Mexican singer-songwriter Ximena Sarinana possesses a crafty intelligence that belies her 22 years. Her new album, “Mediocre” (Warner Latina), is far from that - in fact, it’s an extremely clever piece of subversive pop that is as uncategorizable as Sarinana herself. Using a fairly conventional singer-songwriter format, Sarinana presents herself as an enigmatic hipster who’s hopelessly square at heart.
“The songs are a reflection of who I am and how I live my life,” Sarinana said while in Manhattan for the Latin Alternative Music Conference. “I’m a kind of ironic person who is sometimes very cynical. I make fun of myself a lot.”
The daughter of film director Fernando Sarinana and screenwriter-producer Carolina Rivera, Sarinana has appeared in several telenovelas, whose exaggeration of ideal women is legendary. The cover art for “Mediocre” features Sarinana in a stuffy navy and polka dot dress with a string of pearls - the picture of ‘50s conformity. In the title track, she laments, “You forgot me/It was my fault/How mediocre.”
“You could say that Latin Americans are a little behind the times, a little bit conservative,” she said, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. “This whole idea of the perfect woman of the ‘50s is what the title song is about. There was no possibility of being something different, and that, in turn, created a prototype of a woman who was mediocre.”
Conversely, Sarinana is quite a musical trailblazer, representing a new musical creativity among young Mexicans. She began to study music at age 16, and was a classmate of Natalia Lafourcade, author of two innovative albums in the early 2000s. “She was the one who opened my mind to becoming more than just a good singer,” Sarinana said.
After that, she went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, then played with a raucous fusion band called Feliz No Cumpleanos. During this period, Sarinana began to fall in love with jazz. “I began to play with big bands and sing strictly standards. Too many young people think that jazz is for old people, but it’s the opposite. Jazz is the ultimate icon - sometimes more than rock - of rebellion.”
In her live set at the Bowery Ballroom, Sarinana bounced around the stage, her small frame supporting a powerful voice. The dub-laced ethereality of “La Tina” and the jaunty ballad “Vidas Paralelas” became a showcase for improvisation. Guttural roars inspired by Bjork formed a shock wave that stunned the swaying crowd. “How tranquil it is to always be happy/How easy it is to believe what you say,” she lingered earnestly, making this satire of domesticity strangely palatable.
Although she greeted the crowd in both Spanish and English, Sarinana, whose album is a huge hit on both the alternative and pop stations in Mexico, seems happier to stay at home. “I liked living in the U.S.,” she mused, “you can eat at Whole Foods and not gain weight. In Mexico you can’t eat fish in any restaurant because you can’t be sure about it. But to start a family here, I don’t think so. I like Mexico for that.”