Mexican Institute Of Sound's Camilo Takes Us A Tour Of 'Distrito Federal' : Alt.Latino Mexican Institute of Sound's Camilo Lara invites us to Distrito Federal by taking us on a tour of his past, including a party at Prince's Paisley Park.

The Man Running An Entire Nation's Institute Of Sound

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/968638797/970643754" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

CAMILO LARA: If I go to psychoanalysis, I'm definitely going to find some Mexico City issues (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FELIX CONTRERAS, HOST:

OK, Maestro.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LARA: Bro, tío Félix.

(LAUGHTER)

CONTRERAS: It's good to see you, man.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONTRERAS: Camilo Lara, welcome to ALT.LATINO.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONTRERAS: From NPR Music, this is ALT.LATINO. I'm Felix Contreras. OK, so we got a lot of stuff to talk about, bro. I mean, you're a busy man. You're always a busy man. The first thing we want to talk about is the new record, man. We can hear Mexico through your eyes and ears. I hear bits of the brass horns from Banda mixed in with a different rhythm. I mean, there's - it really is a sonic adventure through Mexico, but through your ears. And it's all - it's like a pastiche. It's all put together in different layers and different references. That's why I refer to it as a high watermark, because all the musical experiences that you've shared with us so far, you could hear it all in this record. But this one's different. This was very different to me, to my ears.

LARA: It has to do with the subject. The album is called "Distrito Federal," and it's kind of a tale of my Distrito Federal. And it's a story about how the city, especially this city, destroyed itself and constructed itself - that the city that I was born in doesn't longer exist. I mean, it doesn't even - it's called the same name. Like, it's now it's CDMX, which I refuse to call it by that name because for me is Distrito Federal.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SE COMPRAN")

LARA: (Singing) Se compran colchones, tambores, refrigeradores, estufas, lavadores, microondas o algo de fierro viejo que vendan.

At the same time, when I go to LA that I spend a lot of time, it's happen everywhere. So it's a tale about gentrification, about how things change for good and for bad.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SE COMPRAN")

LARA: (Singing) Se compran colchones, tambores, refrigeradores, estufas, lavadoras, microondas o algo de fierro viejo que vendan. (Vocalizing) Se compran colchones, tambores, refrigeradores, estufas, lavadoras, microondas o algo de fierro viejo que vendan.

I think, in a way, the CDs are a collage. Imagine that Mexico City used to be a lake and Aztecs decide to build on top of. Then Spanish come and build on top of the Aztecs. And then Mexicans build on top of the Spanish and the Aztecs. So the whole city's kind of really used to destroy everything from the past and build on top. So if you walk on the street, it's a collage of many idea. The city loves to keep on challenging itself.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SE COMPRAN")

LARA: I grow up listening to Mexican music and - but not on my house. On my house, I used to listening to either the Beatles by my parents or The Smiths and house by my brothers. My two brothers are musicians. And one of them, his first band was with Saúl from Caifanes, and they rehearse on my parents' house. So when I was 6 or 7, I saw all these amazing artists just hanging out at the kitchen in rock en español history pass by my kitchen. But if I go out to the street - I lived in a place called Coyoacán. That - it's a - where Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo lived, and it's almost like a small town. And you could hear cumbia all the time and mambo and danzón and mariachi. So I kind of live in those between those two worlds. And when I start doing music on my own, I really want to sound like De La Soul or A Tribe Called Quest. But my samplers, my weapon was a sampler, and I ended up sounding like Pérez Prado or Luis Alcaraz (ph) because the samples were Mexican. Over the years and after many records, you started seeing a pattern and I my biggest passion has been my community, like the music from Mexico and the music from Latin America. I was a big believer when I was starting on cumbia, and I think cumbia has been part of my life. But especially just the music that the dark part, part of my, my daily life and music that I feel related to. I think the more local you are, the more international you can be, because if you if you do music that you know, you have more chances to do it better. And so I always been trying to do to play around music that I know, either Elvis mix it with electronica or hip hop or traditional or in films or on my own.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PALOMA")

M.I.S AND CUCO: Ya no quiero sufrir en silencio, Paloma. Esta distancia que nos separa se va a cortar. Cuántas veces no has imaginado, Paloma, después de tanto tiempo, ya vamos a llegar. Ya no quiero sufrir en silencio, Paloma. Esta distancia que nos separa, se va a cortar. Cuántas veces no has imaginado, Paloma, después de tanto tiempo, ya vamos a llegar. Paloma, Paloma, Paloma, Paloma. Paloma, Paloma, Paloma, Paloma.

