Photos: Shervin Lainez
Photos: Shervin Lainez

Xenia Rubinos Brings Vibrant Sounds of Identity To Rosslyn Jazz Fest

The onset of Labor Day brings back-to-school shopping, the shuttering of public pools and an unofficial end to summer. But that doesn’t have to mean an end to outdoor fun. The Rosslyn Jazz Fest has provided a space for people to gather, dance and listen to music for free for the past 27 years.

This year’s festival on September 9 promises to be the entertaining and unique community experience it has always been. According to Mary-Claire Burick, president of the Rosslyn Business Improvement District, that’s exactly what the festival is – a community experience.

“It’s not a concert or a nightclub setting,” she says. “It’s a real community event. You are putting your blanket down next to your neighbor – chatting, dancing, and hopefully meeting new people and having a good time.”

The family-friendly event, just a short walk from the Rosslyn Metro, has continuously brought big names in music to the area, and this year is no exception. Josh Stoltzfus, director of cultural development for Arlington Arts, says the process of picking performers is no small endeavor.

“We seek to present a diverse lineup of artists in jazz and jazz-influenced genres, with particular emphasis on those who are utilizing the themes, technology and aesthetics of contemporary culture in order to honor jazz tradition while seeking to build on and expand on that tradition,” he says.

This year’s lineup includes Joe Keyes and The Late Bloomer Band, Lee Fields & The Expressions, The Soul Rebels, and Xenia Rubinos. With this diverse, dynamic lineup of musicians, you’re bound to hear something that resonates. Brooklyn-based Xenia Rubinos’ music explores issues like identity and history, all while keeping you dancing.

Pinning Rubinos’ sound down to one genre would do her musical fluidity a disservice, but you can hear notes of soul, punk, funk, R&B and more. Her diverse interests and tastes are the reason her sound can’t be pigeonholed.

“I like a lot of different music, and I’ve listened to a lot of different music throughout my life, so I just gravitate toward what makes me most excited and curious,” Rubinos says.

Despite her wandering curiosity – or perhaps because of it – Rubinos often uses music to explore her own identity as an Afro-Latina in the United States, even though she didn’t always have access to that kind of vocabulary.

“So, in a way, it’s all about my identity and I guess it always will be tied to that,” she continues. “I’m also really curious about where I come from and researching my family history, my personal history and inventing what I don’t know. I was a Hispanic girl that grew up in Hartford. I thought I was American, but I kind of never felt American.”

Using art to explore cultural identity and other meaningful topics lends her music an authenticity that’s hard to imitate. It feels even more genuine when you realize that Rubinos often uses her music to laugh, too.

A song called “Mexican Chef” on Rubinos’ most recent album, Black Terry Cat, originally began as a private joke. The song is about the invisibility of people of color in the service industry, even though they’re often in plain sight. That invisibility is even more ironic because the service industry would come to a standstill were it not for that labor.

“It was just an observation that I was making, walking around in my neighborhood and seeing the same scene repeated over and over again,” the artist says. “It kind of made me laugh, and I wrote this song originally just as a poem, a joke to myself, but then it ended up becoming this song. And I didn’t think of it, but it really resonated with people because it’s just calling out something that we all know and see.”

That kind of candidness has resonated with her fans all over the world. Despite her success, Rubinos stays true to her roots, always willing to play a free show if it means more people will get to enjoy her music.

With accessibility to such inimitable music, there’s basically no reason not to go to Rosslyn Jazz Fest. But here’s more incentive anyway: there will be food trucks and an expanded beer and wine garden. Don’t miss the festival at Gateway Park from 1-7 p.m. on Saturday, September 9. Admission is free.

Gateway Park: 1300 Lee Hwy. Arlington, VA; 703-522-6628; www.rosslynva.org

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Reem Nadeem

Reem is a Cairo-DC transplant, teacher and journalist. She has a B.A. in English from George Mason University. If she isn’t writing, teaching or staring longingly into the cat shelter next to On Tap’s office, she probably has her nose in a book.