I never found out if La Mezcaleria bar served what its name implies. It is a music venue in Ajijic at near the end of Moralos street near the shore of Lake Chapala. The name, of course, implies mezcal, an agave-based liquor similar to tequila, but smokier and more often potent. Think of the difference between scotch and whiskey with a little extra kick. The reason I didn’t get to sample any of La Mezcaleria’s libations is because I thought I was arriving gringo-early for an event and I was so wrong.
I had been FB-chatting with the Guadalajara-based singer Yanin Saavedra during the week and she told me she would be at the La Mezcaleria from 6 -8 pm Sunday shooting a video for her debut album and then would perform a set sometime after 9 pm. “Sometime after 9 pm” in the music industry usually means around 10 pm, so I arrived at 9, thinking I would be early enough to get a taste or two of mezcal and then settle in at
a stage-side table to shoot video. I was so wrong. When I walked in and looked around the bar toward the venue, every table was taken, and more people were coming in behind me. Although the performance was not listed on the La Mezcaleria website, the word was out that this very popular artist would be playing in an intimate setting. I skipped the bar and claimed the only place left shoot good video, a short brick column that stood out at the side of the stage area at the just the right height to sit on and park my equipment. I had to share the 2×2 foot brick surface with a light sconce and an occasional drink set down by a dancer, but it worked.
What was a bit problematic however was the column’s location at extreme stage left (not really a stage – the band was at floor level), and very close to the performers Plus the lighting was from below, like a horror movie, and very high contrast. I was about a foot from the violin player and 3 feet from the singer. I changed out my wide-angle lens for an extreme wide-angle/fisheye lens in order to get the whole band into my shots and soften a bit of the contrast. I knew that once they got going they were so good that I would want to focus on the music and not the camera.
I knew that because a friend of mine had sent me a video of Yanin Saavedra about a year ago when she played at a much larger venue in Chapala and I was blown away. Why hadn’t I heard of her before and why had I not seen her on a tour in LA? (I later learned that she has toured Europe but needs a visa to play in the US). When I connected with her online and heard she would be playing locally, I was not about to miss a minute of her performance. I am glad I did because every minute was a joy
Yanin gave a performance that would have packed clubs in Hollywood or New York. Every table and chair was taken at 9:15 pm when she started tuning up and the room filled to standing-room-only by the first song at 9:30. Families, children, dogs, friends, fans, Mexicans and expats crowded in, packing the music venue and spilling out around the corner into the bar. The crowd was rowdy, noisy, joyous and happy to make a little room for dancing couples when they just could not hold back. Saavedra kept up a line of friendly patter with the audience, giving the crowded room a holiday family feel.
The holiday feeling was intensified by Saavedra’s happiness. She was so happy on stage that it was infectious. Through every song, Saavendra smiled, grinned, laughed, made funny faces and was just … happy. Her mood took ahold of the crowd immediately, intoxicating everyone with happiness whether nor we were full of mezcal.
Singing originals and covers in Spanish and French, Saavedra smoothly transitioned from the heartbreaking Búsqueda to the rousing Impermanente and many songs in between. Her 11-song set, plus encores, had people singing, dancing, cheering, and at times quiet with appreciation. Her band – Ajijic stalwart Gilberto Ríos on standup bass, the lightening-fingered Alvaro Medeles on electric guitar, Juan Pablo Medeles on violin, and Angel Madrigal on cájon and percussion – tracked her perfectly.
Saavedra’s music was perfectly pitched to the audience. She opened with Búsqueda, a deeply emotional journey guided by her crystal-clear vocal skills and her considerable guitar chops. As she moved through her set, she regaled us with the uplifting and just plain fun Impermanente and the almost frivolous French-language Dans Tous les Trains, mixed with covers of popular songs, dance music, and nonstop calls for otra!– another song
Saavedra, a resident of Guadalajara but well-known in Ajijic and Chapala, has been influenced by traditional music from the many different parts of the world she has seen as well as the contemporary music spilling out of speakers all around us every day. This gives her original songs an up-to-the-minute Latin flavor but with a global mixture of traditional rhythms and sensibilities. She blends her many influences with a glorious voice and impressive guitar and writing skills to create a unique style often pegged in the “world music” genre, but which is actually much broader if Sunday night’s performance is any indication. I see her showing up on a lot “artists to watch” lists when her album is released; she is certainly on mine now.
Yanin Saavedra will be announcing her debut album soon, but if you can’t wait, stream her songs on Soundcloud at https://soundcloud.com/yaninsaavedra.
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