CONTRERAS: Let's talk about the Mexican Institute of Sound or Instituto de Sonido Mexicano. How many people are in this institute and where are your headquarters and do you guys wear lab coats? What's happening with the Mexican Institute of Sound?

LARA: Sadly, it's just me. I wish to have a big forum, but not at all. When I was working on the record label, all my friends go and party all night, and every time I had to leave at midnight or something, they told me, oh, you're such a bureaucrat. So when I choose my battle (ph) name as a musician, I was like, which is the most bureaucratic name I could find? So I found the Mexican Institute of Sound. That sounds like a big institution with tons of people working with a suit, and he was just me, sadly.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONTRERAS: You're also a very prolific producer. Talk to us about some of the artists that you've worked with. And what is your most recent collaboration?

LARA: I have a very eclectic list of productions on my credits, from Band of Horses to Lila Downs to Los Ángeles Azules. The most recent - I just did a remix for Run the Jewels that was very exciting. And the guys are amazing. So I like to keep it fresh. Just to do things that I don't think I would ever imagine to do - those are the ones that are really exciting to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OOH LA LA (MEXICAN INSTITUTE OF SOUND REMIX)")

RUN THE JEWELS: (Rapping) Ooh, la la, ah, oui oui. Ooh, la la, ah, oui oui. Ooh, la la, ah, oui oui. Ooh, la la. ¿Tú tienes? ¿No somos muchos...? Looking for Ms like I lost a friend. Jump out of my bed like, where the bread? You gon' (ph) hold a egg. Waiter, bring the check. When we talk, we Kalashnikov. Keep us in your thoughts. Fully dressed at the crack of dawn, weapons letting off. I can hear them from the block, see them creeping through the fog. Season's greetings. Now feeding season can start. Oh, my God. Look alive - lookin' like I live life on the crooked line, doin' fine. You want maximum stupid, I am the guy. First of all, f*** the f***in' law. We is f***in' raw - steak tartare, oysters on the half-shell, sushi bar. Life a b****, and the p**** fish - still f***ed her raw. I'm a dog, I'm a dirty dog, ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. Ol' Dirty Bastard, go in your jaw, shimmy, shimmy, ya. Got the semi in the hemi going, gimme, gimme (ph), ya. Pugilistic, my linguistics are Jeru the Damaja. And I rap it pornographic. B****, set up the camera. Ooh, la la, ah, oui oui. Ooh, la la, ah, oui oui. Ooh, la la, ah, oui oui. Ooh, la la, ah, oui oui. Ooh, la la, ah, oui oui. Ooh, la la, ah, oui oui. Ooh, la la, ah, oui oui. Ooh, la la, ah, oui oui.

SANTA FE KLAN: (Rapping) Dueños de la zona, no peleo la corona, soy quien la mueve, soy el que la entona, te tumbo la lona, mi barrio no abandona, reacciona, la vida sin respeto no funciona. MC disparando rimas como un misil, estamos en el bloque de party, tirando skills, weed pa' amanecer fumando y rapeando el beat, shit que te da the feel, préndete el hachís.

RUN THE JEWELS: (Rapping) You covet disruption. I got you covered. I'm bustin', bustin'. My brother's a runner. He's crushin'. It's no discussion. I used to be munchkin. I wasn't 'posed to be nothin', nothin'. Y'all f***ers corrupted or up to somethin' disgustin'. My pockets are plump for the season. I love to cuff 'em. I'm afraid of nothin' but nothin'. Ain't it something? Warmongers are dumpin' a pointed click at your pumpkin. Look out. Your suffering is scrumptious. They'll put your kids in the oven. F*** a king or queen and all of their loyal subjects. I pull my penis out, and I p*** on their shoes in public. People, we the pirates, the pride of this great republic. No matter what you order, mo'f***er, we're what you're stuck with. Sorry. I used to love Bruce, but livin' my vida loca help my understand I'm probably more of a Joker. When we usher in chaos, just know that we did it smilin' - cannibals on this island. Inmates run the asylum. Ooh, la la, ah, oui oui, hey. Ooh, la la, ah, oui oui, hey. Ooh, la la, ah, oui oui, hey. Ooh, la la. DJ. DJ. Ooh, la la.

