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A Tish Hinojosa and Lourdes Perez BOOKS & THE CULTURE Connected Women Lourdes Perez Emily Kaitz Mary Catherine Reynolds, Betty Elders BY SIDNEY BRAMMER PHOTOS BY ALAN POGUE Sp oothsayers predict that with the dawning of the Age of Aquarius and the next millennium, Woman shall lead us to a higher plane of existence. In opular music, witness the ascendance of solo women artists with something to say Shawn Colvin, Nanci Griffith, Sarah McLachlan, Joan Osborne, Tori Amos, Michelle Shocked, Tish Hinojosa, Courtney Love, Alanis Morissette not to mention the tenacious staying power of Joan Baez and the awesome return of Exene Cervenka. And even as mainstream radio throbs to the mindless beat of the Spice Girls, an acoustic-based sound we once called “folk” music is spreading via college and alternative radio stations and small nightclubs and coffeehouses. In Texas especially in Austin, the state’s musical wellspring a number of gifted female songwriters have come forward with a mix of poignant love songs, bitter ruminations, dark predictions, and radiant calls to arms. They have in common both political passion and a remarkable dedication to their roots. And though their work and their status in the marketplace are markedly disparate, they share resources and skills, and offer one another feedback perhaps because they are women. INTERNATIONAL TROUBADOUR At this year’s Kerrville Folk Festival, the gracious Tish Hinojosa made a place onstage \(and in the hearts of unindoctrinated Perez. The Puerto Rican-born Perez is a legend among activists and lovers of Latin American nueva trova, but has yet to achieve Hinojosa’s mainstream acceptance. Though their duet of Perez’s “Tengo La Vida En Las Manos” \(“I Have Life In My own set, one would not have known it from Hinojosa’s look of admiration as her friend left the stage. “Tish is an example of someone who’s had to forge a path that becomes a bridge for others like Lourdes,” explains Annette D’Armata, Perez’s partner, significant other, and formidable young producer. “Not being ‘this’ or ‘that’ herself, Tish was forced to cut her own path a path that she opens up to other Chicanas.” Like Hinojosa, Perez synthesizes a Latin American traditional sound with a contemporary message. While Hinojosa sings her ballads in English and Spanish with a border tejano beat, Perez sings only in Spanish, with the soulfulness of Argentinian chanteuse Mercedes Sosa and the poetry of Cuban folksinger Silvio Rodriguez. “Latin American music has been regarded as `background music’ for a long time ,.. music to party and dance to,” says Perez. “I want to change that environment, put the audience in a place of listening. That background status is contrary to what we stand for, and falls into the general ‘invisibility problem’ of Latinos. This music is not a sideline.” Perez emigrated to the U.S. as a girl, was a social worker in Houston, and finally made the pilgrimage to Austin, where she responded to a long suppressed calling to be a singer. “I think of myself as a troubadour,” she says, “pulling up and dragging my roots around the world to other fertile places, collaborating with Mexicans and Chicanos and other Latin Americans, bearing new fruit in this synthesis with the art of the geographical location I find myself in.” Since a 1994 performance \(opening for Perez’s ascent has been rapid: “The first CD that I recorded was a labor of many people coming together, especially women,” says Perez. “Peg Miller and Glynda Cox of Chicago House allowed me to record live there Peg engineered the album from different performances with glued-together equipment. And Betty Elders labored from 3 pm to 3 am on the Fourth of July, mastering that album.” Perez’s latest album, Vestigios,was also produced by a woman, Cathy Ragland, and is the first out on Ragland’s new label, Vivavoce. On that album, Perez sings duets with Venezuelan singer Irene Ferrara \(a 22 11 THE TEXAS OBSERVER AUGUST 14, 1998