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Ximena disarms listeners

The singer-songwriter is merely herself at an L.A. show, a freedom that comes from being so grounded and unique.

September 11, 2008|Agustin Gurza | Times Staff Writer

She might be the current sensation of the new wave of Mexican singers-songwriters, with a gifted voice, a hit debut album and a nomination as best new artist at this year's Latin Grammy Awards. But 22-year-old Ximena Sariñana has her share of insecurities.

She fears people won't love her if they know all her faults, she told an affectionate audience during a concert Tuesday at the Gibson Showroom in Beverly Hills. But she proceeds to confess them in the bittersweet song "Reforma" -- she's slightly jealous, talks too much and always looks for reasons to feel sorry for herself. The song reveals "everything that is wrong with me right now," she jokes in English, then adds offhandedly, "which is OK by me."

Backed by her accomplished four-piece band, Ximena, as she is known, lived up to her buzz as one of Mexico's most compelling young artists. Though new to U.S. audiences, Ximena has been working since childhood in Mexican soap operas. Her parents, film director Fernando Sarinana and screenwriter Carolina Rivera, gave her a big break by casting her in their 2002 film “Amar te Duele” (Love Hurts), a Romeo-and-Juliet tragedy adapted to Mexico's class warfare. She appears on the hip, alt-Latino soundtrack, along with another free spirit and former classmate, Natalia Lafourcade.

Ximena wasn't even out of high school at the time, yet delivered two surprisingly mature songs about love and loss, "Las Huellas" (Traces) and "Cuento" (Tale), which she performed Tuesday. Her set focused mostly on songs from her new album, "Mediocre," co-produced by Latin alternative heavyweights Tweety Gonzalez and Juan Campodonico, who give it a luster and subtlety to match the sophisticated songs.

Tuesday's concert was sponsored by MySpace Latino, the social networking site that has propelled her career in Mexico. About 100 lucky fans won admission to the out-of-the-way venue, giving the show an insider, word-of-mouth aura. Ximena said the intimate setting reminded her of the days she played small jazz clubs in Mexico. She'll return to the country later this month to play prestigious concert halls.

The fact that a 22-year-old can recall her "old days" in jazz haunts shows some hard-core bona fides not common to newcomers. Her music exudes a well-crafted vintage in an almost indefinable blend of rock, pop and jazz delivered with a disarming naturalness. She often closes her eyes and lets her arms mark beats and melodies, almost involuntarily, punctuating high notes or making circles for crescendos. With arms open and pumping, she pushes out a powerful voice from deep inside.

Her unique styling is evident on a growling, sensual rendition of the 1950s novelty hit “Volare,” viewable on YouTube.

Ximena has been compared to Norah Jones, though she lacks the glamour, and to Bjork, though she's not quite as quirky. She cites Ella Fitzgerald and Fiona Apple as influences, along with Latin American music and literature. But the singer, who occasionally accompanies herself on charango, a small Andean guitar, stands out from Mexico's copycat pop music culture, where artists are often happy to be Spanish-speaking clones of American R&B or British rock.

For a woman with so many faults, Ximena has proven to be a perfect exponent for her generation. To borrow a political slogan, she's the change we've been waiting for.


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