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That old adage says the more things change, the more they stay the same, and that holds true in music as much as anywhere else. Garage rock has come back again and again, and the 1980s, it seems, will never die (thanks, Kanye, for their latest iteration). And some artists are capable of drawing inspiration from these already-blazed trails, while still maintaining their own identity. But more often than not, what they come up with is imitation, duplication, and bastardization.
Luckily, Mexican newcomer Ximena Sariñana falls into the former camp. When she was just a tot, her parents took her to an Ella Fitzgerald concert, and thus was born her love affair with classic vocal jazz. She has taken hold of the genre with expert nimbleness, but placed it beneath a torch, warping and reshaping it until she has sculpted something entirely new. Sariñana's fresh style is a blend of jazz's traditional vocal stylings, updated with a touch of soul, modern alternative sensibilities, and subtle Latin underpinnings. It's no wonder the 23-year-old's debut album, Mediocre, is being celebrated by major national publications such as Rolling Stone and Billboard.
Another refreshing thing about her: She accepts the accolades with matter-of-fact humility. "My sound, I think, is circumstantial," Sariñana says. "I really just kind of put my instinct to work, and my influences are definitely jazz, pop, rock, and a bit of electronica and world music. And all the sounds that went in really just felt like a part of me."
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More specifically, she has been compared to the likes of Edith Piaf, Astrud Gilberto, Norah Jones, and, most often, Fiona Apple. The last is probably closest to the truth, and it's not one from which she shies away. "I think it's a nice comparison. I don't have a problem with people comparing me to anyone," Sariñana says, "as long as it's someone I like." She says she understands it's "a natural thing for people to do, to assimilate you into artists that are already in the drift. Of course I don't think my music sounds 100 percent new or different. I just try to keep it real and honest, and I think this is a very honest record."
In fact, she says, among her greatest artistic influences are her parents. Sariñana was born in Mexico City, Mexico in 1985 to producer/director Fernando Sariñana and screenwriter Carolina Rivera. "They took me to see a lot of concerts and art," she says. "I was always going to operas and ballets and tons of concerts — from opera singers to Pink Floyd to Paul Simon to Robert Plant to Ella Fitzgerald — a little bit of everything. And they always encouraged us to play instruments. You walk into my parents' house and you immediately sense that it's a creative environment."
A precocious girl, Sariñana began taking vocal lessons at age 7 following the advice of her neighbor, singer Cecilia Toussaint. Soon thereafter, she started studying the piano, and by age 11 she had landed a role in the Mexican telenovela Luz Clarita. She followed that with a role in another novela titled Maria Isabel the following year, before moving to the big screen for a number of roles in Mexican films, including El Segundo Aire (The Second Wind), Niñas Mal (Bad Girls), Dos Abrazos (Two Embraces), and Enemigos Intimos (Intimate Enemies).
But her greatest artistic achievement yet comes in the form of her debut full-length album, the ironically named Mediocre. The spellbinding album comprises 12 tracks that showcase this young singer-songwriter's immense talent and artistic maturity. Mediocre has been a labor of love two years in the making and represents, she says, her own refusal to complacently accept mediocrity.
"We'd been developing [the album] for almost two years already between recording and the record deal and releasing it," Sariñana says. "And I kind of wanted to bring myself to terms with this midpoint that I have such a problem with. When I listen back to all the songs, I realize I'm very much an extreme person, and I kind of hated this midpoint in my life, so I wanted to confirm myself with it and I named the album Mediocre."
Regardless of the name game, the success of the album has prompted Sariñana to set out on her first U.S. tour, which kicks off April 18 in Miami at the North Beach Bandshell. She will also make stops in New York, Washington, Chicago, and various cities in California and Texas before returning to her native Mexico.
"I'm really excited," she says. "In Mexico, you play every weekend and then you have the chance to come home. So this is the first time I'm going to have the opportunity to go on the road two and a half weeks, which is very big for me."
Fans can expect to see an intimate show worth watching live. "We definitely create a different musical environment than the one you hear on the album," she says. "It's a different experience, and the whole band has great chemistry together. It's going to be a lot of fun to watch."