Music industry

Mexican-American Leah Turner is shaking up the country music industry

If there’s one genre in the music industry that’s considered one of the least diverse, it’s country music, but singer Leah Turner hopes to change that. Her mother is a first-generation Mexican American and her father is a rodeo champ and that’s one of the main reasons she’s one of the few Latinas in the country scene. The 34-year-old singer signed with Colombia Records in 2013 after music icon Kenny Loggins heard her sing and convinced her to move from Santa Barbara, where she was attending college, to Los Angeles.

She is one of a handful of Mexican-born country artists who carve space for their stories and musicality in a musical genre historically dominated by mostly Southern white men. Leah is in a small but mighty category with other Latinx country singers including Rosie Flores, Kat & Alex and Star De Azlan. Her 2013 hit “Take the Keys” peaked at No. 37 on Billboard’s country airplay chart, making her the highest-ranking Mexican in country music and she hopes this is just the start of a story. greatest representation of Latinx in country music.

“When I was told that by the Los Angeles Time, I cried! It shows that it is long overdue. It is a need and there is a huge void, which I have the honor to fill. To show that country music is for everyone. The Mexicanos are there”, she says HipLatina. “It’s an honor to be a first in a genre that I love so much, an honor to show Mexicans that we have a place in country music, and to show little girls that the sky is the limit when we get on it.”

Mexican-born artists have been around for decades, but recognition remains a rarity. Lindi Ortega, The Mavericks, The Last Bandoleros and Rick Trevino are among the established Mexican country music artists who have risen to fame over the past 30 years. Iconic country singer Linda Ronstadt’s 1987 album Canciones de Mi Padre (Songs of my father) features mariachi music as a tribute to her Mexican German father and its release was a pivotal moment, according to the country music blog, The boot. Trevino’s highest charting hit, “Running Out of Reasons to Run,” reached No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs chart in 1996. Turner’s success on the charts is an indicator of a potential shift toward more inclusiveness. , but a stark reminder of the years in between Mexican country singers topping the country music charts.

Inclusion and representation are hard to come by for Latinx people in various industries, but while true Latinx people in country music are rare, music about our culture by non-Latinx white artists is much more common and it tends to spin around the good times. and drink tequila. As early as 1955, there have been references to tequila and the US-Mexico border. In “Drinking Tequila” (1955), Jim Reeves sings about tasting tequila on a trip to Juarez. Alan Jackson sings, “I need a little time to vegetate my mind, get away from my reality / Just Mexico, tequila and me” in “Mexico, Tequila and Me” (2015). Tim McGraw’s “That’s Why God Made Mexico” (2002) roughly sums up how Mexican culture is often depicted: “And that’s why God made Mexico/A place we can lay down/ Where the Cuervo descends well and slowly.”

Leah hopes to change that and tell more nuanced stories from her own experience. “I would love to see more people in country music whose culture is actually [Mexican], not just having a good time drinking tequila, wearing a sombrero on vacation. I mean it’s a lot of fun but actually the stories of the vaqueros and the hard working, family oriented, believers in the faith and of course the parties but for it to actually come from the peoples whose it’s culture,” she shares. It emphasizes the Mexican history of the rodeo popularized by the vaqueros in the Southwest that has played such an influential role in the culture and style of country music, but its roots are neither recognized nor widely known.

We’re not just tacos, tequila, señoritas, and jalapeños. The two cultures of American cowboy, vaqueros and country music themes mirror each other. I just wish Mexicans could see themselves in that mirror.

Leah says bringing her Mexican roots into her music was the only way to approach her. “There’s been so much representation of Mexican culture in country music for so long, I had to marry them, the two cultures have been dancing for so long.”

This opportunity to break into country music feels like the American dream is coming alive for Leah, and she’s grateful for the sacrifices made by her maternal grandparents. “[They] risked everything to come here from Mexico with two children in tow for a better life. Giving my mother and her siblings an opportunity that never came. Because of their fearlessness and their struggle, I sit here today singing my diverse life through a country song. It’s the American dream.

One of her most personal songs – “Vaquera and the Cowboy” – is about her parents’ love affair, made all the more important to her given that when they married she was considered controversial. “My parents got married in a time when you didn’t marry outside of your race…but they let the vibes be felt, the chemistry be seen and they looked at the heart.”

They inspired her to name her EP lost in translation and appeared in the song’s music video. This EP is her current project as she is currently working on re-issuing it in Spanish in October with some additional new material. The album was a passion project which she says hasn’t been pushed back much, which she attributes to timing, as there is now more pressure for inclusivity and diversity, especially in the realm of music. entertainment, but there is still a long way to go.

“In the past, when I wanted to embrace myself entirely, the Mexican side and the cowgirl side, I was told ‘This is not the right time, let’s focus on the campaign’ I think it was said from a place of protection because of the way country music audiences can be, they weren’t ready. What they didn’t know is that they were ready all along because the garth songs [Brooks]George Strait, Reba [McMcEntire]Chris Ledoux are all based on the Vaqueros, the rodeo.

She’s had to deal with her fair share of ignorance, including a former manager who called her “taco” in private as well as on work calls. But it was social media trolls who spat out the most hateful comments, including “go back to Mexico”, “You have Latin music, we have country. Stop trying to change everything”, and “Why the hell does she speak Spanish?” Beyond eliminating animosity and racism in the industry, she wants people, in general, to understand the diversity within the Latinx community:” Although all cultures are beautiful and have similarities, we are not the same.”

Since her debut in 2013, she has toured or shared the stage with country stars such as Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, Jake Owen, Rascal Flatts and Cole Swindell. This month, some of her outfits as well as her guitar and handwritten lyrics from her latest “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” will be on display as part of a country music exhibit at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles that will open on 27. This is yet another way for her to increase the visibility of Mexican culture on the country music scene.

“Culture has been represented in hats, conchos, turquoise, and even the subject of many country music songs. He was not represented by someone whose culture it has been for a very long time, someone who has blood running through his veins. So for me to be able to be at the forefront of educating the country music world about where American cowboy traditions originated is an honor,” she shares. “Few people know that the Vaqueros were the first cowboys, where the rodeo came from, or even what the shape of the hats they wear represent. There hasn’t been a Mexican American in country music for over 20 years. And for me to be not just a woman in country music, but a Mexicana in country music, that’s exciting for me. I can represent both sides of who I am in a genre I love so much and a culture that’s been around for so long.