Ceci Bastida is in Pomona, California, not far from her home base of Los Angeles, when we hop on the phone after sound check for her next gig with Mexrrissey. Bastida has been on tour with the Mexican all-star tribute to Morrissey while preparing for the November 11 release of her new solo EP, Sueño. Originally from Tijuana, the singer was just a teenager when she joined the popular ska/punk band Tijuana No! and launched her music career. As a solo artist, her work, which earned her a Latin Grammy nomination in 2010, has crossed genres from rock to dance as she has collaborated with artists as diverse as Diplo and Rancid’s Tim Armstrong. Sueño is similarly eclectic and features contributions from Aloe Blacc, Mexican Institute of Sound, Chilean singer Mariel Mariel and South African artist Spoek Mathambo.
Bastida’s work is often politically charged, but she says that Sueño is a bit of a departure from her previous full-length, La Edad de la Violencia. “I wanted to take a little breath and stay a little bit away from the intensity of the last album,” she says. But her collaboration with Aloe Blacc “Un Sueño” was inspired by the Mexican college students who disappeared in 2014 and remain missing. “People keep looking for answers and demanding answers,” she says. “I wanted to talk about that, but mainly focus on the people’s energy and not giving up.”
Read on as Bastida talks politics, genres and growing up in plain view of the Mexican-American border.
How do you feel that social justice has influenced you as a musician and a lyricist?
I started off with a punk band from Tijuana and that was all that we talked about. We were so close to the U.S. growing up and living in Tijuana, but we also talked about different issues around the world. I was so young when I started playing with them that that was like my school in a way. I really learned from them and I learned a lot about the world, and it made me want to write more about those kinds of things. It ended up being the place that I go to somehow when I write, kind of inspired by everything I see around me.
Do you think that artists have a responsibility to comment on the world around them?
It’s a tricky question. I used to think that, yes, people do have the responsibility, but then I also understand that music is art. It is how you express what you feel and what you want. I don’t think a song about love is necessarily less powerful than a song about some social issue. I think people have different ways of expressing themselves, but I do like seeing some people taking stances on different things that have been happening. I’ve seen that changed a lot in the U.S. with Black Lives Matter and all these racial issues that we’ve been dealing with for a very long time, but we’ve seen recently happening more and more.
I mix both languages because that’s who I am. I’m from the border and that’s what we do.
You’re based in L.A., but you’ve been touring across the country recently. Have you seen the way that Black Lives Matter or the election play out in different cities as you travel?
The only thing that comes close to what you just said was getting on a plane in San Antonio on our way here. The first thing I saw was an older gentleman with a “Make America Great Again” hat, which was pretty shocking to me because I had never seen anyone wear that hat except for Trump. In our world, being from Mexico, it’s a very important issue as well—this whole hatred of immigrants and this idea that we came here to take away what belongs to someone else is really wrong. It’s hard to not talk about it.
The issue of borders is something that you’ve explored before in your music.
Yeah. I grew up at the border. Ever since I was a little girl, the main road to go to the downtown area from where I grew up runs next to the border, so I saw that wall grow and change throughout the years and always saw people try to cross that main highway to try to cross the border. In the beginning, when you’re little, you don’t quite understand what’s going on. You just see people crossing. I saw that every single day. You start questioning it and wondering what’s going on and, as you get older, you realize we’re a country that, unfortunately, has an incredible amount of poverty and we’re next to this crazy powerful country. It’s an issue that I’ve touched on in the past and that I’m always thinking about and trying to somehow get involved with.
How do you think about genres in music and people’s attempts to categorize your work??
If you think about this EP, it might seem out of nowhere to have all these collaborators from different parts of the world, but I don’t want to think about things in terms of what makes sense or not. I want to do them and then hopefully people get it. I think, in the end, it does make sense because it’s part of who I am and I like to experiment. In the end, a lot of my songs can seem serious, but I also want people to have fun and dance because I like dancing.
You’re an artist who records songs in Spanish. Does that inhibit who is going to play your music?
That’s been one of the issues that I have encountered since I moved. The stuff that I do doesn’t necessarily sound traditionally Mexican, so you can’t place it in the world-music area. Then, people will listen to it and say, “It doesn’t sound Mexican. It sounds like something that maybe I would listen to, but it’s in Spanish.”
I always hoped that people could relate to music that is not in their language because you just connect with it. Some people are a little bit more closed-minded, and they want to hear things in a certain way and if it’s in a different language then you’re not going to get played. But I’m not going to change the language just to get some airplay. I could have switched to English if I wanted to. I’m not saying that would have guaranteed success, but it might have made things easier, but I just want things to happen in a natural way. I mix both languages because that’s who I am. I’m from the border and that’s what we do.
I can remember very few songs that I’ve heard on the radio that weren’t in English. One was “99 Luftballons.”
Yes, exactly. And everybody sang that! It didn’t matter. To me, living in Tijuana, I listened to radio from San Diego. Ninety-nine percent of the songs that I listened to were in English. I wasn’t completely fluent, but I would sing along to it and I connected to it, so that’s always been my hope that people could open their minds and connect with music that is not necessarily in their own language.