Riding in an Uber and listening to '90s R&B on my way to the AT&T Compaq Store off U.S. 59, just across the highway from the old Summit, I felt nostalgic and transported to my youth, remembering life at a simpler time.
“R&B is dead,” the driver interrupted my daydream. “Music back then made you want to do something. It made you want to…” and he pauses.
“It made you want to fall in love,” I finished his sentence.
“Yes!” he exclaimed.
A few minutes later, I arrived to find a line stretching the side of the building. All of them were AT&T customers who had braved the heavy, muggy, and humid air to see Spanish-pop legend Julieta Venegas in an exclusive, private acoustic showcase designed just for them.
I’m no deep-cut expert on Venegas’ catalogue, but I was there because for the last seven years I’ve been writing on music’s intersection with business, culture and politics. This had two of the three.
I was third in line behind Telemundo and Univision reporters interviewing Venegas. Young, hard-working Hispanic PR and experiential marketing professionals were scrambling for every little detail. I like to see that, though the Spanish shooting back and forth made me nervous. I asked the PR guy, “Is she good with English?”
I think I asked four times.
He reassured me that Venegas is good with English. Of course she is. The Grammy- and Latin Grammy- winning, Mexican-born artist grew up in Tijuana and attended college in San Diego. She represents the effortless adaptability shown by many Hispanics in the U.S.
Billboard once wrote that, “Venegas has maintained one of the most consistent yet understated careers since her solo debut, Aquí, more than two decades ago. A pioneer whose music and image have broken Latina stereotypes, Venegas has forged a path between Latin alternative and pop music, and supported the cresting of a strong wave of Mexican female artists."
Venegas told me she was in Houston because of AT&T, who is launching a series of private music showcases across the country for Hispanic audiences. The kick-off, held last Thursday, was in H-Town, part of their #ExpresaTuPasion campaign. It's an MTV Unplugged-like experience that Venegas says takes her tracks “back to their essence,” with just two band members supporting her with guitar and percussion.
“I like the idea that I can communicate through music, but I also like the idea that music will bring us together in different ways,” Venegas said about what the hashtag represents to her. “Sometimes in songs I get to say things that I don’t dare say speaking to people. I think music brings us together in a very spontaneous way, which I really enjoy.”
Venegas has an incredibly calm disposition that puts people at ease with her fame. She reminds me of the cool, older sister I never had, who will never stop being cool. You know, the one who speaks English, Portuguese, and Spanish and plays acoustic guitar, accordion, and keyboard — the one that has won five Latin Grammys and one Grammy Award.
Yeah, I don’t have that sister, but for five minutes I felt like I did.
“I started coming to Texas maybe 15 years ago, and I think my relationship has grown with Houston,” said Venegas. “When I used to come I really didn’t get it. I thought it was very modern and I didn’t see any trees, and now I see the trees.”
She meant she sees her passionate cult following that exists in major cities across the country with big Mexican and Mexican-American populations, who are captivated by her chalky voice. It’s soft and silky and wraps around you.
And inside a small setting, it hypnotizes. The showcase was magical. There are two things that make live music effective – the artist’s ability to reach into the heart and soul of the audience and that audience’s visible and audible reactions to the moment. It was all there.
You can see the set list pictured here, but I want to call out two moments that were important and memorable. Both came when she deviated from the set list.
The first was a spirited and emotional cover of “Querida” by the recently deceased Juan Gabriel, whose August 28 passing shocked fans around the world. Before the show, Venegas talked to me about her relationship with Gabriel. She recently shared a leaked demo that was supposed to feature collaboration between her and the legend. It never happened, but it felt like she was singing to him Thursday night.
The second was when she sang 2003 megahit “Lento,” where her lyrics poetically play with the meaning of time and love. She sings if you want a part of her, the suitor should wait and walk slowly – very slowly. And little by little forget time and its speed. Disrupt the rhythm, pursue delicately and wait.
It’s a blueprint to a woman’s heart. It’s a song that transports me to a simpler time. It makes someone want to do something, like maybe fall in love.
Not all is lost to the '90s.