They say you can’t go home again, but Mexican-born singer Diana Gameros did — musically at least — with her sophomore album Arrullo and its opening track, “Despierta,” which is premiering exclusively below.
Gameros, who came to America as an undocumented immigrant during her teens, made the 13-track album of Mexican classics — due out Nov. 10 — as a tribute to her hometown of Ciudad Juarez, where she hasn’t been for 15 years. “This album is extremely dear to me,” Gameros, who recorded Arrullo with a grant from the Women’s Audio Mission, tells Billboard. “I kind of did it as an homage to the little farm town where it was I learned these songs in the first place. I had a vision plan to record an album of Mexican songs. I had a gig for seven years playing in a Mexican restaurant, every Friday and Saturday, playing Mexican songs. I built up a 300-, 400-song repertoire and always thought, ‘I need to record an album of Mexican songs. People know me for that.'”
The potential repertoire was huge, of course, and Gameros’ choices were guided by what she felt she could do best. “I don’t have a mariachi voice; I have more of a soft voice,” she says. “And I knew it had to be a relatively simple album. I always did these songs live, just my voice and a guitar.” Arrullo, which means lullaby, also features Gameros’ mother, Altagracia Estupinan, and grandmother, Leonarda Renteria, who help accent an overall theme.
“Everything pointed at wanting to do something material, something mellower, good-sounding and dreamy,” she explains. “I had this thing bugging me about doing lullabies; I thought maybe if I combine that idea and doing slower Mexican songs I know and put that together it would be right. And it was. Maybe next time I can do a volume two with more uptempo ones.”
“Despierta,” which means “Wake Up,” is not surprisingly positioned at the beginning of Arrullo. “This is a song used to wake up and serenade a loved one,” Gameros says. “They would actually go and wake her up at two or three in the morning, not when you should be waking up and starting your day. It’s more, ‘Wake up from your dreams. I’m here to tell you I love you,’ and then after you sing to her, she goes back to sleep.” Gameros also changed a pronoun at the end of the song so her version of “Despierta” could also address her family back in Mexico. “I wanted to make it as an offering for the whole family, not just the one loved one,” she says. “It’s a real subtle thing, but to me it means something special.”
Gameros — who spent part of her teen years in western Michigan and now resides in San Francisco and has watched from afar as her family has dealt with the drug cartels and militarized police back in Mexico — will launch Arrullo with November performances in San Francisco and Brooklyn. She’s also looking forward to returning to her homeland for the first time in 15 years with the imminent arrival of her green card after more than two decades of undocumented existence.
“In this climate sometimes I worry; I almost don’t want to claim victory until I have that card in my hand,” Gameros says. “What if they say to all the people waiting for their green cars, ‘Never mind…’ The Muslim ban is so radical and so out there; We didn’t think it would be possible and it happened. But that’s kind of how we roll. There’s this muscle of tolerance and patience that immigrants have that make us more patient, more tolerant. Maybe we endure a little bit more, and we’re good, despite everything that can make us afraid.”