Singing through joy and sorrow Singer-songwriter Diana Gameros comes to Seaside


By Claudia Meléndez Salinas

Diana Gameros was ready to give up on her dream of making a life as a singer in the United States when an opportunity arrived to move to San Francisco. By then, she had been in Michigan for 10 years, but her status as an undocumented immigrant closed a lot of doors. A man she fell in love with opened a new one: he invited her to move to the Bay Area, and she accepted.

San Francisco has been good to her. Almost as soon as she arrived, she scored a gig at the Roosevelt Tamale Parlor in the Mission, a place where she performed for five years and gave her lots of opportunities. She’s made two records, toured with Mexican singer Natalia LaFourcade, played at the Kennedy Center, and even was the subject of a documentary, “Dear Homeland.”

“I feel extremely fortunate. I don’t find a lot of people that are able to do” what she has, Gameros said recently during an interview via Zoom. “So I have immense appreciation for the Bay Area, because I attribute (the success) to the openness of this area, of this part of the country, to what I had to offer. Most of my songs are in Spanish, some in English. That says something about the Bay Area, the community and the audiences here.”

Gameros will perform on Saturday at Palenke Arts in Seaside. 

This interview was edited for clarity and length.

Voices of Monterey Bay: The U.S. is a culture that appears intent on presenting individuals as if they just sprouted from the earth, rarely mentioning parents and their influence. So it was great to find a video of you singing with your mom. Tell me about her influence in your musical journey. She’s obviously a great singer.

Diana Gameros: I grew up with music all my life. I remember going to my abuelito’s farm in this little village in Mexico, and it was a big family: all my uncles sang and played guitars and my grandmother would sing in harmony with my mother. And so to me, music was a natural thing to do. It was always present. I could say it’s in my DNA. In fact, last year, I discovered so much more that I didn’t know through a collaboration that I did with Meklit, an Ethiopian singer who has a project called Movement. I did research on the lineage of the women in my family, on my mother’s side, and I discovered that all the women in my life had music as a very strong part of their lives. So yes, it’s in my DNA.

VOMB: You’re an immigrant and mostly sing in Spanish. How do you think your music contributes to the immigrant community’s entry or settlement into U.S. Society? Is it a linkage that makes it easier?

DG: Because the songs grew out of a very honest place of my own immigrant story, my own immigration journey — my own journey of adapting to a new language, learning a new culture, learning a new language  — I think will resonate with things that represent certain truths of a collective experience. Yes, some people have found refuge in these songs, in my story, which in a way represents their own story. People can recognize themselves in some of the experiences that I’ve had. They serve as a home, as a refuge, or maybe even as an embrace, so you feel accompanied as you go through life. Maybe they’re going through college as an undocumented student, because I was one; or maybe you’re suffering through the loss of a family member who you couldn’t go see because you didn’t have the proper documents to travel. So in that sense, I think, yes, music in general and my music in this case, I hope has served that purpose.

VOMB: You received a lot of recognition, starting in 2014 as an emerging leader by the Chicano Latino Foundation, and several more recognitions after that. You were on a roll. How did the pandemic affect your career?

DG: There was a documentary made about my story through KQED, and the premiere was supposed to be in 2020. We had all these plans to attend different festivals and we would have performances to follow the documentary. That, to me, was a very important thing, I really wanted to be able to share my story, and also share my songs, sort of take this film on tour. But because of the pandemic, we had the premier through Zoom. The dream was frustrated in that sense. And music-wise… luckily, there were a lot of organizations that started to come up to me and other artists with grant opportunities that made it possible for us, at least for me, to still be able to make a living. Also I did a lot of live streaming. I never stopped working in music, really. I mean, I did a really beautiful project with a Colombian singer and a producer from Brazil for Universal Music, and there were a lot of collaborations with people from all over the world —  performances, collaborations, songwriting. So if anything, it just created a new way of inhabiting the music industry.

VOMB: Who would you say are your biggest musical influences?

DG: My family for sure. I feel like my latest songs have a lot of Mexican folklore and a lot of nuances that take me back to the time when I was little. For sure Juan Gabriel, Pedro Infante, Chavela Vargas, from Mexico. From Latin America, the balladeers. I’m not necessarily fond of her now, but Shakira. Aterciopelados, Café Tacuba. Recently, I’ve been listening to everything that I can from Violeta Parra.

I studied classical music in Michigan. I actually started on piano when I was 5 years old. Then I learned guitar. I was 11, but I learned by ear, through listening to my uncles, and they taught me a few chords and then I just made up songs on guitar. So I also was influenced by the classical world and a little bit of jazz, because I collaborate with a lot of jazz artists. I also listen to a lot of music from all over the world, from India, from Spain, from France. You can hear nuances of every style in all of my songs. In my first album, if you hear it from beginning to end, there’s no one song that sounds like the other, there’s a vast array of rhythms and melodies and instrumentation because that represents the diverse influences that I’ve had. I love African music too, or music from the African diaspora in the Caribbean, in Latin America. So it’s all embedded in the music that I make now.

VOMB: You sing both in English and Spanish, but it appears that you sing more in Spanish. Tell me about that.

DG: I know the language of my adoptive land, I just keep going back to Spanish. I’ve written songs in English. I really love creating albums, full length, like creating a story. An album for me, it’s as if I were writing like a play or a novel where there’s a beginning and an end and I love doing that. And so I think through this project, it kind of makes sense to do more songs in Spanish. I do love singing in English too. But for this new album, it’ll be all in Spanish.

VOMB: Are you working on anything new?

DG: I am. I released my last album in 2017, and just now this year I’m going to get into the studio again, because I was the recipient of a wonderful grant along with Women’s Audio Mission. It’s going to be engineered and mixed by women.

It’s going to be called Festejo, and it has the songs that have accompanied me on this journey of obtaining legal status. It’s a more celebratory album, so I wanted to call it Festejo.

I wanted to focus on songs that put the focus on the joy that we immigrants, as humans in general, can access amidst any dark moment. It feels challenging in the midst of the genocide we’re living (through) right now, and at the same time, maybe that makes it even more important. That we put a focus on the joy, on the light that we must access precisely so that we can rise up to the occasion. So that we can fuel our desire and our need for freedom and for liberation.

The more I think about it, and the more I am involved in this movement and in the protests and in the activism, it does seem relevant actually. And not just relevant, but important that we give space and importance to nourishing the joy, the spaces where we can celebrate.

Mexican singer songwriter Diana Gameros in concert
When: Saturday, January 20, 2024, 7:30-9:30 pm
Where: Palenke Arts, 1713 Broadway Ave., Seaside

Tickets $25

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About Claudia Meléndez Salinas

Claudia Meléndez Salinas is an author, journalist, open water swimmer, and cat lover. | Claudia Meléndez Salinas es autora, periodista, nadadora de aguas abiertas, y aficionada a los gatos.