With a last name that means walls in Spanish, De'Anza Paredes knows about breaking boundaries. With the traditional, Mexican stringed instrument called a vihuela, she is knocking down cultural barriers.
"Sometimes doors are closed for me because people say I'm a Latin artist," Paredes says. "They are also opened. It's interesting because it's not like we're playing salsa or every song is a cumbia."
Growing up in Santa Fe in the 1990s, she listened to hip-hop, R&B and rock–as well as mariachi music with her abuela. But she was looking forward to leaving her hometown after high school. Paredes fell in love with Los Angeles while vacationing in 2004, but when she checked out college campuses, she decided to settle in Fullerton. While the metropolis north of OC initially seemed daunting, Paredes later mustered the courage to move to LA and study at the Los Angeles College of Music in Pasadena. "One of my teachers always preached, 'Patience, Practice and Perseverance,'" she says. "It's something that I still have to consistently remind myself about."
After graduating in 2007, Paredes spent many years working odd jobs, including as a waitress, while honing her sound. "I really did my own artist development," she says. Her path led back to the mariachi music her grandmother loved, but in a very different way, as she picked up the vihuela in search of nontraditional melodies and rhythms. "One day, I went to East LA and just bought one!" she says.
"The way that I play the vihuela is very sacrilegious, but I like experimenting with those sounds," Paredes continues. She fuses her instrument of choice with electronic music layered with reggae, R&B and jazz. "One thing I love about the United States is how rich it is musically–a lot of things stem from the blues. And Latin America has beautiful folk."
The songstress has also studied Latin American greats such as Cuba's Silvio Rodriguez and Panamanian Ruben Blades, as well as the region's storied poets. "I love Facundo Cabral and Jaime Sabines," Paredes says. "If there's one thing that I want to do, it's be a great songwriter."
Paredes exhibits her confident and focused sound on her debut EP, Despertar (or Awakening), which she is releasing Tuesday on her own label. "The benefit of me creating my own label is that I get to say, dress and be who I want," says Paredes. "On the flip side, poco a poco–it takes some time."
De'Anza performs at the Gypsy Den, 211 W. Center St. Promenade, Anaheim, (714) 956-4400; www.gypsyden.com. Sat., 9 p.m. Free. All ages.
Gabriel San Roman is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and tallest Mexican in OC.