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Leti Garza’s music shimmers with vitality and honesty, mined from the rich reserves of her life experiences.  Courtesy Leti Garza
Leti Garza’s music shimmers with vitality and honesty, mined from the rich reserves of her life experiences.  Courtesy Leti Garza

Who is Leti Garza?

“The border is a place where people from different countries can find conflict or hope. I prefer to find solutions.”

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Rarely does the U.S. music scene tell the stories of the musicians and artists who for decades have embraced the Hispanic cultural tradition as a way to express the diversity that lies at the heart of the nation’s identity and what ails it.

One such artist is Leti Garza, a Mexican-American singer, and songwriter who has given another color to the female voice of Latin American music in the United States.

Her latest work, Borderland, is her fourth solo album and bilingual. In it, she visits folklore, as she has done in previous EPs, but also extends her scope to the search for the reality of what is happening at the border. 

A Trajectory of Social Commitment

Garza, 63, was born in Houston, Texas, to a family of artists that bequeathed her the name of her famous aunt Eva Garza, Mexican-American singer and actress of the 1930s.

She graduated in Liberal Arts from the University of Texas in Austin and since then has been involved in the artistic cosmos as an actress, professional dancer in contemporary dance companies, in the world of theater, and directing a multidisciplinary company for more than a decade.

Garza is also socially committed. Her music has a social conscience, identity, and the struggle of the Latinos as main themes, as well as the textures with which she works the mambo, the bolero, the cha cha cha, the merengue, or the cumbia.

Leti Garza comes from a celebrated family of singer-songwriters. And she draws from her North American roots in Texas Folk, Latin Jazz, and New Age; the Afro-Caribbean rhythms of Cuba’s son, danzon and boleros   Courtesy Leti Garza
Coming to Terms With Identity

Unlike most artists who often talk about the mythical inspiration that brought them to the stage, for Garza, the trajectory was not direct. Born into a family of artists with two brothers who are professional musicians, for the three-year-old Leti, being an artist was not a defined identity.

“My environment was filled with art, so I grew up thinking differently,” she said in an interview with Al Dia from her home in Houston.

“My environment was filled with art, so I grew up thinking differently,” she said in an interview with Al Dia from her home in Houston.

“In the beginning, I didn’t understand that I was different. I tried to run away from my identity as an artist for a long time. I had a hard time knowing I was an artist. I thought about being a lawyer or something. It was only with time that I realized my vocation,” she said.

 It wasn’t until her thirties that Garza would know that being an artist was her true and only path and that she would find a way to develop those things she needed to create.

 However, without the support of society at that time, and as a Latina woman in Texas, the road would not be easy.

 When telling her story, the singer explains that as a young girl, she only had two things: talent and confidence.

 “As a young girl, I remember asking teachers or advisors, and they would suggest that I go audition as an animal or play an Indian girl,” she recalls. “That wasn’t very helpful to me. Over the years, I understood the struggle of people of color to establish themselves in this country in a place of equality in the arts. That has also influenced my perception of what I wanted to express.”

“El Unico Para Mi,” Leti’s previous album, made Texas Music Magazine’s top-ten favorite albums released in 2017.    Tico Hernandez.
A Career in Constant Development

 For Garza, the path for an artist is constantly developing. Her ability to practice different artistic genres, and her experience for more than a decade with a multidisciplinary artistic company, have allowed her to understand art as energy in constant transformation.

 “The themes of my art are always the same,” she explains. “The tools are the genres I work with. But the themes are always consistent, and they are identity, human rights, inclusion, and diversity as a value. I would say that both my family and where I grew up in Texas informed me artistically of what I needed to express.”

 She sees the place where she was born as deeply complex, a sort of spider’s web of identities and influences that inspire her to create.

A Profound Reflection on the Border

 Garza’s latest EP, Borderland, functions as a metaphor for the artist’s experience in liminal zones, especially from a Latina perspective.

Borderland is a five-track album that moves from cold rawness to warm hope with a heavy dose of a typically Texas sound. It functions as a dialogue of her real-life experience and the border.

The proceeds from the album will go entirely to Global Response Management’s solidarity project, Garza said

 When listening to the work, it’s important to avoid a superficial understanding of the term ‘border’ and confront it in its social depth, as much as an artistic theme.

“It was something very organic,” she tells us. “I went to the border to do some performances at the end of 2018. I was with a group protesting the detentions of children, and when I came back from a protest to shut down an installation, at that point, I started writing music about immigration and the border.”

“I wanted to write something about what I saw and what I felt there, and that was in both languages,” she said.

“I wanted to write something about what I saw and what I felt there, and that was in both languages,” she said.

The border is much more than a line. It can be a hope-devouring monster as much as a lifelong question mark or the path to new dreams.

“The border is a place where people from different countries can find conflict or hope,” Garza reflects. “I prefer to find solutions.”

Leti’s newest EP, Borderland, reflects her belief that human relationships and our responsibilities to one another transcend national borders.  Courtesy Leti Garza
 A Different Color

Garza’s artistry goes beyond reinterpreting the traditional. It is a personal process in which the singer offers a different color to the notes, in genres such as bolero and merengue, the mainstream has made into tropes.

“I think Latin American music is so rich because we are passionate people, and the sadness you hear in a song like a bolero has no substitute,” Garza said. “Everyone wants to write boleros, but not everyone can.”

“Merengue music, on the other hand, is intoxicating and forces you to forget about your harsh reality in life. It’s a ying-yang thing. It has different sides. We are either at a very high point or a very low one,” she said.

The best example of this mastery is her song “Crazy Border Madness,” which opens her new EP. Between melancholic chords and a silky voice, she introduces the listener to that atmosphere that crosses the border — and she does it in English.

“One day, a few months ago, I woke up in the wee hours of the morning and listened to the chords of the song. I listened to its simplicity over some Tejano music. I heard the rhythm and the guitar in my head,” she said. 

“I woke up and wrote it on my phone. Then, I thought it was too simple the same morning, and then I started writing down what I thought about the border,” Garza said.

“The concept of the border that I found is something that is beyond my understanding and has led me to write music,” she said. “And for that, I am very grateful.” 

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