SANTA FE KLAN: Santa Fe Klan, arriba México - música del barrio.

CONTRERAS: OK, you got to tell me and everybody listening your Prince story.

LARA: I was probably, like, 19. I was invited to have dinner with other 10 people at Paisley Park. A journalist from Rolling Stone and I just went. We were super-young. When we arrived to Paisley Park, it's probably one of the moments in my life that I thought I was in heaven. I wish at that time I had, like, a smartphone and I can photograph every single thing because I saw the bathroom with the Prince sign. And everything was purple, of course. And when we sit to have dinner, they serve some champagne. And when the main course came, they opened these kind of protectors for the food. And they open it, and it was Cap'n Crunch. So we all ate Cap'n Crunch while we had a sip of champagne. And it was Mayte's, Prince wife at the moment, birthday. So after the dinner, he invited us to his rehearsal space, and he started playing. And he played for probably four hours, five hours. And it was amazing because he was like, What song do you want to hear? And everyone's just like, OK, can you play "Sweet Child O' Mine" by Guns N' Roses? Yeah, please. And he started paying that song. So it was fantastic. Like, it was a dream come true.

CONTRERAS: Musicians like that don't come around very often. And they're sort of dropped here among us and let us enjoy their work and bask in their creative output. And unfortunately, in his case, he was just - he left too soon, you know, way too soon.

LARA: But what a legacy, right? I keep on going back to the records, and it's so perfect - such a crazy, different, eclectic discography. In this pandemic, I've been revisiting those records that really made an impact on me. And I have to say The Clash is one of them - Talking Heads, Bob Marley, of course - they all have in common that they were kind of a rebel in their own way. They tried to incorporate other rhythms, and those were probably the most seminal records to me - like the ones - or Maldita Vecindad - they were in love with their own culture, but at the same time they loved the Violent Femmes, and so they started doing music like that that was kind of punk rock, but very Mexican. So I guess all those artists really made me think I was not a misfit on my own, and there were other misfits outside that could be friends of mine through music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MALDITA VECINDAD'S "UN POCO DE SANGRE")

CONTRERAS: You mentioned Marc Ribot, a guitar player, John Zorn, a horn player, saxophone player, with very eclectic careers. Like, who else is part of your musical palette - think people that you - that inspire you or that have influenced you and your work? Because I would put you in that category as well - as, like, sonic pioneers, sonic adventurers.

LARA: I love the Beastie Boys and everything that represents. I - that's probably the music that I was listening when I was growing up and completely changed my point of view on how to do music and how can you apply different rhythms and record digging. And I love those guys. Also, for me, Pérez Prado is one of my top artists. I have Pérez Prado and Prince in the same bucket - not because they are similar, because they were genius both, and they invented something, and it's very - as well as James Brown. They completely created their own universe, and it's very difficult to replicate that. That was a flavor, and it's going to stay there forever. So I like those artists that have a personality, and they invented a microuniverse, and you can live on that, and - it's almost like Frank Zappa. Once you go there, you can spend the rest of your life just exploring their sounds.

CONTRERAS: There is a throughline, I think, if it - depending on your perspective and what you're used to, but I think there's an arc. There's a throughline that connects people like Pérez Prado, the Cuban bandleader who was a popular mambo performer in the '50s and the '60s in Mexico, who you mentioned, Prince, and then, like, musicians you have mentioned before that have influenced you - Esquivel, the Mexican composer and bandleader. There's an arc that connects all of that. It's a reflection of musicians who follow their own path, who are distinct in bringing in all of their influences and then creating a sound that is unlike anything that came before.

LARA: You're absolutely right. Because with Esquivel, for example, when I was five or six, I bought his first record, called "Burbujas," which was a child's show about these kind of characters - kind of teletubbish (ph), and the music was so crazy, with Moogs and synthesizers and crazy instruments, and it was probably my favorite record when I was growing up, next to "The Queen Is Dead" from The Smiths. But, later in life, I discovered that the same guy that did that record did these fantastic orchestra recordings that were super ahead of their time and used different instruments and played with stereo, doing a lot of experimentation. And it doesn't matter if it was child's music or music to try your stereo sound system. His music lived through that, and it's crazy to think that the music can be so powerful that it doesn't matter if he was doing music for kids or for old people. It was as powerful and unique, no?

