On Mexican Independence Day weekend two years ago, the Texicana Mamas stepped on stage together for the first time at the famed Bluebird Cafe in Nashville.
Not officially a band at the time, Austin-based artists Tish Hinojosa and Patricia Vonne came together with Stephanie Urbina Jones (of Nashville via Texas) for a night celebrating Latinas.
At the Bluebird, known for spotlighting many of the country’s significant songwriters, music lovers typically follow the listening room’s "shh policy," designed to create a quiet atmosphere where songwriters and audience members can concentrate on the music.
But something special happened that night, when the three fierce women, who have all blazed trails in their noted solo careers, commanded the stage together. People leapt out of their seats, danced and cheered inside the legendary venue.
"It was amazing," Vonne says. "They were all screaming gritos and being very, very rowdy."
The trio quickly sensed this wasn’t just one magical night of music. "We've lived enough in our life to know when something bigger is happening and guiding us," Urbina Jones says. Vonne often describes their coming together as providence, and the women decided to surrender to it.
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So far, it’s led them to performances at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, collaborations with Latino voter registration organization Voto Latino and the Friday release of their debut self-titled album.
"Now is the time for this music," Urbina Jones says. "Now is the time for our Latina voices to stand up to inspire and to fortify."
The Mamas, as they refer to themselves, like many folks had their lives and schedules shaken up when the coronavirus pandemic hit this spring. Plans to perform at what would have been South by Southwest’s first official Latinapalooza showcase were canceled. Concerts aimed at amplifying border issues transformed into virtual shows.
But one thing didn’t change. The Mamas felt that now more than ever, their bicultural and bilingual songs, which speak of resilience, hope and finding light amid the darkness, were urgent.
The trio decided against postponing their summer album release and instead pushed forward, adjusted and did what they could to get the music out at a time when they say listeners could use some "Mama energy."
"We just made it work; we've done what mamas do," says Urbina Jones, who was the mastermind behind the Texicana Mamas band name. "What do we need to do to meet the moment?"
For Vonne and Hinojosa, that meant dashing plans to travel to Nashville to record the album’s final songs. Instead, they finished recording in Austin and sent Urbina Jones the tracks to record her part. Before that, they had taken a lightning trip to McAllen to record a couple of songs and music videos — right before things began to shut down.
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Adjusting amid a pandemic also meant improvising the music video for their uplifting bilingual single "Cocina de Amor (Kitchen of Love)," which was released earlier this summer. The song, inspired by a plaque that hangs in Hinojosa’s kitchen that reads "Cocina de Mamá," celebrates the inspiration and community that happens in kitchens everywhere. The band asked their global fanbase to submit videos while cooking in their kitchens during quarantine. Submissions poured in from countries like Austria and Germany. They plan to shoot other music videos in that similar at-home style while the pandemic continues.
Their mama energy, they say, includes a love of their Latino roots and a nurturing and compassionate instinct that binds them all. Their commitment to social justice and creating change comes through in songs such as "Esperanza (Hope)," which illuminates a woman’s journey crossing the U.S./Mexico border with her child, and "American Dream," about the toll it takes immigrants to strive for a better life in this country. With the songs written at a time of escalating anti-immigrant rhetoric across the nation, Hinojosa says there’s a need for more stories highlighting cultural pride, identity and understanding. "All of us feel it in our heart that we want to do something," she says. "Our shared love for our Mexican American heritage and storytelling adds a depth and dimension that I’m proud to be a part of."
The album’s songs are driven by character-rich stories that envelop readers like a novel. "It’s different than what’s been done before," Hinojosa says. "There are so many great possibilities for presentations beyond Texas and to play it for the world."
Influenced by roots music on both sides of the border, the trio highlights everything from Mexican rhythms to Americana. Along with their original songs, the Mamas cover Linda Ronstadt’s "Lo Siento Mi Vida" and Los Lobos’ "Cancion del Mariachi," featured in the movie "Desperado," directed by Vonne’s brother, Austin-based director Robert Rodriguez.
Grammy Award-winning musicians Flaco Jimenez and Max Baca also are featured in "Amigas de Corazón," a song about the bonds of friendship and sisterhood.
Over the years, the Mamas each have carved a distinct musical path, whether it’s been earning songwriting recognition from the Texas Institute of Letters for literary achievement like Hinojosa, or creating a unique blend of mariachi and country music like Urbina Jones, or infusing Latin rhythms with a rocker spirit like Vonne. But there’s an undeniable force in the supergroup that’s blossomed.
"We feel unstoppable," Vonne says. "We feel a calling."
For now, the Mamas are pouring their time and hearts into the collective and seeing where providence leads.