Arts, Culture & Media

Global Hit - Julieta Venegas

Julieta Venegas might want to clear some space in her trophy room. The Mexican singer-songwriter has been nominated in four categories of this year's Latin Grammy Awards. She and the rest of us will learn next month whom the Latin Recording Academy has chosen for the honors. But Venegas is ALREADY the "PEOPLE'S Choice." The World's William Troop has today's Global Hit.

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Julieta Venegas was born in California. But she grew up across the border, in Tijuana. And that's where she began her musical career. Venegas has since moved to Mexico City and established herself in the top tier of Mexico's pop musicians. But you can still hear a bit of northern Mexico in her music -- especially when she plays the accordion.

Julieta Venegas and The World's William TroopJulieta Venegas and The World's William Troop

This is El Presente -- from Julieta Venegas's MTV Unplugged album. It was recorded live in Mexico City a few months back. Some people hear "unplugged" and think, right, the usual hits, but with the singer on acoustic guitar. Venegas says she thought it meant MORE than that.

�When I thought "Unplugged" I thought "wow, all the instruments that I'd been curious to use but haven't been able to!" You know, not just grab a guitar and make it more basic, but, you know, re-dress it into something totally different.�

Among the new instruments Venegas wanted to play with were the violin, the banjo and the tuba. You can hear what she came up with for the tuba in this track called Algun Dia -- or One Day.

Now Venegas is taking her unplugged 15-piece-band concept on the road. It's a global tour -- from Argentina and Chile, to Spain and Switzerland.... with several stops in Mexico, of course. AND a few in the United States.

That's the welcome Venegas received when she performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington last month. Venegas says she enjoys coming to play for audiences here in the United States.

�Most of my public is actually Latino, so it's actually kinda giving them something from Mexico, you know. I know there's a lot of nostalgia when they live here and they're very far from their original place. So I like to be someone who represents where they're from and what they're about. I really enjoy that. And also they're a really fun crowd. I mean, it's really fun to be playing here because they're always very exalted, and very "ahhhh" you know, happy and they really enjoy the shows. So that gives me energy also. So there's all this "ahhh" energy and adrenaline and it's really fun.�

During her shows, Julieta Venegas speaks to the audience only in Spanish. And her songs are ALL in Spanish. The fact that she is bilingual -- and a U-S born dual citizen -- doesn't really show on stage. Venegas says her music is inspired by what she feels, her emotions -- and those emotions have always been in Spanish. So writing songs in English has never really worked for her.

�I think I tried it when I first started writing because most of the music that I listened to when I was a teenager was in English because it was cooler, in a way. So I guess I tried it a couple of times, and it just sounded so fake to me, that I just gave up on it and I never tried it again. That's when I realized that for me it had to be closer to my emotions, and that was in Spanish.�

Focusing on Spanish has paid off for Julieta Venegas. She's a big star in Mexico and the rest of the Spanish-speaking world. But she's not opposed to sharing the stage with artists who speak other languages. On her Unplugged album, she sings a duet with Brazil's Marisa Monte, who sings in Portuguese. Julieta Venegas says she'd love to collaborate with American artists, too. Top of her list?

�Well, Tom Waits for one would be amazing. I mean, if we're going to dream. You know it's funny, when people ask me why I play the accordion, I actually started playing it because of the way Tom Waits used it. And people like Los Lobos, and I think Joe Jackson used it on one of his albums. I was looking in a different direction when I started playing it. But now with time it's become more about the way that it's used in norteno music, and vallenato and cumbia, and now I see the festive side of it. But when I started playing it, it was more the melancholic and European way that they used it. You know, Tom Waits... I just think he's amazing, he's always been like. the way he thinks, what he says in interviews, the process that he's had as an artist. It's just like, I just love it. I always say when I grow up, I want to be like him. Ha ha. I'm all grown up now, but I don't seem to be becoming him. Ha ha.�

Just in case Tom Waits is listening, Julieta Venegas has some upcoming US concerts. She's playing in LA, San Francisco and San Diego this coming weekend and in Houston and Dallas in November.

For The World, I'm William Troop.

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