Mexrrissey Transforms Morrissey Songs Into Mexican Pop Anthems
Photo by Laura Agustin
Everyone has an opinion about why Mexicans love Morrissey. It's been written about by every major publication (including ours), this intimate connection between Mexican immigrants, who straddle American and Mexican identities, and the "Irish Blood, English Heart" singer, who reflects that experience in his music.
"I have heard so many theories, and all of them have some piece of truth," says Camilo Lara, who leads Mexico City–based electronic music collective Mexican Institute of Sound. "He was a migrant; he moved from Ireland to England, so he did the same thing we have done." His personal favorite theory: "We always love these kind of sexually ambiguous characters," he says, comparing the infatuation fans have for Moz to their similar passion for Juan Gabriel, the Mexican divo who also faces the same type of rumors about his sexuality.
As the mastermind behind Mexrrissey, Lara gets asked the "Why do Mexicans love Morrissey so much?" question a lot. The supergroup of indie Mexican musicians — including Ceci Bastida (Tijuana No), Sergio Mendoza (Calexico), Alejandro Flores (Cafe Tacuba), Chetes, Jay de la Cueva and Ricardo Najera — is releasing an album, No Manchester, full of Morrissey songs translated into Spanish and remade as Mexican songs, mixing in elements of mariachi, cumbia and "cha cha cha," as Lara likes to call it.
The album features covers of iconic Morrissey songs such as "Suedehead" ("Estuvo Bien"), "The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get" ("Entre Mas Me Ignoras, Mas Cerca Estare") and "Mexico." On "International Playgirl," a more playful version of "The Last of the Famous International Playboys," they flip not only languages but gender roles, with Ceci Bastida singing lead vocals.
Mexrrissey could very well have created this album solely for the novelty, and gotten away with doing something corny. But what the Mexican supergroup have created with their homage to Morrissey is a complete "Mexicanity," as Lara calls it, inventing his own word to describe their sound.
Morrissey has won the hearts of Latinos all over, not just in Los Angeles. But it is in Los Angeles where the "final judges" for this project are, Lara says. He describes how powerful it was for Mexrrissey to perform in L.A. last year because Mexicans in Los Angeles "get" both sides of the project.
It was not far from Los Angeles, in Irvine, back in 1999, that Morrissey famously told his audience, "I wish I was born Mexican." For Lara, the challenge with Mexrrissey was to embody this feeling, and reinvent the songs as if Morrissey really was Mexican and had grown up on the same streets Lara walked and breathed on all his life, surrounded by all types of Mexican sounds and music.
The group thought the hardest challenge would be to make the lyrics sound authentically Mexican, but that came more easily than they expected. Lara sees cultural similarities between the British and Mexicans: "We share melodramatic, we share the drama, we share black humor, so it was a matter of putting/changing these small details of our everyday life that Morrissey talks about in his lyrics and looking for tiny Mexican details that can apply to that." If Morrissey had truly been born Mexican, for example, "He would love telenovelas," says Lara, "because he already loves melodrama, clearly."
The infatuation Mexican fans have with Moz carries a historical significance in Lara's eyes. He believes they became attached to Moz because, after the culture of zoot suits and pachucos, in the late '70s "Mexicans were really hungry for a fashion statement. And they found Morrissey, this beautiful, super-stylish, 2.0 rockabilly star, which was perfect for them, so they adopted him."
Lara has crossed paths with Morrissey before, when he remixed a song for the singer called "Someone Is Squeezing My Skull." He also had the opportunity to meet Moz face-to-face through Mexican rock group Cafe Tacuba, but has yet to work with him in person.
If Morrissey was to come out and share the stage with the band he inspired, what song would Lara most want to perform with him? After thinking for a second, he says, "I would say, of course, 'Mexico.' Having had a chance to say so many horrible things about Mexico — how corrupt we are, how dirty politics are here, how insane the death toll is because of narco trafficking and human trafficking — and he decides to write a love song about Mexico. So I would be very honored if he sang that song, especially with a bunch of Mexican musicians."
Ultimately, there may be no one explanation for the connection between Morrissey and his Mexican fans, except the same reason that fans all over the world are so passionate about his music. 'Morrissey songs are more than about being part of something," says Lara. "They're just great songs."
Mexrrissey's No Manchester comes out March 4. Visit mexrrissey.com for more information and to pre-order.
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