Miami singer Jessi Campo grew up feeling proud of her Cuban background, but aside from singing some songs in Spanish, she never considered incorporating classic Cuban music with her own. Until now.
"I think I hesitated because I wanted to do me. I wanted to be true to myself and do my music and I thought there was a difference," says Campo, who usually sings jazz and blues songs. "But being Cuban is part of me. Being Cuban is part of my heritage. I realize that not only my songs are part of me, but anything that's part of my heritage is part of me."
Campo recently released her fourth album, "La Pasión de la Lupe," featuring cover songs from Cuban singer of bolero La Lupe. Even though she's been working as singer-songwriter for 30 years, this is her first tribute album to a Cuban artist. She will celebrate the release with a live performance Friday, Sept. 9, at the Cubaocho Museum and Performing Arts Center. The album features cover of classic songs by La Lupe, such as "Que Te Pedi," as well as three original songs by Campo.
La Lupe reached the peak of her career in the 1960s, when she collaborated with artists like Tito Puente and became a well-known diva of Latin music, along with Celia Cruz. Yet while Cruz's career continued growing strong throughout the next three decades, La Lupe's faded in the 1970s. That's one of the reason Campo chose to reinvent her songs.
"Everybody knows Celia Cruz. Everybody still remembers Celia Cruz. La Lupe, I think, was slightly forgotten by a lot of people," Campo says. "And I think a new generation of women need to hear songs of La Lupe because she talks about a lot of emotions. I think it also gives young women their empowerment."
La Lupe often sang songs that described troubled relationships from a woman's point of view. "Teatro" describes the falsehood of a former lover, and "La Tirana" talks about her indifference to an ex-lover's gossip. Campo sings both songs in her new album.
She rediscovered La Lupe while watching Telemundo's TV series "Celia," which aired between October and February. The shows tells the story of Cruz, but one of the characters in the show was inspired by La Lupe. Some of the songs the album were part of the series' soundtrack.
Campo says people have told her she sounded like La Lupe even before she thought about working this tribute album. But for Campo, the similarities go beyond voice and language. Like La Lupe, Campo often writes emotional lyrics that tell a story.
"She's very passionate and emotive, and when I perform, I'm the same way, so her music speaks to me volumes," Campo says.
In her new original song, "Vivio La Vida," she tells the life story of her father, from leaving Cuba to becoming a musician in New York.
Campo says working on the album was a challenge for her voice and her Spanish pronunciation. Even though she grew up speaking Spanish with her Cuban father and Chilean mother, her first language is English.
"This album challenged me vocally," says Campo, who was born in New York. "There was one song we spent four hours on because I had to get it right."
It paid off, Campo's voice sounds stronger and deeper in this album than in any of her previous works.
"It was just wonderful, I could feel the passion of the music. It was me. I could feel myself coming out, awakening as a woman, as a musician," she says. "It was just a wonderful experience."
Campo will perform live 9 p.m. Sept. 9 at the Cubaocho Museum and Performing Arts Center, 1465 SW Eight St., Suite 106, Miami. Admission costs $10. Reservations are recommended. Call 305-285-5880 or go to Cubaocho.com.