Leticia Rodríguez has big shoes to fill — those of her aunt Eva Garza (1917-1966), the San Antonio singer who achieved international fame in the ’40s and ’50s with hits like “Celosa” and “Sabor de Engaño.” But Rodríguez will fill those shoes the only way she knows how: by doing her own thing. Her 2012 all-Spanish album, La Americana (which she will present Sunday at Esperanza), is as much about Garza as it is about herself.
“I never knew Eva,” the Austin-based multi-disciplinary artist told the Current. Rodríguez was a baby when Garza traveled throughout Latin America, and her memories of her aunt come from the stories her family told her: Garza singing and practicing around the house in between tours. “We kept up with her through her music,” said Rodríguez.
After 10 years working for Austin’s Believe in Me project (an empowerment program that teaches children through performance art), in 2000, Rodríguez founded and spent another decade running Performance Encounters, a theater arts company in which she created original works dealing with Latino identity and assimilation issues. At Performance Encounters, she produced, directed, wrote, and rediscovered her love of singing. That’s how La Americana was born.
“You think of Americana music as country-western or jazz or something that is not Latin,” Rodríguez said. “But ‘La Americana’ [The American] represents an American with Latin roots and it was something that I wanted to emphasize with that title. Americana music, to me, is roots music of all kinds, including Latino music. And I mean the Americas, not just the United States.”
But she needed a creative partner, and Lisa Morales (of Sisters Morales fame) was the perfect choice. She’s a Latina musician well-versed in Americana and Latin music, and a friend of the family. The pair spent almost two years working on the concept, arrangements, and feel of the album, and the result is a collection of Latin American classics (tango, bolero, cumbia, rancheras) with a heavy Afro-Cuban accent.
“Leticia is a dancer, so everything she does comes from within a dancer’s soul,” said Morales, who will perform with her band at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens on Thursday. “I enjoyed producing La Americana, we became family.”
Even though Rodríguez’ voice is completely different than that of her aunt (Garza was a technical cantante, while Rodríguez is a gutsy cantora), the album works because it isn’t just covers. Even in cases like the two tangos she recorded (Carlos Gardel’s “Milonga sentimental” and “Volver”), Rodríguez and Morales transformed the songs into something new: “Milonga sentimental” became an unusual sort of Afro-Cuban cumbia, while “Volver” is just a duet between Rodríguez’ voice and a tasteful guitar played by France’s Christian Fernandez. It is a special CD and a special show — she will sing surrounded by photos from the exhibition “Eva Garza and Las Divas of Mexican Song,” which will be up at Esperanza through July. “I feel a very strong calling to continue the tradition of some of this music for the generations that don’t know it,” said Rodríguez.
As far as future music, Rodríguez is taking things slowly, experimenting and planning her next album with the same care and devotion she put into the first one.
“I have the luxury to be able to control how I do this,” she said. “I don’t want to be in any ‘direction’ yet. The biggest question for me is, ‘Do I want to continue writing or creating an album that is in Spanish?’”
“Well, I have an embarrassment,” she admits. “I am one of those fourth-generation Latinos that wasn’t taught to speak the language. So part of the reason I created this particular CD in Spanish was sort of my declaration of ‘¡déjame hablar en español!’ [let me speak in Spanish]”
For her SA show, she’ll be accompanied by another singer for harmonies and a small group led by bassist George Prado.
“I am delighted to come to San Antonio,” Rodríguez said. “It’s a place of great heart and love and spirit. This music is universal and, for me, it’s like classical music. It’s timeless and it will never go away.”
Sunday Tardeada withLeticia Rodríguez
3pm Sun, July 14
Esperanza Peace & Justice Center
922 San Pedro