Anti-immigrant and anti-refugee hostility continues to plague our society. Conservatives and right-wing demagogues across the world are quick to use those displaced from their homelands as scapegoats for whatever ills their country is currently facing. With elections and referendums fueling discord, the stories of refugees deserve an artistic platform now more than ever.
During the 2014 parliamentary elections in Sweden, a collaboration between electronic duo The Knife and activist-artist troupe FUL yielded Europa Europa, an energetic theatrical show that imagines a utopian future for immigrants and refugees. In the play, the borders of the European continent have been dissolved. Using cabaret and political satire, Europa Europa flips the script on stereotypical portrayals of refugees as “others” and as economic liabilities. Instead, Europa Europa opens up a discussion about the personal struggles of immigrants traveling to new lands.
The show is about to tour through Tijuana, Queretaro, Mexico City, and San Diego, starting on November 16. Mexico, of course, has no shortage of immigration issues, so it makes sense that something like this will speak to local communities. The Knife has since split up, so the music has been adapted and reinterpreted by Moisés Horta of Los Macuanos along with Paulina Lasa (aka Nima Ikki and co-founder of chamber pop band Haciendo El Mal). We caught up with both musicians on the eve of their tour.
How did you get involved with Europa Europa?
Moisés Horta: The initiative came from Åsa Hamneståhl, a cultural attaché of the Swedish Embassy in Mexico. She booked Los Macuanos a few times when she was still living in Stockholm, and on one of those trips, I got to see the play. It was very impressive to see it during the elections…I mean, it’s in Swedish and I didn’t understand it too well, but Åsa translated some of it for me. She has been living in Mexico for two years now, and we spoke about bringing the play here early this year. She had the idea.
Paulina Lasa: I came along in August. I know Åsa because she’s into a lot of music and she has seen me play live and she’s into what I do, so she picked me to join Moi[sés].
So, what was your process for adapting the music originally composed by The Knife?
MH: We decided to stick with most of what was already written, although we wrote a few new songs very much in line with what was already there. I had the chance to talk to Olof [Dreijer] from The Knife and he told us to do whatever we wanted [laughs]. There’s a lot of Middle Eastern vibes, taking into account that the play is about immigrants from that area. We’re linking it to the immigration issues particular to Latin America, which requires more Pre-Hispanic aesthetics and guapachoso rhythms.
PL: I had the chance to talk to the playwright about how the play could be perceived here, because it originally had a lot of aspects very specific to Swedish politics. We did some research and thought about adding some relevant themes concerning [the U.S. border and the Southern border of Mexico].
How do you view these issues now that you have been involved with making art about them?
PL: Moi recently told me that it would’ve been great if we could have performed it in San Diego before the elections. In the play, they talk about immigrants as heroes, people who are looking for a better life for their family and community, and personally it has made me more sensitive to the issue. I think it’s great that it’s backed by the Swedish Embassy, and it’s very critical about first world immigration politics; it’s an act of self-criticism, which I think is very admirable and gives me a little faith in the future.
MH: I’ve seen immigration issues up close since I’m from Tijuana. Once I played at an illegal party right on the border and had the chance to talk with some people who were about to cross into the U.S. They were waiting for the tide to go low enough so they could cross. During this process, I have been thinking about a lot of what happens over there. I think that immigration is a global subject. In the end, it can happen in Sweden and the specifics could be different, but the situation is the same. It’s a superhuman odyssey to leave everything you know to look for luck somewhere else. That’s a deep humanist discourse.
Do you think the audiences will react differently in each city once you start the tour?
PL: Ever since I first read the script, I thought the themes were pretty clear. There’s a part that points out how ridiculous xenophobia is. I think the message will come across well. It’s refreshing to [make] music for something that is subversive, but at the same time deeply humanistic.
Europa Europa will tour Mexico starting Wednesday, November 16. Check out full tour dates below:
November 16: Tijuana @ CECUT
November 17: San Diego @ Museum of Contemporary Art
November 19: Mexico City @ Casa Del Lago
November 23: Mexico City @ Casa Del Lago
November 25: Queretaro @ Museo De La Ciudad
November 26: Queretaro @ Museo De La Ciudad