Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Edna Vazquez's art transcends categories, with musical influences ranging from traditional Mexican folk songs to Beethoven to psychedelic pop. Currently on tour with a full band, she brings her unique sound and uplifting message to the David Rubenstein Atrium for a free performance on November 2.
Eileen Willis: You have experience with a variety of genres—mariachi, rock, folk, jazz. What is the constant for you in all of the different types of music you play and write?
Edna Vazquez: The constant for me in all of the styles I perform is the emotional combination of my experience and musical influences. Regardless of the texture of each song, the melody comes naturally and without thinking. Each song makes me whole and acts as a platform to reflect the experiences I see around me and personally live each day.
EW: How would you describe your musical education (whether formal or informal), and your career path so far?
EV: My musical education is more informal than formal. My years playing with a mariachi band molded me and gave me a technical and emotional foundation for songwriting and performing. From that base, I began experimenting with different rhythms, and coloring emotions with sounds. I used to be insecure about not knowing how to read and write the music in my head, but I learned to trust my intuition and trust my ear fully.
EW: On a related note, when did you realize that you were going to become a musician?
EV: At 17. I had recently moved to the U.S. and sung "Cielito Lindo" a capella to the owner of a Mexican Imports store. She gave me a guitar as a gift and invited me to sing with a mariachi band the next weekend at a local restaurant. Since then, music has taken me on a fascinating journey that fulfills and releases my heart each time.
EW: Who are some of your musical influences or heroes?
EV: I grew up listening since my mom's lullabies a capella, to Silvestre Vargas, the core of Mexican traditional folk, to orchestral duets from the 1920s like Hermánas Aguila, Agustín Lara, as well as classical—Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin. My parents, aunts, and uncles introduced me to music from the Beatles, to psychedelic pop bands from México and around the world.
I found Mexican and Latin American rock bands as a teenager. These bands were doing their own work without emulating the "American rock music influence." Instead they were adapting the folk Latin American rhythms with an innovation that moved my whole world. Their lyrics had a deep message and originality that inspired me. The Cuban, Venezuelan, and Colombian, Chilean trova artists also got my ear. I loved the musicians expressing their political protests against corrupt governments, and social issues. They taught me that music is a powerful weapon for change.
EW: So you think artists have a role to play in conversations about societal issues like civil rights, immigrant rights, or the environment, for example?
EV: Absolutely, just like anybody else. Our main role as leaders is to shine the light on the world around us to create positive change and foster peace and hope. We all have an important part, whether it's as a community organizer, family member, or anyone who speaks their truth to make this world a little better. In a sense we are all artists, because we are constantly creating as a way to live, understand, and thrive through this journey together.
EW: What advice do you wish someone had given you when you were just starting out?
EV: In general, I feel all that I've been through is where it needs to be, when I started I had the advice I needed to be here now, no regrets. I'm grateful and thankful for each experience and accomplishment in music. That said, I often find myself interacting with youth and I tell them to believe in who they are, and to share their art with the world. The only other advice I would give is for parents to nurture and foster their children's art education.
"Words and melody reflect our struggle as humans to transcend cycles of oppression, regardless of the language spoken."
EW: The fact that you're bicultural and bilingual gives you a window into two cultures simultaneously. Do you think that has influenced your songwriting and artistic choices?
EV: Absolutely. My lyrics come to me in both languages naturally, but the sentiment is universal. I have learned to adjust to and interact with my environment, whether it's the audience, community, or nation. Words and melody reflect our struggle as humans to transcend cycles of oppression, regardless of the language spoken.
EW: Your latest album is called Sola Soy. Is there a message that resonates with you in terms of the power or challenges of solitude?
EV: When I wrote the song "Sola Soy," I was in the middle of a transition. The song is about the point that I had to be by myself to realize that it was the beginning of a next step in my life. So, in a way it was about being alone, but the essence of the song is about the rebirth that takes place in those pivotal and very personal moments in our lives.
EW: It seems appropriate that Sola Soy is an independent release. What was the writing, recording, and funding process like?
EV: This was definitely an ironic moment in my career! I found myself putting out a record that was thematically about solitude, but that was only possible with the support of my community. The album would not have been possible without the financial support from a $20k crowdfunding campaign, or without working with the production team and fellow musicians in the community. In terms of writing, I had already been performing a number of the songs, and others were written specifically for this album. So when we went into the studio to record, the focus was on arranging and producing in a way that was new to me. I learned so much from the process and am heading back into the studio again in the coming months with my band.
EW: Can you talk a little bit about Rebirth/Renacimiento, the multimedia community art project that you have planned for your performance at the Atrium?
EV: The idea for this project is to highlight crucial touch of hope that exists in these difficult times. Out of every adversity there comes a transcendence with the same amount of positive energy to compensate us and bring us together. Everyone has a different interpretation of what exactly Rebirth/Renacimiento means to them, and it has been fascinating to see how diverse the responses have been. The campaign is still in full swing and we are looking forward to sharing the end result with everyone on 11/2!
EW: What do you hope audiences of your show at the Atrium or your shows in general come away with?
EV: For each of my shows, my goal is that the audience leaves 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 everyday.
EW: What are you looking forward to in terms of upcoming projects?
EV: I am looking forward to getting into the studio with my band and working on new music! I am also looking forward to exploring some collaborations with other artists that I've met since my last time recording. Being an independent songwriter has given me the freedom to be authentically me and let art guide my career, which keeps me excited for what is around the next corner.
Eileen Willis is the Editorial Director for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.