If you've ever wondered what the soundtrack to a film set in Detroit, Havana and Mexico City might sound like, Jessica Hernandez has an answer for you. With a dusky-to-piercing voice and Amy Winehouse's way of hang-gliding on phrases, Hernandez — along with her band, The Deltas — has been a powerhouse act on the Detroit scene for some time. But the band's sophomore double album, Telephone/Teléfono, will no doubt appeal to fans across several continents, as Hernandez created the songs in both English and Spanish versions.
Hernandez sees the new double album as a tribute to the heritages of her Havana-born dad and her Detroit-born Mexican mom, a musical nod to the grandmother with whom she spoke Spanish and a love song to the the diverse and sophisticated metropolis of Mexico City that she discovered as a young adult. Mexico City is also where she embarked on the process of composing a completely bilingual album — along with renowned producer Milo Froideval, she tore apart each phrase of the songs she had composed in English and found equivalents in Spanish, right down to choosing individual metaphors that had the same impact and sometimes even rhymed.
"Hummingbird"/"Colibrí" highlights how beautifully Hernandez manages this delicate balancing act — and, while she's at it, warms up Motown-infused garage-rock with touches of tropical psych-cumbia and punk cabaret.
There were times, says Hernandez, when she jettisoned the translation process and expressed ideas and moods in entirely different ways in each language. It's not unlike the identity-crafting many of us constantly undertake as Latinos in the U.S.: Seeking common ground can bring out the best of both sides of the border, but sometimes to be authentic you have to forget about words and let the emotions speak for themselves.
Telephone/Teléfono comes out today, June 23.