CONTRERAS: Mmm hmm. His mid-career music was used during the, quote, unquote, "hi-fi era," when stereo systems were being introduced to homes, and they did crazy stuff like put sounds in one speaker and then another speaker and separate them, and, like you said, instrumentation, xylophones, orchestras, electronics. His records then eventually became, like, rediscovered in a way by people who were just, like, catching up to his genius.

LARA: Yes. I had a chance to spend a lot of time with Esquivel on his last days.

CONTRERAS: Really?

LARA: Yes, he became a good friend. Once, I was in a bar and I was telling someone I was doing an article on Esquivel, and a guy tapped on my back and said, like, did you say Esquivel? I was like, yeah. I'm meeting him tomorrow (laughter). And it turned out to be a guy - Brother Cleve from Combustible Edison, a band from that time - and he took me to meet Esquivel, and we - I started going every weekend. We became great friends. And he was so magical and such a character. He sleep by day because he spent a lot of time in Vegas doing night shows that his sleeping cycle just got the other way around, so he woke up at 6 or 7 by night and started writing music. Yeah - beautiful character.

CONTRERAS: Wow, I didn't know that. Wow. What a treat, man. What a treat. Certainly - he was certainly a Mexican hero in terms of music. What a treat that you got a chance to meet him.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL ANTÍDOTO")

MEXICAN INSTITUTE OF SOUND: (Singing) Baila el antídoto, mi palabra mágica, danza emblemática, suda anestesia. Baila el antídoto, mi palabra mágica, danza emblemática, suda anestesia. Suda anestesia. Llegó la perla, cumbia. Cumbia. Agua pura pa' tomar, este flow monumental. Cumbia rebajada orgánica y natural, magia pura pa' tu cuerpo. Si estás buscando remedio, que es lo que trajimos, anestesia general, no puedes parar, déjate llevar. Los niños se salen, tú quedas acá, las piernas temblando de tanto bailar, mítico sonido que te va a curar. Baila el antídoto, mi palabra mágica, danza emblemática, suda anestesia. Baila el antídoto, mi palabra mágica, danza emblemática, suda anestesia. Baila el antídoto, mi palabra mágica, danza emblemática, suda anestesia. Baila el antídoto, mi palabra mágica, danza emblemática, suda anestesia.

CONTRERAS: What is your assessment of the Latin alternative scene now? I don't even know if you can call it an alternative scene anymore 'cause there's hip-hop; there's all these other different things. What is your assessment of the legacy of alternative right now?

LARA: I think all that - big effort of many people in many countries, and the result is that now we have a very horizontal future. I think with the change of the way people is consuming music, it helps to not be Anglo centralized. And I think that the future of pop is not necessarily coming from the usual suspects, like London or Los Angeles or New York. The future of pop is coming from Korea or Lagos or Bogotá or Cali. I think that the first wave of that was reggaeton. But there is sort of middle class right behind it that is very interesting, and there are a lot of great, amazing talents that are coming from alternative capitals (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF MEXICAN INSTITUTE OF SOUND SONG, "YEMAYÁ")

LARA: Thank you so much, Felix. And such a big fan. And thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YEMAYÁ (FEAT. GABY MORENO)")

MEXICAN INSTITUTE OF SOUND: (Singing) Cuando uno está enamorado, el horizonte es infinito. Cuando uno está enamorado, uno reescribe los reescrito. Cuando uno está enamorado, a veces pierdes la cabeza, por lo que estar enamorado, es más mi naturaleza. Cuando uno está enamorado, sientes un abracadabra, me acerco a un acantilado, siempre sobran las palabras. Cuando uno está enamorado, te hace perder el argumento, y aunque te sientas desahuciado, lo gritas a los cuatro vientos. Yemayá, ya, cariño, Yemayá, ya, cariño, Yemayá, ya, cariño, Yemayá, ya, cariño. Cuando uno está enamorado, sientes un abracadabra, me acerco a un acantilado, siempre sobran las palabras. Cuando uno está enamorado, el horizonte es infinito, cuando uno está enamorado, uno reescribe lo reescrito. Yemayá, ya, cariño, Yemayá, cariño, Yemayá, cariño. Yemayá, cariño. Yemayá, cariño, Yemayá, cariño, Yemayá, cariño, Yemayá, cariño. Yemayá, cariño, Yemayá, cariño. Yemayá, cariño, Yemayá, cariño.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.