Selena de Mayo puts a fun twist on the typical Cinco de Mayo night out 

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Before Stephanie Peña cultivated a deep connection with her Mexican heritage, she had Selena.

Peña’s story is similar to many Mexican-American children who are a generation or two removed from their native ancestry. The allure of American culture can be powerful, especially when you grow up surrounded by it. For Peña and many of her generation, the mononymous Tejano-pop superstar was the bridge that connected those two worlds.

“The way I actually learned Spanish was teaching myself the lyrics to Selena songs,” she said.

Peña stars in Selena de Mayo, a special Cinco de Mayo tribute to Selena, 8 p.m. May 5 at 51st St. Speakeasy, 1114 NW 51st St. The event is produced by Leslie Hensley, also known as local performance artist Balthazar. Peña sings Selena’s classic hits backed by Hensley’s vocals and the Balthazar band. Music starts around 10 p.m.

Guests who walk into the Speakeasy that night will be treated to an immersive Selena experience. The eponymous 1997 biopic starring Jennifer Lopez will screen in the background. A large shrine to the star will be set up outside the bar, and guests will be able to contribute to it. A live DJ, character artist and a Selena costume contest will also be part of event.

Hensley said she first had the idea for a Selena tribute show shortly after completing her Dirty Dancing tribute, Dirty Christmas, in December. She immediately thought Peña, the official vocalist for the National Council of La Raza Latino civil rights organization, would be perfect for it. The singer was more than enthusiastic about signing on to the project.

“She went outside and auditioned for me, even though she didn’t have to,” Hensley said.

Selena, born as Selena Quintanilla, is one of far too many young, beloved music superstars who died in the prime of their careers and lives — a list that also includes artists like Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, Buddy Holly, Tupac Shakur and others. Selena’s death is perhaps even more tragic because she was shot and killed by her business manager — also her former fan club president — in March 1995.

The Texas-born artist made a name singing Spanish-language Tejano hits but grew a new, more expansive audience with her 1995 posthumous crossover album Dreaming of You.

“Selena is one of those iconic artists who did make it big, but obviously with her death and all the tragedy, it just continued the momentum,” Peña said. “It uncovered new audiences even after her passing.”

Of the songs Peña is set to perform, the most meaningful for her is “No Me Queda Mas.”

“It’s Selena’s most famous ballad,” she said. “That song is just tears. I used to sing it to my grandma when she was sick — may she rest in peace and I hope she loves it in heaven. It’s an amazing song that means so much to me personally.”

Hensley said she thinks a lot of people will be interested in this show and that it offers a fun alternative to traditional Cinco de Mayo events. It is also a rare opportunity for fans in Oklahoma City to hear Selena’s music performed with a live backing band.

“It’s going to be great,” Hensley said. “Listening to [Peña] and the band, it’s just crazy.”

Print headline: Distinct Cinco, Selena de Mayo is an all-out tribute to the timeless Tejano icon.

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