by Ana Betancourt
When we think or talk about “country music,” I’m pretty sure the last thing that comes to mind for most is a Latin artist. A few years ago, we wouldn’t have thought about a Latin singer in this industry, other than those few like Johnny Rodriguez and Freddy Fender who have broken through the systemic barriers to achieve fame. Now imagine a performer who is not only Latin but also queer. Before setting out to write this piece, that idea had never come to mind for me, even as a queer and Latin country fan.
As we begin honoring Hispanic Heritage Month, there’s history that must be written for Latin singers in every genre, and country music won’t be the exception. In researching the world of Latin queer country, I was thrilled to get to know this array of artists who are making a name for queer Latinxs and Hispanics in an unexpected place.
There are, of course, some big names in queer singer-songwriter music within Latin America. In Mexico, Juan Gabriel (born as Alberto Aguilera) is one of the biggest. Never afraid of hiding anything, he will always be one of the country’s greatest musical icons. In Costa Rica, there’s the story of Chavela Vargas, a troubadour with lots of stories who never left behind her love for women.
Here’s a list of modern-day queer Latin country performers who you should keep an eye on, because this chapter within the music isn’t going to be written by itself. It must be made by and for us.
In speaking to press, the bisexual Puerto Rican musician and leader of the Americana band Hurray for the Riff Raff Alynda Segarra has touched on the admiration she has for queer icons. Even though she was raised in New York, she’s also never hidden her Latin roots.
Segarra embraced those roots with a very emotional music video in 2019. “Pa Lante” (which might be translated as “Moving Forward”) tells different stories of Latin identity that each have an impact on your emotions. “Do your best. Fuck the rest. Be something,” Segarra and her band encourage for all.
My experience discovering the “queernejo” movement has been one of the most amazing outcomes of researching this piece. Queernejo is not only country, but the Brazilian sounds of sertanejo rhythm, a mixing that gives us the flavor this genre needs to keep surviving through time.
Gali Galó is a queernejo performer and organizer, as well as the founder of the queernejo festival Fivela Fest and the feminist music label SÊLA. In their single “Camionheira (Truck driver)” they open the door to the world and let everybody know that they’re free. The line “Yo soy libre” rings out like a war anthem, working as an upbeat energy boost. Here’s a performance from the Brazilian festival Psicodália in 2019.
Gabeu, known to Country Queer as the “Prince of Brazil”, is another queernejo performer who has taught everybody that queer men can sing, like and perform traditional music. His courage and the way he recreates stories about his adolescence growing up in the biggest country in Latin America are inspirational. In recent single “Na Frente Dos Bois,” he collaborates with Gali Galó to create an empowering queer country anthem.
In addition to her fellow performers Galó and Gabeau, Alice Cornejo is a transgender woman who’s proven more than once she’s talented in lots of ways: as a screenwriter, as an actress, and as a performer. Gabeu has described her as “our queen of travanejo, sertransnejo, sertanegro” in reference to her groundbreaking work in bringing a trans and Black perspective to queernejo and sertanejo. In “Pistoliera,” a collaboration with Gabeu, she proves her vocal power and affirms her roots.
Latin-Grammy Nominee Gina Chavez is not only a second generation Mexican-American artist, but a cross-continental troubadour. Chavez has appeared in countries like El Salvador along with her partner in order to give young girls the opportunity of getting a base for a better life with education. Her experiences inside Mexican American, El Salvadoran, and Argentinian communities have absolutely left their mark in every single one of her songs.
Chavez recorded this NPR Tiny Desk Concert in 2015, and it has more than 1.5 million views so far. Her voice, mixed with Southern American and Latin sounds, have created a name for her and her music.
Elena Elias Krell
Elena Elias Krell has traveled around several countries in this continent, and you can notice it in every single one of her tracks. She can go from catchy 90’s country with “You’re Gonna Love Me” to nostalgia with an amazing Chavela Vargas cover in “Canción de las simples cosas (Song of the simple things)”. Chavela, as mentioned earlier, is a queer icon and Elias knows it, embracing her work and giving her own style to this piece.
Costa Rica is present in Krell’s voice, her language and the way she interprets every tune. Elena has been performing lately under the name of “The Hen in the Fox House,” and she’s always inspiring other queer artists to show their true colors, just as she’s done it her whole life. Here’s the music video for her recent release “Little Girl.”
Ana Betancourt is a web developer and a journalist (a sweet and sour combination) who was born and raised in Guadalajara, México. She is a soccer freak, a country music fan, and is always looking for safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community. The only “strait” thing in her life is George.