A mosaic is made up of different materials of slightly different shapes, sizes, colors. Each piece glitters and shines on its own, but taken together they create a tapestry that is new.
Jaime Lozano has made you a hell of a mosaic.
With each of the 12 moments in Songs By An Immigrant, Jaime adjusts the aperture and sheds a different light on the immigrant experience in America, his incredible musical versatility fully on display. From the opening Generic Immigrant Welcome Song, which begins with a sardonic checklist of migrant narrative tropes before breaking through to something jagged and real, to the triumphant 11:00 number Change My Name, which will be sung by aspiring Latina actresses at auditions from now until forever, to the gorgeous love song salsa finale of Hecho Para Amarte, which would be right at home on a Broadway stage or your local Latin radio station, each song is a movie unto itself. Jaime’s vivid storytelling gifts are on display in the heartbreaking Hold Tight; his prodigious gift for Latin arrangement apparent in Gettin’ Up. With this song, he’s giving you a little Ruben Blades, with that one, a ballad to make Glen Ballard weep. The album establishes Jaime as a force to be reckoned with in musical theater, in Latin music, or wherever else he wants to go.
If you’re an immigrant in the United States, you have to work ten times as hard just to reach the ground floor. There is the process of leaving your homeland, there is the journey, there is the dislocation of being in a new world, the culture shock of how that world sees you. Jaime honors that journey and breathes astonishing musical life into it on this album: he’s done ten times the work to bring you this mosaic. Enjoy.
Purchase the album Songs by an Immigrant from Broadway Records here and read Lozano’s stories behind each track below.
1. “The Generic Immigrant Welcome Song”
“Huapango” is a Mexican folk music style I have always been in love with. It comes from the Náhuatl word cuauhpanco that means “on top of the wood,” giving reference to the wooden platform used by dancers who perform their moves on top of it; this type of dance movement is called zapateado. Working on this immigrant hymn with very smart lyrics by Noemi de la Puente, I wanted to really dig into a fusion of a Mexican sound with jazz, and that’s how I created this “jazzpango.” I needed a great Mexican singer, and my hermano Mauricio Martínez—one of my favorite male musical theatre performers ever and my partner in many, many projects now—was the ideal voice for this song about an immigrant who wanted to be welcomed in this new country. What makes this track even more special is that one of my dreams came true: a collaboration with my favorite drummer in the world, a Mexican artist who has been an inspiration for many of us as creators and musicians, the amazing Antonio Sánchez. I have the honor that the first thing you are going to listen to in this album is a drum solo by this great artist introducing my version of a Mexican Huapango.
2. “Getting Up Is Easier”
Salsa music has always been an important part of my day-to-day. If you could take a look at my digital music platform statistics about the music I listen to the most, salsa is number one. (Those stats also show a kind of list of amazing artists’ who I would love to collaborate with one day.) This song tells the story of an immigrant struggling each day to make a living, but acknowledging that “getting up is easier” when you know you are not alone. We are part of this huge community of immigrant dreamers trying to make a better life, not only for ourselves but for our familia and the people coming after us. Salsa music has always sung about important issues, and these lyrics by my incredible partner Marina Pires, an immigrant herself, come to life in the voice of another incredible Latino immigrant artist, the extremely talented Ana Isabelle (¡Boricua!). She can sing literally ANYTHING—from musical theatre to pop and salsa—navigating through all these genres quite effortlessly. This is definitely a different kind of salsa—a musical theatre salsa—with an important story to tell.
3. “The Other Side”
My favorite musical theatre performer and storyteller is part of this track and, of course, my partner in life: my wife, Florencia Cuenca. This song is a more “traditional” musical theatre ballad with lyrics by one of my favorite writers, Neena Beber, who always finds the perfect way to put together intelligence and emotion. This song is inspired by Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Walls” and talks about what is really the need of building walls, and questions who are we walling in and who are we walling out when doing so. I strongly believe that we need to build bridges instead of walls, and it is one of the main goals of this album. We are artists from all different countries, music styles, different ideas, and preferences but together as a community, as a Familia.
