Widely referred to as the queen of Tejano music, Selena Quintanilla broke into the Tejano music industry with her lively music and vibrant image, proving that females too could achieve success in this genre.
Today, women are using idols such as the late Selena as a role model in the Tejano industry. In the Austin area — capital of the state that gave birth to the Tejano genre — female lead singers, composers and independent artists are following in her footsteps as they strive for a more gender-mixed industry.
“We do have one woman who paved the way for us and that was Selena,” local Tejano singer Nikki Lopez said. “Before her I don’t think women were truly respected in the Tejano industry. Ever since Selena, women have been trying to come out with their own style.”
Lopez said she modeled her own Tejano image after Beyonce, similar to Madonna’s influence on Selena. She tries to bring in fresh ideas to the Tejano music world, such as using music videos and visual albums.
“I am trying to bring a new style, high energy performances,” Lopez said. “I want to show people that a lot of Tejano musicians are very talented in that they can play almost any genre of music.”
These innovative elements, however, are what Lopez said at times hinder the success of new artists in the Tejano industry. Considering the traditionally male-dominated industry that Tejano was until recently, Lopez said it is difficult to compete with what audiences are already accustomed to hearing.
“Unfortunately, in our genre they are still playing the same songs they were playing 20 years ago,” Lopez said. “They are great songs, but the thing is they don’t keep the ball rolling and they don’t give these new artists opportunities for the fans to become familiar with this new music.”
Erika Santana, vocalist of local Tejano band Canonazo, said female singers in general are themselves a fairly recent addition to Tejano music that is still not totally widely
“It is always going to be harder for a woman than it is for a man, especially in music and especially in the Mexican American environment,” Santana said. “It is very difficult, because it is dominated by men. After Selena, the one powerhouse right now is Elida Reyna. It is very hard to get your foot into the door in the music industry, but it is even harder in Tejano music.”
From being expected to look and dress a certain way to being criticized for her sound, Santana, who has been nominated for the Tejano Music Awards, said the Tejano industry is still very harsh on women. Although she said fans have been very accepting, Santana said industry leaders tend to pick favorites and she has had to stand up against critics.
“I said, ‘This is how I sing, I have never had a problem with it, people enjoy it, I am comfortable with how I sound so either you take it or you leave it,’” Santana said. “You have to stay true to yourself and if you feel comfortable with your sound, your style, eventually someone is going to come along that is going to respect that.”
Beatriz “B” Santa Ana, a local independent Tejano artist, said although she has witnessed some troubles for females in the industry, she feels the genre is recently becoming more inclusive.
“I will meet male artists and they will kind of brush me to the side,” Santa Ana said. “But, I don’t see it that much. I had a DJ call me the other night and say, ‘I want to get you because I want to help push the female artists,’ and that is a male saying that.”
For upcoming female Tejano artists, Santa Ana said she simply recommends to keep going against all odds with heart and passion. She said this is what her mother always told her to do and what keeps her going as she takes the stage, “‘Mija, (my mom said,) when you sing, you have to sing with your heart, con ganas,’” Santa Ana said.