernando Sarinana and screenwriter Carolina Rivera. She began an artistic life early, about age 7, acting in her father's movies and Mexican soap operas, and many of her fans know her from that screen work. Later, she wrote music for her dad's soundtracks.
"It was never a conscience decision to do for a living - acting or music," Sarinana says. "It was never a career pick."
After high school, she played briefly with a band but then went solo. Her first album, 2008's "Mediocre," was recorded in Argentina. It is meticulously produced, showcasing Sarinana's big, belting voice and jazz-tinged piano playing. The album went gold in Mexico and was nominated for two Latin Grammys as well as an American Grammy for best Latin rock alternative.
"The first record was so pampered," Sarinana says. "Everybody involved in it was so in love with the project, and we were all taking care of it . . . which is just what I needed at the time because I was still so insecure about my songwriting. It was a big step for me to do my first solo record."
Sarinana was working on her second album when her label, Warner Music, asked her to record an album in English.
"I was like, 'Wow, that's such a huge thing!' That doesn't happen everyday to a Latin artist. Most of the record labels have no clue what's going on south of the border. . . . There was one part of me that was like, it is a huge risk because you are putting on hold everything that you built in Mexico and you don't know if it's going to work."
But Sarinana plunged in, despite the challenges of recording north of the border, in Los Angeles.
"I had writing sessions every single day with people I'd never met before," she says. "It was like, 'Here's the address, here's the GPS, here's your car. [Session is] at one o'clock. Make it work.' "
And make it work she did, collaborating with such artists as Diplo, Rancid's Tim Armstrong, TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek and producer Greg Kurstin. She wrote dozens of songs, but only 11 ended up on the album.
"It was kind of like an open road for us just to experiment and see what happened, so I decided to just throw myself in, and do an American record," Sarinana says.
On the album, she plays with varied instrumental sounds and production yet still remains firmly planted under the pop umbrella. Her lyrics are honest and unpretentious, and she writes about straddling two cultures.
"I wanted to talk about this feeling of when you leave things behind and question whether you're doing it for the right reason or the wrong reasons, which were obviously the questions going through my head while I was doing the record," she says. "Am I leaving my culture behind? Am I leaving my language behind? Am I leaving my people behind?"
Despite such misgivings, Sarinana says she enjoys the challenge of writing lyrics in English and doesn't intend to make another full Spanish record. Plus, there's a market for a musician like herself.
"Everyday there's more and more first-generation or second-generation Latin Americans [in the United States]. They listen to the music that's on the radio, but they don't identify with it, but at the same time they don't like the pop music that comes from Mexico. I think they're hungry for artists that they can identify with," she says.
"A lot of fans . . . love Mexico and they love the culture and everything, but they speak in English."