Ask Isabel Olive, the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who performs as Half Gringa, about her stage name and you’ll get an understanding of where her music comes from, too.
“Half Gringa is a name that, when I started using it, I was thinking a lot more about my cultural identity, how I grew up bi-culturally. My mom’s from Venezuela and most of my family lives in Latin America on her side of the family, and I grew up in the Midwest in, like, a tiny town,” she said. “Me and my sister were both referred by our family in, not in a derogatory way, I think in Venezuela specifically it’s used as sort of a term of endearment — like, oh yeah, she’s a gringa, you know, she just grew up in the United States, she does things a little differently. That’s the vibe. And I feel attached to it because it’s a true thing about me.”
She says having a stage name helps ground herself in her identity.
“When I struggle to … find my place in like the Latino, Latine community, it sort of helps to orient myself and know it’s OK if your Spanish isn’t perfect, it’s OK if you feel like you have this sort of duality of your identity,” she says. “I think just acknowledging both of those things and interrogating them has been really important in my work and is something I want to keep doing.”
Her upbringing is also where the poetic bent of her lyrics comes from.
“I didn’t really start writing music in earnest until I was like 19,” she recalls. “Both my parents are poets. And so I’ve always been interested in poetry writing poetry and I studied poetry in college. And so that’s kind of what my entry point to writing songs was.”
Olive grew up in Carbondale and moved to Chicago for school when she was 18, and she says the move drastically broadened her musical palette.
“I learned so much about music from people I went to college with. I didn’t even know what Pitchfork was, I didn’t know Radiohead. There were a lot of early 2000s, mid 2000s alternative indie rock bands that I was introduced to. And there’s so much music all the time,” Olive said. “I remember I went to Lollapalooza 2010 with my sister and I was just like, wow, this is insane! It was really eye opening.”
Half Gringa performed an acoustic version of her latest single, “Miranda,” for Latino Voices at the new venue Color Club in Irving Park. Her recently-released video for the song can be seen on her website, along with dates and details for her first cross-country tour this month.