After too many Dos Equis at a party held in a smoky apartment in Cuauhtémoc in Mexico City, I tell post-mariachi artist Dani Bander that his latest album Malacopa sounds like the soundtrack of a modern Western, if Robert Rodriguez or Quentin Tarantino were ever interested in deconstructing machismo, the hero archetype, and rock n’ roll.
Dani laughs. “The album Malacopa started off as a joke; I said that one day I was going to make a mariachi album. But then the joke became a much bigger part of my life, until one day I realized I had this vision for an album that had a very mariachi sound, and I started to compose songs. From the beginning, I wasn’t envisioning making a specific commentary on Mexico, but then as I kept on working, I started to touch on different themes of Mexican culture — it’s impossible to use instruments native to mariachi music and escape making a commentary about Mexico, too.”
Church bells ring, uptempo drumming commands, and romantic trumpets sound-off the first track “Paranda” on Malacopa. Dani’s “complicated experiment” with post-mariachi music begins with a party anthem and segues into the call-to-arms “Los Condenados.” It is arguably the most definitive track on the album; from its cinematic strings to rock vocals, the song captures the current political moment, and warns us of an uncertain future where we are all condemned.
“Malviaje” is a 60s-infused, violin-strewn rock indictment of political corruption and inaction. In contrast, the follow-up track, “Alicia” has the quality of a lovelorn, country ballad, with its simple acoustic guitar, and lyrics memorializing a woman who is no longer with us.
Tracks on Malacopa are like portraits of Mexico City, with each song serving as a different snapshot of Mexican identity. Shot one, “Valiente:” drinking mezcal in Plaza Garibaldi after you are so heartbroken, that the only words to describe your pain are the words of traditional mariachi songs, and as you sing along, it is as if your vocal chords are ripping apart. Shot two, “Los Mariachis:” dancing at La Imperial, where you run into hipsters, anarchists, and the creative underclass who embrace you in solidarity upon meeting you. Shot three, “Malacopa:” wandering through the stifling Mercado La Merced, where people walk on top of you and push you like you don’t exist, as child vendors hack at pieces of mango in their fruit cart from dusk until dawn.
Dani’s Mexico seen through the lens of Malacopa is a brilliant, creative epicenter of love, partying, and endless tall tales, while housing the suffering of the unseen, and “Los Condenados.”
Instead of succumbing to the clichés of a western tale, Dani instead tells the story of a Mexico unconquered. Produced by AJ Dávila, and featuring collaborations with Brandon Welchez of Crocodiles and Valentina Plasa of Candy, these musical influences help navigate and create a new sound. The album asks you to stop ignoring your political hangover, and to instead, brindar for the fight ahead.