How Austin musician Gina Chavez sees music, travel as bridge to understanding

Austin singer-songwriter Gina Chavez and her band recently toured through Jordan. Along the way the full band – which includes Michael Romero, Brad Johnston, Jerry Ronquillo, Kenneth Null, and Mike Meadows – offered us insights into what it’s like for an Austin band to perform, lead workshops and collaborate with local artists in Jordan.

In this last installment of the Gina Chavez Middle East Tour Diary, Chavez offers her final thoughts about the experience. Catch up with all of the previous tour diary entries on Cultura en Austin and Austin Music Source.

Gina during soundcheck at Terra Sancta Theater in Amman. Photo contributed by Kenneth Null

Gina during soundcheck at Terra Sancta Theater in Amman. Contributed by Kenneth Null

BY GINA CHAVEZ

Having a U.S. passport means possessing a key that unlocks nearly every door in the world. And holding that key is a privilege, not a choice.

We closed out our tour in Aqaba, a Jordanian port on the Red Sea, which is much more conservative than Amman. At our performances, audiences were separated by gender, with women and families on one side and single men on the other. And there I am, performing as a front-woman with an all-male band. I look out at the audience, especially the women in hijab, and wonder what’s going through their minds. I mean, they seemed to love our show, screaming and clapping at every chance, wanting to meet us afterward.

MORE TOUR DIARY ENTRIES:  Gina Chavez Middle East Tour Diary

As we were packing up, a mother and her six daughters approached me, bashful, but giddy with delight. I greeted each of them with a Jordanian-style kiss on the cheek and the little Arabic I could offer –“Shukran kathir! Tcharufna!” (Thank you so much! It’s nice to meet you) – then asked if they wanted to take a selfie. Wide eyed, they shook their heads and started to walk away, looking back at me with smiles and giggling as I waved.

Oh yeah, I remember, many women here are not allowed to be photographed. The mere thought is other-worldly.

The young women at our final concert in Aqaba, Jordan. We took separate photos with the male and female students.

The young women at our final concert in Aqaba, Jordan. The band took separate photos with the male and female students.

We got back to the States at 11 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 6. The irony, or perhaps importance, of having been in a Muslim country at this very moment in our country’s history is not lost on me.

To be in a region whose people preserved the libraries of the Greek, Roman and Byzantine cultures, that gave us our system of numbers, perfume, concepts like Algebra, advances in architecture and astronomy and words like sugar, coffee, and satin, is an honor. Thousands of Arab contributions have bettered our modern lives, but you’d never know it by the way we talk about and act toward our Muslim brothers and sisters.

RELATED: Gina Chavez Trio Makes Musical Connections as Cultural Ambassadors

This is why I travel and share music. Because everywhere I go, I see beauty in our differences – language, belief, dress, food, daily life – and in the eyes of those I meet, I see that despite those differences, we truly are one people; members of one family, each longing to be heard, to contribute, to matter, to love and be loved; we truly are brother and sister.

A couple of days ago, I swam in the Red Sea. The chill of the water took my breath away as I submerged and arose to the sounds of Arabic semitones and drum beats wafting from passing motor boats, while tiny fishes leapt all around me in time with the beat. I soaked in every breath, grateful for the countless people who have supported and carried me to far-flung lands. Grateful for the privilege to have a U.S. passport and the ability to share multi-cultural, multi-lingual music in a mix-gendered band. Grateful for freedom, longing for understanding.