This essay is one in a series of profiles showcasing artists who will be honored in the 2018 National Sawdust Gala, to be held on May 10 at the Alhambra Ballroom in New York City. For more information, see nationalsawdust.org/gala.
“I use the possibility that I have of traveling around the world to both perform and be a super, super tiny seed of awareness. I guess what I do is just raise questions.”
Magos Herrera, though proudly Mexican by birth, is by calling a true citizen of the world. Trained in Los Angeles and Boston, and based since 2008 in New York City, Herrera has established herself as one of the elite contemporary jazz singers. But that description falls short of telling the whole story: in addition to being an interpreter of distinction, she is a composer, a producer, an educator, and a collaborative artist whose interests and experience transcend genre.
“Herrera is stretching the very notion of jazz singing,” the noted critic Tom Moon wrote for NPR, “pushing past the diva pleasantries into a sound that’s bold, thrilling and effortlessly global.” Her work has earned numerous prestigious awards and accolades, and has taken her to many of the world’s most prominent stages, including Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, Chicago’s Millennium Park, London’s Union Chapel, and festivals around the globe.
For Herrera, with global renown and access came a sense of global mission. A spokesperson for UN Women, she has taken an active role in the UNITE campaign to end violence against women, and “He for She” to promote gender equality. “We toured all over the world,” she explains, “and all this money went to support the UN campaign. And as we did that, we tried to do master classes and conferences in music schools to share with younger generations the importance of equal rights.” Reaching out to students is of paramount importance, Herrera asserts, “because that’s where we need to change the whole conversation.”
In her efforts to spread awareness, onstage and off, Herrera finds bountiful inspiration in the iconic Latin American artists who came before her. She cites for one example a tribute to the Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa that she organized in March 2017, as part of her National Sawdust Curator series. “She wasn’t a composer, she was a singer,” Herrera explains, “but the way she delivered her songs, the songs were sung to the people—to all people. To me, she represents the earth, the roots, in a non-intellectual manner.”
Herrera’s immediate future plans include paying further homage to illustrious forebears. “The narrative is about artists that have inspired me, that have been disruptors in their own time,” she explains, “and what survives is their art, the beauty of their art, their humanity, and the capacity to dream, to imagine a beautiful world for everyone.”
Asked for examples, she cites the Brazilian living legends Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. “But to tell you the truth,” Herrera adds, “I think every artist we love is an inspiration. It’s incredible how even in the most radical and dark times, when it comes to delivering music in a beautiful way, it really transcends whatever’s happening. That’s already a disrupting act. It’s a very elevated part of humanity, our capacity to express beauty, our higher beliefs, and our deepest longings.”