“You know, Marfa freaking shot us up into the sky,” Tori Baltierra, the singer and guitar player for Tiarra Girls, the band she formed with her older sisters, bassist Tiffany Baltierra, and drummer Sophia Baltierra. From their performance at the 2019 Trans-Pecos Festival of Music + Love in Marfa, the Tiarra Girls met prolific musician and producer David Garza, who then introduced them to Michael Ramos, owner of Brown Recluse Studio in Austin. With Ramos’ help, the band recently signed to Lucky Hound Music.
It was the sisters’ musicianship that impressed the crowd with their set on the last night of the festival. The Austin band performed covers of Selena’s “Como La Flor” and The Black Keys’ “Tighten Up” in addition to their original music, like the bilingual song “Leave it to the People” that encourages people to vote and to make a change.
The shooting at an El Paso Wal-Mart was still on their minds as it happened two months before the festival and three hours away from Marfa. Tori told the mostly white festival crowd that Latinx culture is under attack before dedicating the band’s rendition of “Amor Eterno” to the El Paso Shooting victims. “We’ve always kept it in our set for that sole reason of dedicating it to someone,” Tori said to Luz Collective in a recent web interview. “Too often, people are taken from us and in horrible ways from positions of power.”
(Tiarra Girls performing at Trans-Pecos/Photo by Sarah M. Vasquez)
The 2016 Presidential Election sparked a fire in the Baltierra sisters to be more active in politics. “Latinx representation was predominantly bad and seeing that as young people, we’re just like, ‘Who are we in this world? Where do we stand? When I walk outside when I go to the store, how are people going to see us?’ So we were just really emotional during that time and at school,” Tori said.
They used that emotion to start using their platform as musicians to empower people to speak out against injustices as well as support progressive organizations like Jolt that motivates young Latinos to vote. Tori registered to vote on stage during one of their shows after she turned 18 years old. The band is very active on social media, Instagram in particular, to bring awareness to issues like participating in the US Census and ways to support migrants at the border. They’ve performed in support for political candidates like Beto O’Rourke and Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez and for online fundraisers that provided financial relief for families and healthcare workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In the beginning, our parents wanted us to be very careful about what we were posting and how we were saying different things,” Sophia said. “Then that went away really fast because they were like, you know what, there’s no reason to be scared of your viewpoints and your opinions and your voice.”
(Tori Baltierra/Photo by Sarah M. Vasquez)
Granted, the sisters formed their band in 2010 when Tori was 10 years old, Sophia was 12 years old, and Tiffany was 13 years old. Tori asked for a guitar in the third grade after her music teacher performed a few songs in class. Sophia would study how their dad, Hector Baltierra, added a beat or transitioned songs at his DJ gigs. “Whatever he was feeling, I feel like I felt the same thing,” Sophia said. “Like I knew exactly where those beats were supposed to go.”
Tiffany initially played the piano in the band, which she learned from her grandma, but she eventually moved to the bass. “We forced Tiffany to turn to bass because we wanted to be a rock sister band at the time,” Tori said.
In those early years, Tiarra Girls found themselves grouped with Tejano bands, even though they weren’t really playing any Tejano songs, except for a few Selena covers. Tori remembers the predominantly male bands would assume that the girls were only singers and dancers. “Then we would go on with our instruments when we would start playing; they’d be like, ‘oh my gosh.’ It was too much for them,” Tori said.
“For me, they’d be like, you’re playing the drum set, why aren’t you smiling?” Sophia said. “I’m like, what guy do you see smiling and doing this? You don’t ever see that. So why are you telling me to do it just because I’m a girl?”
They still get those comments, but they don’t hesitate to call them out.
Through Lucky Hound Music, Tiarra Girls recently went into the studio to record their upcoming single, “Soy Chingona,” at Studios at Fischer. The song will be released later in 2020, but people can listen to it now on Marfa Public Radio.
Tori wrote the song a year ago after she saw the word “Chingona,” a Spanish slang word for “badass woman,” on t-shirts at an Austin event. “I realized that it was considered a bad word to the older generation, but when I hear the word badass, and it’s directed towards women, I just think of a powerful woman that I want to talk to,” Tori said. “I love how Latinas are reclaiming it now and just taking it as their own and using it.”
The song is a tribute to the older Latinas who opened the doors for the younger generation. “We can follow their lead,” Tori said. “We can go down that path that they’ve created for us and then turn another way and adjust to the times. Take what they’ve done for us, and then help out the generations to come.
And to do that, each sister has advice for the young Latinas interested in pursuing music. “Make noise,” Sophia said. “You’re obviously not going to be perfect in the beginning. You’re going to grow.”
“Make noise about everything,” Tori said. “If something is going wrong in your life where you’re being discriminated against, make noise.”
“Know that you can always come to us with questions, advice, and things like that,” Tiffany said. “I think it’s important because we appreciate all the people and all the women in our lives who have given us a platform to play with them and share their experiences with us, so we’d like to do that.”