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Ximena Sariñana makes her English-language debut with new album

- Ximena Sariñana performing with Sia and Oh Land at the Commodore Ballroom tonight, Tickets $26.50. Doors 8 p.m. Show 9: 30 p.m.
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Ximena Sariñana recorded her new album in L.A. with a team of collaborators including Greg Kurstin (The Bird and The Bee) and Dave Sitek (TV on the Radio).

- Ximena Sariñana performing with Sia and Oh Land at the Commodore Ballroom tonight, Tickets $26.50. Doors 8 p.m. Show 9: 30 p.m.

Already a veteran of stage and screen in Mexico at the age of 25, Ximena Sariñana is poised to conquer the English-speaking world with her new album.

Sariñana was born into show business. Her father, Fernando Sariñana, is a filmmaker and her mother, Carolina Rivera, writes screenplays. She appeared in her first feature film at the age of four while her father was completing his masters in filmmaking at UCLA. Her artistic destiny seemed predetermined.

"That was the first thing that I did," says Sariñana. "It was just natural for me to veer into acting. It was so much fun. I loved it and my parents were very supportive because they understood what it was all about, which is very cool, because you know they were very strict about school. They made school my priority and acting was

always thought of as a hobby.

"I think that's one of the reasons why I loved acting so much because it was treated as a hobby and not an obligation. It was always something that I looked forward to doing. It was like the reward after school being able to act if I kept my grades up. That was like the prerequisite for acting which I think is really positive when I look back on it."

Back in Mexico after her father finished his studies, Sariñana began working in telenovelas at the age of 11 as the villain Mariela in Luz Clarita and that led to several other acting gigs on TV.

"In the three soap operas I did I was always the antagonist character," she says. "Which of course is way more fun to play than a goody-two-shoes, you know? In films I did a number of different roles, everything from a racist 15-year-old, to a jock cheerleader kind of girl, to a lesbian musician. I've played everything, all kinds of roles."

At home music was a big part of her environment. Sariñana's father entertained her on guitar with Latin folk songs and there was always music playing in the house. "My dad had an extensive CD collection," she says. "He sold all his vinyls to go study in the U.S. He was really into jazz and Tracy Chapman and Paul Simon and my mom was a huge Led Zeppelin fan. They were both big Beatles fans so I would listen to a lot of that, too. I would just feed off of my dad's collection. It wasn't until the age of eight or nine that I actually bought my first record - that was Michael Jackson's Dangerous."

Sariñana was always involved in music as a sideline while acting. She recorded songs for the soap operas she appeared in and also wrote some of the tunes for the Mexican movie Amar te duele. The huge success of that film and its soundtrack led to her move into music on a fulltime basis.

Even though Sariñana had been working towards this moment for many years the reaction to the release of her debut album, Mediocre, in 2008 surprised her. "I wasn't really expecting anything," she says. "It caught on very quickly.

At my record release party we played in front of 150 people and then six months later we were doing a headline show in a 3,500 seater. I couldn't believe what was happening. Since then it doesn't seem like I've been in one place longer than a month. I've just been traveling constantly, going from one place to the other."

The soundtrack to Amar te duele and her Mediocre debut sent Sariñana on an entirely new creative path and their success made her a major star in the Spanish-speaking world.

Involved in all aspects of her music Sariñana draws on a wide spectrum of influences for inspiration. Working with Argentine producer Tweety González and Uruguayan producer Juan Campodónico on her debut, the Mexican singer/songwriter built alternative pop tunes with a disarmingly personal vibe. There is no mistaking her soulful music on radio playlists full of generalizations and formulaic tracks.

After her success singing in Spanish, the theory was the well-crafted songs would translate well into English. They did. Despite switching to another language and working with different people on her second album, her music loses none of its power.

"I felt that I was ready and I took on the challenge," says Sariñana. "I was finishing the tour up in Mexico and Latin America for Mediocre and in the meantime I would come to L.A. for month-long periods of daily sessions with different producers and songwriters. Early on I found Greg Kurstin and Dave Sitek and I was just focusing on working with them. It was a very intense time, working and writing nonstop."

Forced out of her comfort zone it shouldn't be a surprise that Sariñana made a song called "Different" the lead-off track. Everything was up in the air on the second record working with Kurstin and Sitek. "I obviously loved each of their

individual projects," she says. "I loved The Bird and the Bee and TV on the Radio but you never know how it's going to work out until you actually work with them. In both Greg's case and Dave's case it was just super fun. There was an immediate connection and they both made me feel comfortable and at home. I loved what came out of it. I thought that was the most interesting stuff that I did and I wanted to keep doing it and it was what I wanted the record to sound like. The record started taking form with them."

Sariñana is a musical auteur, a term coined by the French journal Cahiers du Cinéma to describe filmmakers who put their stamp on work no matter who they work with. She is a master collaborator who likes to work as part of a creative team.

Nothing is lost in translation with Sariñana because nothing is translated. Her Spanish songs remain Spanish and likewise for her English tunes.

"When I'm here I obviously speak in English and when in Mexico I speak in Spanish but the shows are pretty much what they would be if I had done the second record in Spanish," she says. "I enjoy playing the new songs because that's what's more interesting for me now but I also like to play some of the old songs. I will try and keep it as balanced as possible."

The week her new album was released Sariñana headed out on a summer tour with Sia and Oh Land. "It's amazing," she says. "It's always a lot more fun to be able to tour with other girls. You kind of feel better that you're not the only girl on the road. Sia's really nice and Nana, the singer from Oh Land is amazing, and it's really cool to be able to hang out with her."

Although Sariñana has visited Vancouver on vacation the Commodore Ballroom show tonight is the first time she has performed in Canada. "It's always been a problem with the visas as you might know," she says. "Mexicans and Canadians stopped having a positive relationship in terms of visas I think two years ago so after that it's been a bit of a problem every time you want to go to Canada. It's become a little bit harder for me to be able to tour but I finally got my visa for the date and I'm excited."

jgoodman@nsnews.com