Yelba & Latin Fire is a variety band that, with 10 years of performance, has established itself in Houston, Texas, as well as surrounding areas.
SMAG caught up with Yelba Heaton, singer for the Latin Fire band, after her performance at Freedom Over Texas in Houston. Yelba talks about her recent nomination for a Houston Press Music Award, past performances in and outside of Houston and three summer spots she’d love to visit.
Where are you from?
Can you describe the kind of music you play?
We do all the Latin: salsa, merengue, cumbia, and then bachata as well, but then we go all the way over to the other side where we can do rock and pop and disco, and a little bit of R&B and some country music, too. So, if there’s an occasion that calls for different types of music, like a wedding, for example, I can do everything…the dinner set is going be lovely because we have all our jazz music in there…and some of the boleros. You know what a bolero is? Ok, yeah, some of the boleros, those beautiful old Spanish love songs. We start ramping it up as the night goes on, and then the dance floor gets filled up. We play, usually, some Latin and some American music. We’re very versatile and that’s just what kind of defines our band…but we’re still called Latin Fire.
When did you decide to pursue music?
I have been singing since I was little and, actually, in Nicaragua, I was on TV. Every week, with my older sister, we would play a song or two in this show that they called Junior Panthers. It was a thing my mother would take us to, and then we would play a couple of songs. But professionally, I really didn’t start doing that until I moved here to Houston in 2001. That’s when we started.
I know the band was recently recognized by the Houston Press. Can you tell me about that?
It was awesome. We’ve been nominated for the title of “Best Latin Band” in the traditional category. There were four bands nominated and our name was at the top of the ballot. So, yeah, I really want to win this year.
The voting starts in July. And I’ll be sending my e-mails to all my friends, and my e-mail blasts and stuff like that—just to get everyone to vote and help us win—because it’d mean a lot to us.
For a couple of years, we took a different direction. We were doing a lot of American music, too. Like, I don’t know if you were there when we did “Poker Face,” but we [also play songs like] “Play that Funky Music,” “Brick House” and all the disco hits. We didn’t do as much of the Latin music, which is what I started out being. And now we’ve swung back this year, and it shows. It’s great.
Do you perform regularly at any venues?
I do, I do…we play at a lot of country clubs, and a lot of private and corporate events and festivals.
We change it up; depending on the venue, our sound is different. You’ll never hear those same songs played like that if you come see us again.
On a different note, what would be your choice vacation spot during the summer?
I’m actually traveling next week; we’re going to Costa Rica. My brother lives down there, and my husband hasn’t been to Costa Rica…so we’re going to travel.
I’ve got three spots: I want to go to Hawaii, where I have a sister in the Air Force, that’s going be one of them; I want to go to Peru, where I have a really close friend living there still, and I want to go to Machu Picchu; and then I want to go to California’s wine country, where I have two brothers. I want to hit those three spots sometime in the next two years.
Can you tell me some of your favorite artists in the Houston area?
Ohhh, I like them [referring to the band playing on stage]; they’re called the Houston Funk Factory. Then, there’s a friend of mine that plays up in The Woodlands, his name is Daniel Blanchard, and he actually is a really good piano bar performer. And he’s been at the same venue for like 18 years, every Friday and Saturday. And we used to sing together as a duo at Kirby’s Steakhouse. His voice is beautiful, and our voices match really well. And so, anytime I can get away, I used to either go see Daniel or come into Houston and try to see one of those bands up there.
Seems like you’ve made Houston your home. Can you ever see yourself leaving the area?
No…[laughs] no. We live in The Woodlands. The majority of us live up in The Woodlands, and we’ve got a lot of gigs up there. You know, we do Carlton Woods Country Club, and we do the Woodlands Country Club, but we also travel all the way to Galveston and we play some venues down there that are a blast, like Crow’s Cantina and Bar, and the Waterspout. We play at the Holiday Inn on Latin nights. We go from Galveston, I’m going to say, all the way up to Conroe.
We also stay at home quite a bit because we’re like the little darlings of The Woodlands. That’s where I did the event last year. Actually, last year, we played for their [The Woodland’s] Fourth of July, and we headlined the show. We played four hours in The Woodlands.
How was that experience?
That was very very nice, except the weather wasn’t this good. It was in the 100s if you recall, and it was so hot. But it was a nice stage, huge crowd, and they did us very, very well.
And here [Houston’s Freedom Over Texas], I get to listen to other groups, which we don’t get to do often because we’re always playing. So, I’m going to enjoy going out there and listening to every single group that I can…and checking them out…and seeing what they’re doing, and learning, hopefully.
Enjoy Yelba’ s music on any occasion: visit Brix Wine Cellars (monthly shows in Houston) for a cozy, intimate setting, Crescent Moon Wine Bar (in Spring) if you like to dance, or Kirby’s Steakhouse (twice a month at The Woodlands) for background music while dining. The band also plays at the beautiful Monnalisa Bar in Houston’s Hotel Sorella CityCentre every month.
Photo credit: Smez
Online voting for the 2010 Houston Press Music Awards ends Aug. 8 at 12 a.m. The ballot is available here and in the July 22 print issue of the Houston Press.
Edit: Updated music award ballot link.