JD Natasha

An exception in the Latin music world, JD Natasha debuted her singer/songwriter alt-rock on a major label at the tender age of 16, causing quite a stir in the process. While singing/songwriting teenage-girl alt-rockers aren't all that novel in the English-speaking pop music world (Avril Lavigne, for one), they are certainly few and far between in the Spanish-speaking world, if not altogether nonexistent. That's partly why Natasha got the go-ahead from EMI Latin -- because there was a gaping void. Surely, not all young Latinas favored the sweeping ballads of Ednita Nazario or the bombastic tropical music of Olga Tañon, nor did they necessarily favor the male-dominated Mexican regional scene or the often sexist style of reggaeton. Chances are, they either favored the Latin pop of Paulina Rubio and Juanes or the broader realm of English-language pop. No matter how you look at it, though, there were very few young Latinas making music for major labels in the early to mid-2000s, the exceptions being Shakira and Julieta Venegas, though by the early 2000s, those two weren't exactly young anymore. Enter JD Natasha, the sort of multicultural, freely expressive, guitar-wielding young Latina missing from the picture -- the Latin Avril, if you will. Not only did she write her own songs from her own teenage-girl perspective, but she played some mean guitar, dressed like a neo-new waver, and took her inspiration from Nirvana and Radiohead, not Thalía or Kumbia Kings. The Miami-born daughter of an Argentine father and Cuban-American mother, Natasha Janeth Dueñas took up guitar as a tween. Influenced by English-language alt-rock and taking little interest in Latin music per se, she began writing songs quickly and recorded a demo tape before long. That demo tape would be her golden ticket. You see, her father owned a hair salon, where he often talked up his daughter and her gift for music, and one of his clients offered to circulate the tape to her neighbor, EMI Latin president Jorge Pino. She brought it over one night, and Pino gave it an immediate listen on an old boom box left behind by workers who were remodeling his kitchen. He instantly liked what he heard and requested that Natasha come perform for his at his office the next day. That she did, and he was just as struck by her music as by her looks -- black-lined eyes, a punky miniskirt, guitar in hand. He signed her without hesitation. However, the thing was, she sang in English, not Spanish. But she was perfectly fluent in Spanish, so the switch was made -- an American-style alt-rock singer/songwriter going the Latin route, thus making her a novelty rather than a commodity. The gamble, of course, was whether or not the Latin market would respond to such an artist. Her debut, Imperfecta-Imperfect, was greeted with much fanfare by the media and critics (the Miami Herald declared it the best Latin album of the year, for instance), and it was indeed an impressive debut, but the commercial response was relatively lukewarm. Her big single, "Lágrimas," did well on the Billboard Hot Latin Tracks chart, peaking at number 14 (number eight on the Latin Pop Airplay chart), but Natasha didn't break out big-time like EMI had perhaps hoped. Nonetheless, her future shone brighter than most, especially after she scored three Latin Grammy nominations in 2005. ~ Jason Birchmeier

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