Time for another BAMM.tv Artist Of The Month feature: a selection of great music, exclusive articles and prize giveaways (among other things) from one of our favorite up-and-coming artists. This month we put San Francisco singer-songwriter Diana Gameros under the spotlight …
Soulfulness is a hard thing to quantify. People are a varied breed, and experience tells us it would be foolish to go all-out and categorise emotional response – music that leaves one listener cold may well prove to save the life of another. Music may be universal but the gamut of reactions works on a far more personal level – an innate form of relativism that both unites and separates us all.
Sometimes, though … sometimes you just have to appreciate the resonance of an artist. Opera may not do it for you, but you can’t help but quiver at the bombastic authority of a tenor or soprano. Heavy rock could well be the last thing you’d listen to, but you’ve have to be a cultural zero-mark not to marvel at a virtuoso guitar solo. As for emotive, Latin-tinged, classical acoustic songwriting? That might be outside your sphere altogether, but – frankly – if you’re not massively moved by the heart-stopping performances of Diana Gameros, then you might as well nail that coffin lid down now.
Luckily – here at BAMM.TV – we are big fans of emotive, Latin-tinged, classical acoustic songwriting. And we’re even bigger fans of the heart-stopping performances of Diana Gameros.
Stick around, and you might just find out why.
Put aside all the bad things you know about Juarez, Mexico. Just for a second. Okay, so not a day goes by without a broadsheet paper or 60 Minutes feature lamenting the ‘murder capital of the world’ – it’s going to be tough. But – in the spiritual context that her music conveys – try to open your mind a little. Imagine something positive reaching out from that place. Something life-affirming.
That’s what Diana Gameros did. While she now counts herself as a proud inhabitant of San Francisco, Diana initially hailed from Juarez, and is somewhat dismayed at the present reputation of the place. “I lived in Juarez my entire childhood,” she explained to BAMM.TV as part of an exclusive documentary (‘City Of Fog’, which examines her experiences as an immigrant, alongside Sandy Garcia Perez, a musician from Cuba). “It’s a border city that is next to El Paso, Texas. It’s a city that – in the last few years – has become famous for the violence, the drug trafficking, and the high crime rate. But when I was little, things weren’t that bad. I had a normal childhood, a beautiful childhood. I went out to play in the streets with my friends, with the kids from the block.”
It was during those childhood years that Diana fell in love with music. “I had an influence – a very strong one, I think – from seeing my uncles play and my mother sing,” she recalls. In one way or another, music was always present in the house.When I was five years old, my mother bought me a little keyboard from a market. And when I was born, my paternal grandmother – when she saw my skinny hands and my long fingers – told my mother ‘this girl is going to be a pianist’.”
Her grandmother was clearly a sharp lady – her prediction turned out to trounce anything the jokers on the Psychic Network have to offer. As Diana grew, her exploration of music ran concurrently with her exploration of the wider world. “I was thirteen years old when I first left Juarez,” she remembers. “My uncle took me on a trip to spend summer in Holland, Michigan. Holland is a little town on Lake Michigan, you could call it a beach town. At the end of that period I decided – when it was time to go to college – to go back there to study.”
“I graduated in Recording and in Music. When I finished my studies in Michigan, I knew that I wanted a change. It was either go back to Mexico and start working with contacts I had there, or go to another city where I could continue cultivating my art. My mother and I decided to take a trip to San Francisco to celebrate her birthday …”
And this – in a manner which will be familiar to many who have visited the Bay Area – was when her love affair with the city began. “I was mesmerized by the architecture of the houses, the bay, the ocean, the weather, the cultural diversity, the people going about their day-to-day life. It was like a magical experience. I remember walking in Russian Hill (one of San Francisco’s districts). I remember seeing a young woman carrying a bag of groceries … and when I saw her, I felt like I wanted to live in this city. I had a vision and the feeling was so intense, I swear it was like something magical.”
And? “And four months later I was living here.”
The relocation to San Francisco turned out to be the most important part of Diana’s musical development – not just in terms of opportunities for exposure and career development, but as an artistic development too. For an artist who maintains that “one gig at a time is bliss”, her workrate (both creative and practical) is an enviable one.
“My experience moving to San Francisco was exactly how I had hoped it would be,” she explains. “It was magical. I think – in a way – being here is a reward, because San Francisco has turned into a crucial place for me. It’s because I live here that I am motivated to keep making music. I get more convinced of this every day when I go out onto the streets, and encounter people who are making art, who are making a living from art, or people who support art. I’m very fortunate to be in a city where art and music count.”
How has this affected her sound, then – a lyrical and soulful acoustic blend which has only become more affecting with time? “I feel that a very important part of my artistic inspiration is the fact that I’m away from my country … away from my family.” On the technical side, she has blossomed even further too.“I’m more adventurous when choosing instrumentation and developing sonic textures for my songs,” she explains. “I’m less afraid to experiment with new sounds.” And what exactly are those sounds? How would she describe them? “The result of a mariachi band composed of Brazilian-pop musicians playing a quiet show at a coffee shop in Paris.” Ah. That old chestnut.
Diana’s on-stage kit has now graduated to including a Takamine (an electric-acoustic guitar) and a P-120 Yamaha electric piano, and she is occasionally joined by fellow musicians Raúl Vargas (mouth harp, castanets), Kenan O’Brian (bass) and Isaac Weiser (flute, melodica). Her technical know-how and prowess is further highlighted by the fact that she lists experimental composer Phillip Glass as one of her major influences.
In terms of other artists who she draws creative inspiration from, she “won’t name specific people. I listen to a lot of traditional ethnic music from all over the world; I’ve always been fascinated by all the different techniques, rhythms and approach that each culture offers with its music. But I also love dreamy, spacious, minimalist modern music.” Asking her what her ideal gig would be, however, does elicit some notion of who these heroes might – she’d love to play a show “with Glass, Chavela Vargas, Jónsi, Esperanza Spalding, Shankar, Juan Albarrán, Gilberto Gil, Waters and Altagracia Estupiñan, all on stage performing the same music at the Cuadrángulo de las Monjas.”
Dream venues aside, she’s no slouch gig-wise as it is. An ongoing Friday and Saturday residency at the Roosevelt Tamale Parlor has seen her gather a dedicated fanbase, as well as heightened – and very complimentary – attention from critical quarters. Refinery 29 went so far as to label her the ‘Latin Feist’, which certainly implies that BAMM.TV aren’t the only ones who believe Diana is destined for big things.
And what about those BAMM.TV performances – heart-in-your-mouth recitals of ‘Para Papa’ and ‘Deja Que Salga La Luna’? It’s not often that a hushed silence hits the crowd here at BAMM, but Diana managed to pull this off with aplomb. How was the experience for her? “I had a really great time! Everyone was very organized, professional and friendly. I never saw any of the staff going crazy or stressed out during the production of the videos. Great energy all around, which allow me to flow freely during my performance.”
Hey – it’s all about energy. Diana’s music is proof enough of that.
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