Gina Chavez is an Austin city music ambassador. Before receiving the title, Gina grew up in Austin with a passion for music while debuting her first album in 2007. Since then, her career has taken her to places such as Japan and El Salvador and she has received recognition for song of the year for her song “Siete-D”.
We sat down with Gina to discuss her music, her inspirations, and achievements. Her music video “Siete-D” premieres at the Stateside Theater on Saturday, Apr. 11.
Interview conducted by Sara Eunice Martinez
Photos courtesy of Gina Chavez
Shuffle: Are you excited about the premiere for the “Siete-D” music video?
Gina Chavez: Yes of course! I’m really excited because it’s a song based of my experiences in El Salvador when my girlfriend and I lived and worked there for eight months five years ago. It was a gang-dominated part of El Salvador and afterwards, we became like sisters with some of the girls that we taught. What is really exciting about the music video release is that not only is the song about El Salvador, but we also were able to shoot the music video in El Salvador with the same girls that we had taught. And this all benefits Nina Arriba, which is a fund that me and my girlfriend co-founded that supports some of these girls with going to college.
Shuffle: What inspired you to start your fundraiser, Nina Arriba?
Gina: My girlfriend and I decided to serve in a different Latin American country so we could learn more about our Latin roots and Spanish. Although we were in a dangerous part in El Salvador, the people there were beautiful and humble. Like I said, the girls that we taught became like sisters to us and they did so many things like working and chores around the school.
Shuffle: How old were the girls that you were teaching?
Gina: We taught in a school of about 800 girls with nuns in a compound with a chapel and convent. We taught girls from ages 13-21 years old in different classes. One of the reasons we started the fund was because many of the seniors wanted to go to college but didn’t have the money to afford it. We found out that tuition to go to a private university in El Salvador for a year was $150 and we thought that was really cheap for a good education.
Shuffle: So what did you do to raise the money?
Gina: When we came back to the states, we decided to throw benefit concerts since we were musicians. Since then, I feel that these are the concerts that my fans look forward to the most. Up to date, we have raised around $25,000 over the course of five years.
Shuffle: Do you have plans to come up with another fund in the future?
Gina: It’ll probably take some time but we have a couple connections in Honduras and Mexico with friends who are doing something similar there. Its a Si dios quiere type thing (If god wants to thing).
Shuffle: So let’s talk about your recent album “Up. Rooted” that was praised by NPR and Austin Chronicle. Are there any specific themes or does it talk about several things?
Gina: Going into this album, I didn’t have a specific theme in mind so I titled the album “Up. Rooted” and it’s actually a bilingual album. It’s almost like two albums to some people because Spanish and English music vary in genres. I feel that the title “Up. Rooted” doesn’t really know where it’s supposed to go. With that, I feel that this album portrays my emotions of feeling grounded but not being sure where I’m at sometimes. I feel that there are some dualities present in the album because there is some groundedness while also not being quite there yet.
Shuffle: Are you currently working on a follow-up album or are you mainly concentrating with the promotions for “Up. Rooted”?
Gina: So my song “Siete-D” won the Song of the Year award here and I was blown away because of the support of the Austin community so I’m very grateful for that. For a Spanish song to be the song of the year in Austin makes me happy, because it shows that Austinites can embrace something that is out of the norm. Since we are premiering the video for “Siete-D,” I want to concentrate with releasing music videos for several other songs off the album afterwards.
Shuffle: Do you have any locations that you have performed at in the past that you find memorable?
Gina: I had the opportunity to tour in Japan, twice. I find myself fortunate because I know that it is expensive to go there, let alone perform there. I got to go as a representative for the City of Austin since I am a music ambassador. It was an amazing trip and I am determined to go back there someday.
Shuffle: How long did you stay in Japan?
Gina: So with both tours, they were in Oita, Japan for 11 days. We performed six to seven shows while there and it was great. I got to also visit Hiroshima and its such a beautiful place and we got to visit the museum which was intense but and experience that i would recommend to anybody.
Shuffle: Did you get to learn Japanese while over there?
Gina: It’s funny because the pronunciation was really similar to Spanish. So as long as I could read it in the English alphabet I was totally fine. But when it comes to hiragana and katakana, I had no clue. I really do like the language and I had so much fun.
Shuffle: So what is the next place that you are hoping to go in the future?
Gina: So we went to El Salvador last year and it was the first time since we had last worked there and it was phenomenal. We filmed for the first week and then played shows. We are actually hoping on going back this year because two of the girls that we know will be graduating. We are actually planning a Guatemala and an El Salvador tour.
Shuffle: So when you first started out, how did you showcase your music?
Gina: I first started playing at La Tazza Fresca here in Austin. When they had open mic, I would sign up and play there at least once a month. After a while, we would have 50 people in that tiny coffee shop up until I came out with my first album.
Shuffle: So is it hard to balance between being a working woman and a musician?
Gina: I feel really fortunate because my job has been flexible and the people I work with have been very supportive of my music. Sometimes when I have upcoming shows such as the time I was going to Japan for two weeks, they thought it was cool, and it was great knowing that I could be able to travel with my music and still be able to come back to a job when I return.
Shuffle: So what do you want listeners to get out of listening to your music?
Gina: What’s neat about putting music out in the world and in any art in general is that it can become something different to each individual because people start to add on their personal experiences. Although the reason I might have wrote it was different, that is something that I like about music and art, it varies to every person. And I like to hear other peoples stories and how they connect to my songs.