When Guadalajara-based singer/songwriter Sara Valenzuela is not churning out the most charming indie pop ever to have emerged from Mexico -- see Lado Este, her Suzanne Vega-flavored 2005 solo debut, on which Marc Ribot (Elvis Costello, Tom Waits) and Melvin Gibbs (Rollins Band, Marisa Monte) pitch in -- the former lead singer of the pop-punk act La Dosis hosts the radio program Jazz Solo in her hometown. She began hosting the show in 1991, and although most artists would consider weekly DJ duties a sideline, for Valenzuela they're a gateway to more informed artistry.
"I didn't know I liked jazz when I started the show," said Valenzuela, who was born in Mexico City in 1968 and moved to Guadalajara soon after. "But when I started to dig in I realized I liked the music a lot. And all different kinds, from ragtime to avant-garde. I used to be influenced by the Who, by Peter Gabriel, but also by soul singers like Marvin Gaye. Now I'm influenced by Billie Holiday and other jazz singers, because I try to be more open. It's easier to find your voice that way," said Valenzuela in a phone interview shortly after the stateside release of Lado Este on independent label Nacional Records.
Fans who helped land La Dosis their contract with Sony during the band's 1994 to 2001 run made known their approval for the voice Valenzuela was inhabiting then: the act released three albums to wide acclaim. But after years of collaborating, Valenzuela felt the pull to perform independently. That decision -- birthed with Lado Este -- pays off in the sleepy, well-worn vocals of such songs as "Para Continuar" and "Si Me Voy." As with most successful Spanish-language singers, Valenzuela's voice requires no translation, only the willingness to succumb (in her case) to a thoughtful state of mind. Even so, Valenzuela plans to return to fronting a band. Actually, two: with Guadalajara's Soul Tonic, she will perform soul covers, and with Cheek Freak, also from Guadalajara, she will dabble in experimental jazz-rock. ~ Tammy La Gorce