This story is part of Image Issue 9, “Action” is a sound and visual reminder that there is no party like LA. Read the full issue here.
San Cha sings from a divine place. Ahead of her upcoming spring releases – a double single titled “Processions” – the queer ranchera artist describes her path to knowledge through song.
I think music is very spiritual. It may be secular, but in aboriginal cultures, music comes first from the sanctuary. And when you’re singing the same thing over and over again … how can that not be magic? How can a song not be a prayer?
I was born and raised in San Jose. I grew up singing in church choir. We grew up very Catholic. My parents were paperless. They came here from Jalisco. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment with my uncle, who had a wife (and a daughter), my younger brother, and his younger sister. I was not allowed to leave the house unless it was for school or church. Everything revolved around that. I have not gone to see the movie. I haven’t been to a restaurant. I have not done anything that is not affiliated with the church. My parents were very strict. They worshiped the garland every day.
My favorite church songs were the ones we sang during the Lent season – the last days of Christ, 40 days and 40 nights. At that time he has lost faith in everything and everything. I was like Oh, I identify with that: The most serious minor wires. Goth S -. But that’s because you can see his humanity.
We all have those moments where we are at our lowest ebb and do not expect anything in return. My parents didn’t accept me, so I was forced to live in this kind of underworld. At 13, I learned the guitar from my singing instructor. He thought my parents would love to hear Boleros – but my mother was like, “Why doesn’t he play Ranchera for you?” I don’t like romance“It simply came to our notice then.
But there was this CD set of my father, 100 songs by various Mexican artists. That’s when I first started listening to Ranchera music like Lola Beltran. Amalia Mendoza I really liked; Her voice was very scary. She sang like many unf! A lot of experience. I had never heard anyone sing like this before.
And there was Juan Gabriel, with whom he had singing – and the band Mariachi And An orchestra – but he still had room to dance around and be dramatic, holding a goblet of wine. I wanted to be like that.
I went to study music at St. Mary’s College in the Bay Area. I thought that my parents would be happy to be Catholic. They had only four music heads in the whole school. I took formal lessons – like in European classical music – but I thought they were trying to change me. I would have nightmares in music theory.
In college, I saw all these blonde girls really slutty and naked. I was given a lot of shelter, and [didn’t have] Complete sexual experiences before that. I drank my first drink and had my first boyfriend with friends, and moved in with him before I left school.
I never finished.
My best friend from high school went to UC Berkeley. Before he left, he would take me to gay bars in San Francisco. Until then, I was meeting girls – when I was a boyfriend. My friend and I didn’t have to talk about myself. He already knew. I haven’t really come out. It was I just do what I do!
After leaving college, I stayed for a few months at my aunt’s farm in Jalisco. She said, “You’ve come here with torn clothes. You don’t have money. And obviously what you’re doing is not right – you have to sing rancheras.”
I had my recording equipment. So I grabbed her iPod and found some of my favorite songs. I covered a Mariachi song by Linda Ronstadt – I sang it on my lower register and doubled it, adding some harmony. I played the guitar and added these little violin synths. I recorded seven covers and burned a CD for me Aunty – Then he sent it to everyone else Aunts. Then they traded it around the whole city. My music It became a huge family affair that united the genders – it brought everyone together.
I moved to Mexico City because my friend offered me a room. I thought, “I’m going to make it there.” My neighbor said, “You have to learn three songs to sing in a restaurant. I was singing this song for Joanna Rosa when it hits me – there’s a moment where I like, belt out. I let go of my voice and it felt a bit free. Clicked.
“Sancha” means “Malani” in Spanish; “San” is the word for “saint”. I started moving from San Chaba in 2009. I think it happened in an organized way because I already had the first name and the middle name. My family used to call me Annabelle, and at school they called me Lysette. I was already living with a divided personality.
Naming yourself is powerful. At the time, I didn’t know anything about gender politics and things like that, or weirdness. But later, I saw all my friends change their names and present themselves as different genders. I have already done this without knowing it.
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Back in San Francisco, at the Q Bar, we met Persia. She is now my drag mother. I thought she was beautiful. He was very friendly and generous from the beginning and introduced me to all his artist friends who were dragging me. And as soon as I heard the music, she said, “Come and do it in my gallery.” She performed at a bar called Ista Noche. I don’t think it exists anymore, but it’s on the 16th and the mission. And she did two shows there every Thursday and Saturday. These were all Latina queens. They finally let me go downstairs to get ready with the girls. And they don’t let anyone down there.
It was interesting to see these queens. When I wasn’t drunk, I was studying them – Demonstration of their femininity. Seeing how they exaggerated femininity. I said, “Me too! Up to the breast!” But I was not a lip sensor. I like to sing in my own voice. I joined this band called Daddy’s Plastic in the Bay – we all get dressed and perform in drag and jump around in shirts.
When I took a sex studies class in San Francisco, I always stuck with what I read: Gender is performance. I was taught to be strict in my femininity. If I said, “I don’t want to wear that dress,” my mother would be like, “Well now you’re going to wear it for 10 days.” It was a way of claiming his dominance. She wanted me to be this ordinary female queen. Husband type woman.
But then I had this aunt who came to visit us from Mexico, and she always stayed with us. She is one of my father’s younger sisters. She was definitely cool. We always call her Tía La Güera because she has very light skin. She made her hair white and wore really tight bongo jeans – so tight she had to sleep to get dressed.
When I visited her, I helped her blow-dry her curly hair. Then she started shopping for me because she wanted to translate for me. She sniffed all these perfumes that hit my head. He told me about the club. She’ll flick the lights to make it strobe-y, and she’ll be like, “This is the club!” I looked at him a lot.
I moved to LA in 2015, and I immediately joined a band. I found a band before I got a job. When I got here I said, “I’m going to form my band without any men” – unless they were gay men. But now I’m like … What if you’re weird? What if you’re an alien who makes alien sounds? You are perfect You will be with me forever
I was invited to play at a party called SCUM in Echoplex in 2018, and it was like a queer, brown punk party. Limp Wrist performed with two other punk bands and this trio Mariachi La Victoria. I sang two rancheras with them, before the limp wrist. And I was very surprised – the punk kids were quiet, for once – and they were singing songs and really recognizing it.
At that moment I realized, “It all fits together!” Because [in Mexico] My aunt told me not to do this. ान Even in San Francisco, I felt like it didn’t fit together. But when I arrived in LA, it seemed like the right place to be I.
And it keeps looking for me, you know. When Janali, the director of Bardia [Kacey Musgraves’ 2021 film] “Star-Cross” scouted me, I thought I’d be an extra. It was on a zoom call that I realized – even drunk after a friend’s birthday party – it was actually an audition. The paper says they were trying to get people like Amanda Lepore or Queen Latifah to sing to the people of Peugeot in front of the church. Was their choice between a lesbian and a queen? It felt like I was somewhere in the middle!
It seemed appropriate to return to the congregation. I felt like I was in a full circle. But for me the church is different now. When I went with my partner, I had a dream that this is the place where my friends can come and we can only sing till 4 o’clock at night which makes me feel like church. My bizarre church.
As I wrote, I remembered those moments [series of] Double singles – there are four, and they are each called “processes”. They are all heading for the event that will conclude on the album. I will be releasing each double single in April, May and June. (You know, after Lent.)
I still pray; These days I pray to the moon. Tide Also I feel like imitating the speed of water every time I write a song. Since we have water, we want to coordinate with it. And when your voice is properly connected to the air – and you feel it coming out of you, like Oops! – When heaven has taken you.