CD REVIEW: La Que Manda by Gina Chavez

Gina Chavez’s new EP La Que Manda is pure, shimmering power in all of its forms.  Not a surprise for an album whose English title is The One Who Commands. Commanding is exactly what Chavez’s performance is in La Que Manda, the first all-Spanish album by the multi-ethnic singer from Austin. It grabs you by the brain stem and injects its urgent, irresistible, beguiling fusion energy throughout your entire body.  And mind. And heart.

An album she calls “an anthem to reclaim our bodies, our hearts, our voices, and show the world what we’ve known the whole time: we are La Que Manda” , it lays bare the brutal history women around the world have endured through time and proclaims their power to control their lives.  Coming out of the closet at 24 years old as gay and Catholic and an activist, she has built a career forging rhythms and lyrics that are unmistakably hers and unequivocally powerful.

The title song kicks off the EP with an arresting cry that seemingly comes from deep from within a tropical rainforest and then is joined by percussion as fast as a beating heart propelled by excitement.   Co-written with Andrea Corona, “La Que Manda “immediately establishes Chavez as yo soy la que manda – a woman who is in charge of her music, her life, and for the next 17 minutes, of your ears on a musical journey

But the journey is not easy.

 In “Ella” , Chavez’s urgent, determined voice and even more urgent drumming rhythms reminds us of the brutal history of women:

Her hands are tied/Her voice is exhausted
She doesn’t know where to go/Or what to do

And then Chavez comes close to our ears, whispering, not with menace but with burning determination:

But there’s no time to lose/So many have fought before us

For women today and all those to come/We won’t give up!

We are transfixed, whether or not we understand Spanish, we can feel the power, the resolve, the inevitable.

But the flip side of power is vulnerability, and for Chavez it comes from love in “Caigo” – I Fall. By far the most hypnotic song on the EP, it moves with muted measured rhythms and sophisticated jazz guitars as it confesses her – and everyone’s – vulnerability in the absence of the one they love.

It’s a drought when you hide/Without knowing the end/That’s how I fall

The song lets go of our brainstem and pierces our heart with its soft power and all we can do is marvel at her control, even in vulnerability, while we cry.

Chavez is not done with vulnerability or with the cruel history of women. In “Quita la cadena: – Take away this chain – Chavezramps up the vocal urgency, singing the pain of every woman in an abusive relationship and of all women held in society’s metal-handed embrace, punished for they know not what. 

 I pay with shame in every breath/Take away this chain/Your look condemns me…

Forgive me, forgive me or let me go.

Chavez ends the EP’s journey with the power of joyful, triumphant romance in “Bienamada”, a love song to Chavez’s wife and the transformative change she brought to the singer’s life. 

A little kiss on the neck/A tiny sip of alcohol/ At 24 you sent me out of the closet

With fast moving, pulse-generating beats, Chavez takes us through the joys and pleasures of a life and heart partner, and the control it gives her over her own life.  May we all find a Bienamada.

  La Que Manda is not only her proclamation of her power, but of the understanding that she has added a new dimension to the exploding world of Latin music, bringing in the chacarera rhythms of Argentina with folk and rock and even blues.  She did this by assembling a team of the best in the music industry: 16-time Grammy winner Thom Russo (Juanes, Alejandro Sanz, Enrique Iglesias), 2-time Grammy winner engineer Fernando Lodeiro, Grammy winning musician/composer/producer Adrian Quesada who co-produced the title song with Chavez,  and two-time Latin Grammy winner Linda Briceno, the first woman to win Producer of the Year, who co-produced the driving powerhouse of female history, “Ella”.

Chavez has won the Austin Music Award 12-times—including 2015 Musician of the Year and 2019 Best Female Vocals award. But she shines far beyond Austin now with more than a million views on a NPR Tiny Desk concert, an hour-long PBS special at the Kate and a 12-country tour through Latin America, the Middle East and Central Asia as a cultural ambassador.    La Que Manda not only tells the world that she is a woman in charge, but that she is now one of the most formidable women in music.  El tiempo ha llegado para La Manda. Her time has come.

About Patrick O'Heffernan

Patrick O’Heffernan is co-host of the LA-based, nationally syndicated weekly program, Music FridayLive! and is a music reviewer for online magazines Vents, The Hollywood Progressive and MusicJunkie. He has also co-hosted a national political talk show, The Fairness Doctrine, and hosted the “Uplinks” media segment on Saturday All Things Considered on NPR. He holds a PhD in International Relations from MIT, has been awarded an Emmy, four Addy’s, and a Webby-Honors, among other awards. He has published 5 books and ghost-written others. A project he co-launched, the North Asia Nuclear Free Zone, was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. He serves on the Board of Netroots Nation.

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