The late, great banda singer Jenni Rivera once said “haters are just confused fans.” So it makes sense that although Jenni’s eldest daughter Chiquis seems to have an equal ratio of the latter to gung-ho cheerleaders, this in no way has deterred her from pursuing her own career in music.
And why should it? At 29, Chiquis has already endured more pain and tragedy than most people could conceive of (including losing her mother in a plane crash on Dec. 9, 2012) and has lived to tell the tale.
Despite being booed quite loudly on social media upon the release of her first single back in early 2014 (“Paloma Blanca” — more on that later), Chiquis dusted herself off and tried again, but not without remastering a few things, literally and figuratively.
Which brings us to this, her commendable debut album, Ahora (Now), the title of which suggests a sense of urgency to live in the moment, go after her dreams and shut out all the noise.
A bilingual banda album that flirts with other genres, it suggests ample room for growth. But that seems to be the intention, according to Chiquis.
“I don’t think that I sing like Celine Dion, but I’m not a horrible singer,” Chiquis tells Billboard. “I was watching a video the other day of my mom when she was first starting. She grew into this monster onstage, she really dominated it, but it wasn’t always like that. People forget that.”
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“With this album I kind of want to give a little bit of everything,” adds Chiquis, “a little bit of English, a little bit of pop. I’m still trying to find my sound. But the more that I try new things, the more I realize how much I love banda. It’s more rugged. It’s actually very difficult to sing banda — you have to compete with the instruments, these huge arrangements.”
The ultimate goal is simple, declares Chiquis: “It’s not even about proving to the world that I can do it; it’s about proving to myself that I can do it and feel content with saying, ‘At least I tried it and now I can move on to the next thing.”
While Jenni’s presence is definitely felt on the album, starting with the very first song, Chiquis has made the first memorable attempt at carving her own identity in the male-dominated world of regional Mexican music — no easy feat, but then again, she learned from the best.
Read on for Billboard’s track-by-track review of Chiquis Rivera’s Ahora.
“Amor Eterno” — By covering this classic, originally penned by Mexican icon Juan Gabriel to mourn the loss of his own mother in 1974, Chiquis starts things off on a nostalgic note. Far more seasoned singers have tackled the song, from Rocío Durcal to Gabriel himself, but Chiquis sings from the heart here, and even customizes the lyrics in one important instance. “Tu eres el amor del cual yo tengo el más triste recuerdo de Diciembre (you’re the love of whom I have the saddest memory in December),” she sings. The original lyrics say Acapulco instead of December.
“Esa No Soy Yo” — Released as a single last summer, this empowering break-up anthem shows that Chiquis’ sessions with vocal coach /singer Julio Reyes are paying off.
“Aprovéchame” — A sexy, cumbia-flavored cut in which Chiquis tells a lover what she likes and how she likes it, while keeping it classy. “Con tanta curva tu no vas a saber cómo frenar y retroceder (with so many curves you won’t know how to brake or turn back),” she sings playfully. Generally speaking, Chiquis sounds more confident on rhythmic tracks such as this one than on the slower tempo jams that require more control.
“Paloma Blanca (Vuela Libre)” — Save for one or two high notes slightly outside of her comfort zone, Chiquis offers a memorable ranchera-infused tribute to her mother. This newly arranged version is far superior to the one of the same name that Chiquis released as a single in early 2014. In her recently released book Forgiveness, she shared her regrets about releasing the song when she did, especially as the negative comments poured in on social media: “In my defense, I will say that it’s a difficult song, with a lot of fluctuation between the bass and the treble,” Chiquis wrote in the chapter titled “White Dove.” “But the cut that was released on the radio was not the one that should have been published. I never had the chance to correctly master the song.” To arrive at the right sound, Chiquis re-recorded the track with a new producer, Sebastian Jacome, known for his work with Ozomatli, among other Latin acts.
“Suéñalo” — In this banda-flavored ballad co-penned by ASCAP Latin songwriter of the year winner Claudia Brant, Chiquis shows off some soaring vocals padded with big horns. The song’s message, about mending a broken heart by wholeheartedly believing in the eventual arrival of one’s true love, is uplifting.
“Completamente” — Chiquis picks up the tempo a bit for her latest single, a danceable, percussion-driven, tequila-drenched party song reminiscent of her mother’s hit “Parrandera, Rebelde y Atrevida” (less in sound than in spirit).
“Feliz de la Vida” — In this traditional, polka-like banda track, Chiquis celebrates the end of a failed relationship and revels in her newfound independence.
“La MalQuerida” — Slightly different than her usual banda fare, this track, co-written with pop diva Gloria Trevi, has flamenco elements and a tropical orchestra backing Chiquis. Released as a single earlier this year, it shows off Chiquis’ ability to credibly dabble in other rhythms.
“Esa No Soy Yo” (pop version) — Just as her mother used to famously do, Chiquis takes one of her better-known tunes and offers an alternate pop version.
“Ahora” — A happy accordion, an acoustic guitar and dance-y synths propel this song forward. The lyrics stay true to the album’s inspirational theme: “Abrazaré la vida y que el corazón me siga sin preguntar (I’m going to embrace life and my heart will follow).”
“Paloma Negra” — In this imaginative cover of Tomás Mendez’s Mexican standard (which Jenni Rivera famously recorded and later dedicated to Chiquis after their falling out), Chiquis and Julio Reyes trade verses about someone who betrayed their trust. Chiquis even raps a few bars toward the end (not surprising, since she has said that she would like to record a hip-hop-flavored single one day).
“CPR” — Another departure from the album’s banda sound, this one features synth keyboards that hark back to late ‘90s/early 2000’s-era Spanish pop in the style of Paulina Rubio, coming across more dated than throwback.
“I’m Not That Girl” — Just in case two Spanish versions of the same song (“Esa No Soy Yo”) aren’t enough, Chiquis throws in an English pop one.
“Paper Bullets” — The album ends on a high note with this energetic, English-language dance-pop confection, the kind that almost begs for a “Dale!” from Pitbull (maybe one day he just might pop up on a remix). “You can hate me but you won’t change me,” sings Chiquis. And you believe her.