After her 2014 bilingual album “Up.Rooted” catapulted Latin folk-pop songstress Gina Chavez to new career heights, the multiple Austin Music Award winner turned her attention to songwriting.
“I didn’t want to say, ‘I want to write Latin songs or upbeat songs,’” Chavez says. “I just allowed myself to write without boundaries.”
When she gave herself musical freedom, her heart gravitated toward an R&B-tinged sound with songs that mostly deep-dive into her personal journey as a Catholic Latina who, two years after marriage equality became legal in Texas, married her wife, Jodi Granado.
Her five-track EP “Lightbeam,” which debuts Friday and will also be available at a Saturday album release party at Antone’s, sheds light on times she grappled with faith, sacrifice and society’s views on love. It’s an ode to the dozen years she and Granado have weathered life’s storms together.
“Everything in both Jodi and my Catholic upbringing said that our relationship was wrong,” Chavez says. “But being with each other was the most natural and right thing we ever experienced.”
The couple share excerpts of their 2017 wedding in the music video for “Heaven Knows,” a song where Chavez wrestles with faith and love. She and Granado met at the University Catholic Center at the University of Texas, and for more than a decade have learned to navigate everything from being apart for long periods during Chavez’ tours to hiding their relationship while volunteering together at a Catholic school in El Salvador.
When the pair first fell in love, she says, they kept their relationship behind closed doors. “Both of us were like, ‘What’s happening?’” Chavez says. “We were dealing with the issue and the relationship at the same time.”
Chavez remembers going to work and locking herself in the bathroom to cry. She would cry herself to sleep and still wake up crying. “I knew my parents were not going to disown me, which isn’t the case for many people,” Chavez says. “My parents were very loving, but it took time.”
Chavez says she understands when people don’t get it “because I was Catholic and neck-deep in a same-sex relationship and didn’t understand that I was a lesbian,” she says. “I didn’t get it.”
She’s grateful to her Catholic community that gave her guidance and support. Today, the couple is still involved with their church. “To have those two worlds live within our relationship,” she says, “I think that’s very dependent on community.”
Chavez says she hopes sharing excerpts of their wedding ceremony and celebration will help spark a dialogue. “I feel that it’s important to share who we are, because we are not going through these experiences in a vacuum.”
Throughout the years, the couple has also woven music into their relationship — something that Chavez says brings both challenges and rewards. As a cultural ambassador for the U.S. State Department, Chavez has performed around the world, from Latin America to the Middle East. She remembers while on tour in the Dominican Republic, she talked to Granado, who was back in Texas. Chavez had been gone for weeks and the distance had begun to take a toll on Granado.
“She just said something like ‘I feel so invisible right now,’ and it made me so sad,” Chavez says. That’s when she wrote the chorus of the song “Miracle.” “You’re a miracle, may you never feel invisible,” the song says.
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But the two also work as a team.
In addition to being an educator and coach, Granado is also the engine of the band. As manager, she does everything from plan tours to schedule band rehearsals. “She’s never asked me to tone down my career,” Chavez says. “In fact, she does the opposite.”
Chavez credits her wife with motivating her to keep aiming higher and continue pushing boundaries.
“The truth is that I take up a lot of room in our relationship,” Chavez says. “I don’t know that there’s a lot I can do to change that when you have a career that demands that in order to move forward. But, at the same time, I need to be a good wife and be supportive, too. I’m always trying to balance those two things.”
Together, they co-founded Niñas Arriba, a college fund that offers a private college education and paid internships to young women in El Salvador. When the last student from the program’s original cohort graduates this month, the program will have a 100 percent graduation rate.
“We all need a champion,” Chavez says. “Not everyone gets a champion to fight for them, and Niñas Arriba allows people to give these girls a fighting chance.”
Chavez says they hope to raise $20,000 this year to help the program expand and bring new students onboard. All the proceeds from Saturday’s benefit concert, which will also feature performances by Carrie Rodriguez and Jane Ellen Bryant, will go toward meeting that goal.
Although Chavez’ new EP doesn’t have her signature bilingual grooves, she says fans can rest assured that her follow-up album, which she’s currently working on with producer Michael Ramos, will includes songs in Spanish.
“I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving Latin music and the intricate rhythms and tonalities heard across the world,” she says.
IF YOU GO
Seventh annual Niñas Arriba Benefit Concert & Gina Chavez EP “Lightbeam” release party
Time: Doors open at 7 p.m.
When: Sept. 15
Where: Antone’s (305. E. Fifth St.)
Cost: Tickets available online at antonesnightclub.com for $17 General Admission, $50 VIP.