Arts Desk

Sounding Off: Mexican Institute of Sound Gets Political

In the tradition of Frida Kahlo and husband Diego Rivera, the Mexican Institute of Sound hopes to spark a discussion with its next work of art. The cumbia-playing electronic music act will release a new album, Politico, this summer. The record is a reaction to the current political climate of Mexico, according to band leader and DJ Camilo Lara. At home in Mexico City, Lara and I talked over Skype about the act’s work and his connection to Kahlo. Mexican Institute of Sound performs tomorrow at Artisphere in Arlington as a part of the venue’s Kahlo celebration—an exhibition of Kahlo's personal photographs runs at Artisphere through March 25.

Washington City Paper: MIS is known as an electronic music act but you play with a band live. What does the band add to the live experience?
Camilo Lara: Well, we try to do different things from the record. We try to make it more punky and more crazy. The whole show was thought to be a dance experience. I hope you can go. It’s a show that most of the time makes you dance.

WCP: Is that what you’re hoping to accomplish live—just start a dance party?
CL: Yeah, that’s the main goal. [Laughs]

WCP: You live in Mexico City?
CL: Yeah. I live in Mexico City. I am one of the few Mexicans still living in Mexico. [Laughs]

WCP: Why do you think that is?
CL: No—they’re are 30 million people, so I’m not alone. But yeah, I mean, I enjoy Mexico City. I think it’s a great city, if you’ve never been here, it’s a whole different thing from what you expect. I like it. I travel a lot, and I’ve been in a lot of cities and this is great. It’s one of my top favorite cities in the world.

WCP: Have you been to D.C. before?
CL: You know what? It’s my first time there. It’s very exciting. Never been in to D.C.

WCP: Your performance is part of a Frida Kahlo celebration. Why does it make sense for you to play with the celebration of Frida in mind? Is there a connection?
CL: Where I born—I was born in the south of the city, one block from Frida Kahlo's house. And that was the left wing neighborhood in Mexico, traditionally, since the '20s, '30s. I always was very enthusiastic on Frida and Diego’s story—and Trotsky was a friend of them and lived a couple of blocks from Frida’s house. So, yeah, I have a deep love on Frida’s and especially Diego’s—I think he’s probably our biggest muralist and painter.

WCP: What’s the name of the area?
CL: Coyoacán.

WCP: Is it in Mexico City?
CL: Yeah. It’s in the south. It’s usually where—that area—lived all the Communists and socialists that came to Mexico, like Trotsky, and later on, all the refugees from Argentina, Chile, that were running away from the dictatorship, they lived in that area. So my parents were kind of on that spirit. They were kind of idealistic. That’s why my name is Camilo. Because Camilo Cienfuegos is the Cuban revolutionary.

WCP: Do you feel like you try to continue some of those ideas? Do you intend to have political messages in your music?
CL: Well, the new record is going that way. My previous records were more naive because, probably Mexico was more naive in those times. But later, since, what you read in the news and see everywhere—it’s true, and it’s happening. I felt the need to become more political and more open on that. I share some of those thoughts and I think it’s important to put something on it—I’m not saying I’m going to be like Bob Geldof or something. But it feels very political—not only in Mexico, you could say it in England. It’s a tough time for the world, so it’s interesting to add some of the spiciness of that to your music.

WCP: Is there any message in particular that you’re excited about getting out there, or getting behind?
CL: It’s a tough topic. What I am concerned—we as a country, Mexico is going down, down, down and we’re headed into the wrong direction and eventually it will take us ten or 20 years to come back again. You see countries like Brazil that are doing extremely well and are very—they are reinventing themselves, or Columbia. But we’re not there yet. So it’s sad to see your country freefalling. That’s it.

WCP: Are you familiar with this particular exhibit of photography that’s at Artisphere?
CL: Yeah, I’ve been doing some research. I don’t know the specific stuff they’re using, but I know most of the catalogue that’s going to be there and I think it’s awesome. That’s one of the things that changed the image in our country. We’re living and we’ve always been living in a great period of time with artists and people that create amazing things. So, it’s better to communicate that than violence and narco killings and stuff. I totally support that. That’s the Mexico I like and that’s the Mexico I live. I’m not near that crazy image of this violent Mexico that is all over the place.

WCP: You’re saying you live [outside of the popular image of Mexico]?
CL: I think culture can change a country. So, these kind of things, move the conscious of the people. The more we have, the better the country is.

WCP: How do you feel about Frida’s work? What is her legacy in your eyes?
CL: Over the years, she’s been re-—I don’t know the word—new generations are looking at her work. I think the more years passes, the more clear is her role on what was that Mexico. I think it’s great. She was a fighter for great things and she got an amazing catalogue and an amazing obra — I don’t know how to say it. Her things are amazing.

WCP: Do you feel like your music maybe complements that, or that fight you were talking about, considering your new, more political record?
CL: I wish it complements that, but in a way it’s inspired by that. My music has a lot of influences—where I work, where I live. It has a lot of—this area, Coyoacán, and it tries to send this message of the community where I live. At the end, particular things—when you talk about particular things, you have more chances to be more universal, instead of talking about big, huge issues that doesn’t apply to people. I think communities are the same in Mexico, than in New Delhi, than in LA, than in D.C. So, at the end, it’s about people and where you live.

Mexican Institute of Sound performs at 8 p.m. at Artisphere Ballroom, 1101 Wilson Blvd. Arlington. $20.

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