4. “You Gotta Change Your Name”
Last year I was reading an interview with another of my favorite musical theatre performers, Mandy Gonzalez, who I saw as Nina in In the Heights at least 30 times. That show means a lot to me in so many ways because I had the chance to meet amazing people such as Mandy, Doreen Montalvo, Andréa Burns, Janet Dacal, Luis Salgado, Eliseo Román, Alex Lacamoire, and many more, ah… and of course, this guy called Lin-Manuel. So in this interview, Mandy talks about how her first agent asked her to change her last name. I immediately emailed my writing partner Noemi de la Puente and told her: “I have an idea for a song.” I emailed Mandy and told her: “We wrote a song for you. Would you do the honor to record it?” And… another dream came true. Here is her rendition of her song. Please pinch me. This track is my attempt to fuse a more musical theatre pop song with my Latino signature style.
5. “Hold Tight”
Back in 2010 my dear friend and hermano Luis Salgado and I used to get together to talk about projects and share music. We were working at the time on the R.Evolución Latina album. While listening to music, we found this amazing performer named Raúl Midón, a virtuoso singer and guitarist. Since then I became a fan. Years later when I met Florencia and we talked about music and our favorite singers, Raúl Midón’s name came up in the conversation. It is a small world, and Raúl, being such an amazing person, agreed to this collaboration to sing this song, which is very different to what he usually records. With lyrics by my friend and collaborator Mark-Eugene Garcia, “Hold Tight” tells the story of an immigrant trying to cross the border as part of a migrant caravan. The music and instrumentation are very unique, and I have the honor to have also my “primo” Gerardo “Quirri” Padilla, one of the best Norteño style accordionists in Mexico. It is a perfect mix: a classic American A-A-B-A ballad with a Grammy-nominated singer-guitarist (one of my favorites in the world) and a Mexican accordion.
6. “Far From Home”
This is another Latin jazz song style, using a danzón to sing about missing home and trying to find a new one in a new country. This track features beautiful lyrics by Neena Beber and a very moving interpretation by Gaby Moreno. I was literally crying when I was putting her vocals together with the music track, even before listening to any mixed track. Gaby’s soul and heart are in this track through her unique and distinctive vocals. Danzón is a musical genre/dance originally from Cuba that was very popular in Mexico; there is even a very famous Mexican movie from the ’90s named after this dance style. The song—as is characteristic of any jazz song—includes instrumental solos by pianist Jesús Altamira (my brother and co-arranger in most of my projects) and Norwegian jazz sax player Ole Mathisen. They are two of my favorite musicians in the world.
7. “Nothing Is Broken”
This song has a very special place in my heart. A couple of years ago we were going through very hard moments in our lives, as my hermano Mauricio Martínez was diagnosed with cancer for the fourth time. I texted my dear friend Marina Pires, who was with Mauricio at the time doing the On Your Feet! National Tour, and asked about writing together a song for him. This song was born from that: our love letter to a friend, to a Familia member. Family stays together and supports each other in good times and bad times. And Mauricio, being the warrior he has always been, won the battle one more time.
8. “Like a River (Como El Río)”
When I was a teenager back in Monterrey, Mexico, I became obsessed with Tex-Mex music. I used to host and MC these bailes—or dance parties—where we played only Tejano music. Close to home there was a music store, and every month I would pay them a visit asking if they could bring me from el otro lado—the other side (I meant the United States)—the newest albums (at the time cassette tapes, and then compact discs). One day I got this cassette from a new artist named Bobby Pulido, and I immediately became a huge fan, and he became one of my favorites. I can’t believe that 25 years later now, Bobby is actually celebrating 25 years of a music career, and I have the honor to write a song especially for him with my amigo and lyricist David Davila, who happens to be from the same town as Bobby: Edinburg, Texas. This song is actually my first attempt at writing a Tex-Mex cumbia, and I think we did great. It is a song about crossing the river, the river that separates Mexico from the United States. It has always intrigued me that the same river has different names depending on where you are from: for me it was always El Río Bravo and now that I am on the other side, they call it Rio Grande.
