For the past four years, Stephanie Bergara has honored the spirit of Selena through her tribute project, Bidi Bidi Banda, but the Tejana music icon has been her artistic inspiration and style muse since she was a child.
She has a distinct memory of watching Selena perform at the Tejano Music Awards in 1993. The singer’s pop panache blew her 8-year-old mind.
“She had this red lipstick and her hair was slicked back and she had all these rhinestones, and I just became obsessed with kind of obtaining that look,” she says.
For her first couple of years leading the Banda, Bergara did exactly that. She rocked rhinestones aplenty. She slicked her hair. She broke out the Bedazzler to handcraft detailed replicas of outfits Selena wore, including the red sequin bustier from the ’93 Tejano Awards. It was a labor of love.
Until it wasn’t.
“The fact of the matter is, I am not a Selena-looking Latina. And that’s OK,” she says. “So, the best decision I ever made with the band was just, one morning I woke up and it was, like, 103 degrees outside, and I’m like, ‘I’m not wearing that damn outfit. I’m not putting that on. I’m just going to wear my own makeup and put a nice dress on and curl my hair and hope for the best, and hope that’s going to work out.’”
It worked out beautifully.
“When people come to our shows, the thing that they care the most about is making sure that the music sounds good,” she says.
From 2015: Remembering Selena 20 years after her death
She says it was “a blessing” to realize her audience didn’t need her to be a Selena. Bergara describes her personal style as “a combination of sophisticated and sexy,” and at 32, with an 8-month-old baby at home, it’s a relief to focus on being the best version of herself.
“I really am just leading the singalong party,” she says.
Her immaculately organized closet includes a collection of glamorous floor-length gowns that she pulls out for evening gigs that demand elegance, but it’s dominated by the black-and-white-striped dresses that she considers a calling card. If you include the sharply tailored jumpsuits, she has more than 20.
“I think a stripe is clean. It’s a nice way to wear black and white and dress it up without having to wear just black or white,” she says.
It’s also a look that smoothly transitions from her day job working in the city music office to the stage. She often rushes to a gig right after work. She switches from flats to heels, wings out her eyeliner and adds a swash of glittery gold to her neutral eyeshadow. She also enhances her eyelashes and switches her neutral lip to bold red, the only consistent holdover from her early Selena looks. Though the full 2016 MAC Selena collection occupies a prized position on her makeup table, her go-to stage shade is Sephora lip stain No. 1: Always Red.
Efficiency is essential for any artist juggling a full-time job and managing her own band, but for Bergara it’s been doubly so since this spring when she completed her maternity leave and returned to the office as a working mom.
When she discovered she was pregnant in 2017, she promised herself motherhood would not slow her down.
The years spent building her Selena tribute act had forged a familial bond among her bandmates. They had invested hours learning the Tejana pop star’s songs by ear because there were no charts. She had learned to brush off the naysayers who slammed her singing or cruelly dismissed her as “fat Selena” while she refined her stage show. The haters were motivators who pushed her to get better.
And she did. Bergara gained poise, confidence and vocal prowess as a performer. As the band began to tour, she enjoyed being able to “check the men” who underestimated her management abilities.
“It is very rare for a minority woman under the age of 30 to be doing anything even remotely considered leadership in the music industry,” she says. “And by the time I was 30, I had my own band. We’d been on three tours.”
She had watched Bidi Bidi Banda grow into a regional phenomenon, and, a few years in, she recognizes how the project affects the Tejano music community.
“We spend a lot of time, as a band, opening the Latin market for a lot of venues,” she says “We’re playing the Big Texan in Amarillo — that big steakhouse where you can eat the 72-ounce steak. They have a new event center, and we’re one of the first Latin bands to ever play there. I feel like we do that a lot.”
By the end of 2017, offers for prime gigs were rolling in. She barely took a break from the band, playing shows up until her 38th week of pregnancy.
“The day before I went into labor I booked my first show back,” she says with a laugh.
The gig was on New Year’s Eve, playing the kickoff for the 300th anniversary celebrations for the city of San Antonio, a community that’s become a second home to the band. It was less than six weeks after her son, Andy, was born.
“It was great,” she says. “It was really fun. The mayor introduced us, and he spoke into my sparkly microphone, and I took a picture.”
But away from the stage, Bergara felt listless, unsure of herself and her new life as a mom. She’s not romantically involved with Andy’s father, but they have a healthy co-parenting relationship. He’s a great dad. When he’d come to collect the baby for a few hours, leaving her with much-coveted free time, she didn’t know what to do with herself.
“I was still struggling with, like, not even the physical aspect, (but) my confidence,” she says. “I didn’t realize that I was struggling with postpartum depression until March, until I talked to someone about it. It was a lot. It was a lot for me.”
Andy was born in late November, and her maternity leave from the city job stretched to late February. It was a time of blissful bonding, and she used the break from her 9-to-5 responsibilities to set up a string of spring and summer gigs for the band. But caring for a newborn infant is exhausting. It’s monotonous, and it can be very lonely. Sometimes she found herself staring at the baby, tears rolling down her face for no apparent reason.
“It was the first time I loved somebody more than I loved myself. Having this little boy. You just find yourself sitting here watching him, and you’re like, ‘Why am I crying? Why am I crying right now? Everything is fine. Everything is good.’”
She felt lost in her own head. She questioned whether the band, a dream she built into reality, was even what she wanted any more.
“I wondered and worried about how much of myself I was going to be coming back to,” she says.
Embracing her own style, having fun with it, helped pull her out of the funk. For the New Year’s Eve gig, she wore a long black dress with high slits at the legs.
“I was like, ‘OK, this is what I want to do. I’m a mom. I’m not dead,’” she says. “I want to incorporate more of the sexiness and more of the sophisticated look and have it be less hokey and less rhinestone.”
These days, one of her favorite looks is a wide ruffled sleeve that she says helps disguise her “mom arms.” Makeup is still her obsession, but since having the baby, she’s also stepped up her skin care regime.
Selfie requests from fans she bumps into on the street have become a regular occurrence, and she’s a devotee of the GlamGlow product line, because it’s centered on getting you “camera-ready.”
“The baseball cap days are over,” she says with a laugh. “The pulling my cap down and going to Alamo Drafthouse in my leggings (days) are just done.”
Bidi Bidi Banda has played almost 40 gigs since Andy was born, and there are another 40 on the books before the year is out. Big gigs. The band played a free Auditorium Shores show at South by Southwest and a packed Cinco de Mayo party at the Mohawk earlier this year. They play Blues on the Green on Aug. 8, Austin Pride on Aug. 11 and the State Fair of Texas in Dallas on Oct. 19.
Before she became pregnant, Bergara’s plan was to release an album of original Tejano songs this year. She’s not sure she’ll play Tejano forever, but she’s been wanting to focus on her own music, and it seemed like the smoothest segue from Selena covers.
“What we do is so tied to the preservation of Tejano music, and I always want to take that very seriously,” she says. “I know there are a lot of people in the Tejano music industry who are watching what we do, and I want to make sure that we treat the genre and the work that these people before us have done with integrity. I never want to take that for granted.”
But the idea of doing originals has been temporarily shelved until Andy gets older.
“Right now, the Banda is keeping me so busy,” she says.
MORE SOUND STYLE
In this series that combines music and fashion, Deborah Sengupta Stith talks to Austin musicians about how image plays into their art.