legacy lives on
Jenne Celine Madrid wasn't alive when Selena, the most famous name in the world of Tejano music, was murdered March 31, 1995, inside a Corpus Christi hotel by Yolanda Saldivar, the president of her fan club.
In fact, Madrid didn't become familiar with the fallen singer until 2007, after seeing the 1997 biopic starring Jennifer Lopez. But she was immediately hooked.
“I've watched it already, like, 10 times. I saw that she was young. I'm young, too,” says Madrid, who turns 12 in April. “I'm a Tejano singer. I want to get up there just like her.”
Madrid lists Selena as a “favorite” alongside current names Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, the Jonas Brothers, Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez (who was named after the Tejano icon).
“I like her personality most. She's a great performer,” says Madrid, who has been dubbed “la princesita de Tejas” (the little princess of Texas). She performed during Go Tejano Day on the RodeoHouston grounds, sang the National Anthem at a Houston Rockets game and won a competition at Sam Houston Race Park.
Madrid, much like Selena did, has a preternaturally powerful, emotive voice. She's equally adept at Spanish cumbias, rancheras and English pop tunes. It was a world Selena seemed destined to bridge just before her death.
Selena's posthumous 1995 album, the bilingual Dreaming of You, sold 4 million copies and hinted at her potential. She would have likely broken through the rote pop trappings that diluted crossover bids from Thal ía, Paulina Rubio, Shakira and Ricky Martin.
“I loved the freedom of what she was doing. She was just so sure of herself,” says Tejano singer Stefani Montiel, a former labelmate who became friends with Selena and spent time with her offstage. “I was like, ‘This is what I want to do. I want to be like her.'?”
Subsequent posthumous albums, including the Selena film soundtrack and Live: The Last Concert (recorded at the 1995 RodeoHouston in the Astrodome), have passed the 1 million mark.
The 2005 Selena ¡Vive! tribute concert, broadcast live from Reliant Stadium in Houston, is the most-viewed Spanish-language TV program in history.
“She was definitely ahead of her time. She took a lot of the old-school influences, conjunto bands, and brought them into her modern sound,” says Nina Diaz, vocalist for San Antonio-based rock trio Girl in a Coma. “It will never go out of style. You'll hear it in 30 years, and it will still seem fresh.”
Girl in a Coma, which is signed to Joan Jett's Blackheart Records, releases Adventures in Coverland next month, a series of reworked classics from artists who influenced the trio. The list includes Joy Division, Patsy Cline, Velvet Underground, the Beatles, David Bowie, Ritchie Valens — and Selena.
Diaz, sister Nina (drums) and friend Jenn Alva (bass) rip into Selena's lusty Si Una Vez with riot-girl passion. Keys and horns are replaced with frenzied guitar and drums.
“Si Una Vez had the most raw, raunchy of her vocals. When she's singing it, you hear the raspiness. It's kind of already punk style in its own way,” Diaz says. “I saw the movie and noticed the similarity in how young she started, and her sister was a drummer. And just all the sacrifices that she had to make. She just did what she had to do, because that was her dream. That's what I'm doing.”
Indeed, Selena's tireless journey from dance-hall singer to international star has inspired a new generation of female singers, all hoping to find acceptance from English and Spanish-language audiences.
“Selena conveyed believable emotion regardless of the style. Her charm made her stand out. She seemed friendly and warm,” says Roxxi Jane, an edgy bilingual singer who got her start in Tejano bands and Latin pop. (Her new album, Everybody Loves Pink, is due in April.)
Popular Houston singer Karina Nistal discovered Selena via 1992's breakthrough Entre a mi Mundo album. It found a teenage Selena refining the pop sensibility that eventually anchored her music.
“As a young Latina, it inspired me to create and perform,” says Nistal, whose own sound seamlessly fuses languages and genres. “I could feel the joy and sadness in her songs. It felt like she experienced my same heartbreak.”
Fans are indeed still hungry for Selena music, even if it's recycled hits. La Leyenda was released earlier this month in single, double and four-disc formats. It debuted in the top 10 on Billboard's Latin Albums and Regional Mexican charts, despite featuring no new songs.
“Selena is an icon. Just like people still jam to the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Madonna and Michael Jackson — no matter how the times change, Selena's music will never be forgotten,” says Stephanie Tunchez, a mariachi singer who accompanied Ana Gabriel at the Selena ¡Vive! concert.
“Whenever one of her songs comes on, you are always going to hear people say, ‘Oh hey, I love this song!'”