9. “Castles in the Sky”
I met Jorge “Georgie” Castilla back in 2008, and since the first moment we saw each other we instantly connected. We were both struggling in New York City and trying to find our new voices as immigrant artists. As I am, he is a very sensitive person: We both easily cry when something amazes us or moves us. This song, with lyrics by Georgie, is about a person questioning herself about leaving her own place to start a new life somewhere else with her life’s love. It is actually inspired by another friend when she was dealing with that huge decision. And there is no one better to sing about this struggle than one of my favorite voices today, the soulful Mireya Ramos. My wife Florencia and I have been a huge fan of all-female mariachi band Flor de Toloache for a while now, and having its founder and singer as part of this album, singing this bolero pop, made us feel so honored and proud. Mireya confessed to me that this was the first time she has recorded something like this, very different to the music she usually does. And here, between us, this is one of my favorite tracks.
I have had the honor of being both musical director and writing partner for a lot of projects with Venezuelan performer Migguel Anggelo, who I like to call mi pana. This song is a tribute to the beautiful country of Venezuela. I don’t want to start talking about politics, so I will only say it is a wonderful country, rich in culture and natural resources, and full of amazing people—many of them having to leave their beloved country to find a better life. This is a love letter to this amazing country, and I have the honor of collaborating also in this track with virtuoso Venezuelan cuatro player Jorge Glem. Fun fact: We met each other because we used to live in the same building when we both had just arrived to this country. The cuatro is a four single nylon string instrument, very important in Venezuelan music culture and history. And one of the things I love the most about this project is to have the honor to collaborate and learn from all these amazing musicians and performers who, although most of us are Latinos, are all different. We come from different backgrounds, and all of our stories are special and unique.
This is my hymn, my battle song. I consider myself a “dreamer” and a “doer.” Even when these two words could seem opposite sometimes, that’s what I do. Every day I dream, asleep or awake, of a better life; of being a better version of myself; of being able to create a stronger Latino artists’ community; of my stories and songs being heard and sung around the world; of a fair, diverse, and equal artistic community; of being able to create a legacy; of creating a better world for my son and daughter. And after dreaming, I try to do my part. Yes, I know it is hard. We are imperfect human beings, we make mistakes, but we need to keep on dreaming, doing, trying, falling, failing, learning, and starting again. This album is a dream come true through action, through the help and support of many people. We can’t do it alone. We need to work together. Gracias a mi Familia for being part of this, and for helping me tell these stories—our stories. This song and this album is for all of us. With lyrics by Jorge “Georgie” Castilla and an amazing vocal delivery by Mauricio Martínez. (You can hear a clip of it in the video above, as it was performed as part of ¡Viva Broadway! Hear Our Voices, available to watch in full until 8pm ET October 5.)
Bonus Track - “Hecho Para Amarte”
This is the only song completely in Spanish in the album, with lyrics by yours truly. It is the first song I wrote for my now wife when I met her. This song, originally a ballad, was sung at our wedding by one of our best friends. This “bonus track” is a gift for Florencia, and I decided to add it here, I guess because it’s my album, hehehehehe. We made it this huge, ambitious salsa arrangement and got one of the best salsa singers in the world: the amazing Marcial Istúriz, who took the song to the next level. Every single song in this album comes from my heart, from a place of honesty and love for who I am, for who we are, and including this very personal song to close the album is like signing the most important document in my life with my own blood. I hope you enjoyed this journey through my stories, our stories, the stories of my people, stories that need to be shared and heard. This album wouldn’t exist without the support of so many amigos, musicians from all over the world, especially my co-arranger and co-orchestrator, and the pianist in most of the tracks, my brother Jesús Altamira. We started working together back in 2001, and every day these collaborations have become stronger. I’m so grateful to have him by my side to help my music sound its best. Second but not less important, my co-producer and engineer, mi hermano Demián Cantú, who I consider my other pair of ears, who makes these tracks sound as amazing as they sound, and who makes magic with all the crazy material I send his way. I’m grateful to have you both in my life.