People have asked Austin singer-songwriter Patricia Vonne why her music is performed in English and Spanish. She proudly responds, “It is my heritage.”
Vonne has called Texas home since her return to her native state in 2001 after 11 years in in New York. “I did not deny my heritage there,” she states. “When I moved to New York, I couldn’t get any work with my surname, ‘Rodriguez.’ My sister lived there and worked as an actress. She suggested I use my own name, so I did and started a band.”
For many Latinos raised in Texas, we share the same or similar experiences of not being welcomed to use the language our parents and grandparents know and taught us. “When my mother was in school, she was forbidden to speak Spanish,” said Vonne. Not only was Spanish forbidden in schools, but anywhere in public, and done so in a manner that intended to shame us.
Times have changed in some ways. After introducing the world to her Spanish material little by little, the owner of Bandolera Records is now soaring with the creation of a compilation CD, “Viva Bandolera,” which includes 17 tracks in Spanish. “This is like a celebration of my heritage, as I am San Antonio born and bred,” Vonne declared.
Once she established herself in Austin and made herself known in live music circles, she set out to release her first album. She hired an attorney to help with the contract, but three weeks before the release, a breach of contract was discovered and the plan to go with the label stopped. It marked a point in time to make big decisions, but for Vonne, the only one was to move forward. She compared her first recorded musical creation to something “like a baby” and added, “my instincts kicked in and I just learned the rules of making it.”
“I had three weeks to do this, but I learned quickly what it took to start a record label – the bar code, name, and all that goes with having a label,” Vonne explained. “It was the beginning of my record label, Bandolera Records.”
She thought about the independent spirit of women, defending their rights and honor. “I am not at their (label) mercy and I have total artistic freedom. It’s been good for me!” She offered advice to others. “It always comes down to the contract. Read it, make sure of the details!” And it helps to have a lawyer.
Not only did she release her initial studio production in a timely manner, she has subsequently released five more albums. “Viva Bandolera” was released with three CD parties in June, which took place in Houston, San Antonio and Austin, as Vonne prepared to head out on tour to Europe this month.
The CD compilation explores her experience as a Tejana. “Growing up as a Tejana, I listened to the diverse music of San Antonio—country, rock, jazz, pop, conjunto and Tejano styles,” she recalled and cited several musicians names from each genre. “When I started writing my own music, which is also a hybrid mix of sound and flavors, I felt a need to preserve and honor the rich cultural heritage of my upbringing.”
Among the tracks on the new release are revised versions of “Severina,” co-written with her filmmaker brother, Robert, in memory of their grandmother, Severina Rodriguez, and the title track, “Viva Bandolera.” Aside from bandmate/co-writer, Robert LaRoche, and David Perales, the tracks include musical artists, Rick del Castillo, David Garza, Alex Ruiz (who also co-wrote the song “Tequileros”), Tito Larriva, Michael Ramos and Joe Reyes, among many others.
“Traeme Paz,” heard in the Robert Rodriguez film, “Once Upon A Time In Mexico” and “Mexicali de Chispa,” co-written with her brother, features Vonne on lead guitar. “La Gitana de Triana” tells a story of Vonne’s sister and the song captures her passion for flamenco and the haunting magic of the city. Also on the album is “Mujeres Desaparecidas,” a song she wrote to bring awareness about the disappearance and death of so many women in Mexico. She has since donated the song to Amnesty International.
Aside from her music career, Vonne’s credits in cinema continue to grow. In her latest work in 2014’s “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” she portrays Dallas (aka the Zorro Girl). She’s also being noted by critics and fans after years of toil. This past March during SXSW, she won the Best Female Vocalist title at the Austin Music Awards, as well as an award for her dexterity with her signature instrument, the castanets. “When I won, it meant so much to me as I was about to release my sixth album. It was my first award for this ever. It did not happen overnight.”
Another standout song from the new CD is, “El Marinero y La Sirena,” written in collaboration with fellow San Antonian, Michael Martin. They created a nautical-themed animated video as well. The short, shot and edited by Vonne, was featured at the SXSW Film Festival 2015 and the following month, it won the Audience Award at the Cine Las Americas International Film Festival.
There is no doubt all the Rodriguez siblings have an abundance of creativity. Patricia cited her parents as the main influence as they were growing up. After their mother took guitar classes, it led to her teaching the children harmonies and songs. “But she also took us to the revival house, the Olmos Theater. We saw films from the Golden Age of Hollywood. It was always about the arts – they always encouraged that. My dad played the drums and put himself through school playing in a college band. It looked like an orchestra.”
Life was not always easy. Their father worked as a traveling salesman for 39 years and eventually went into real estate. Their mother returned to nursing. “I learned my work ethic from them,” said Vonne. “Yes, I am related to a famous filmmaker, but let’s look back at his history. He went through Pharmaco in order to have money for films. There is the passion.”
She dedicated “Viva Bandolera” to her parents for sharing their passion. “I am glad to thank them. There are not a lot of parents that are supportive of the arts.
“This album is special to me because I wanted it to capture my Latina heritage on one disk,” Vonne says. “It’s a big part of my identity and I feel I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. With this album I feel I’ve come full circle as an artist.”