A photo of black and brown arms in a unifying embrace makes up the cover art for El Paso-Brooklyn band Divine Kegel’s debut EP La Solidaridad 1. Their message to all people of color is clear — we’re under attack and it’s time to act as one. Their merchandise has a Lotería-style version of the same image with the numbers “915” etched out above the embraced arms, a proud celebration of the band’s predominantly Mexican-American hometown of El Paso, Texas.
Divine Kegel is a self-described “POC noise and garage punk two-piece,” akin to a hyperactive Black Sabbath with punk sensibilities. “Divine Kegel gives me an opportunity to be as ridiculous as I want to be. I love playing loud, obnoxious guitar, and I try to channel that,” says guitarist Daniel Lopez via text. The sludgy, sometimes screeching, stoner metal guitar pairs surprisingly well with drummer and vocalist Eli Watson’s high-strung but meticulous drumming style, which he picked up from growing up in a black Baptist church. “That shit was terrifyingly beautiful – seeing people speaking in tongues, running laps around the church, watching your 70-year-old pastor cut a fucking step like James Brown. Gospel was the first punk [music] and I try to translate that energy into Divine Kegel,” he says. It’s not uncommon to see Watson dash into the crowd to run a few laps before sitting back down to finish out a song.
La Solidaridad I is the first of three upcoming EPs by the band, in which they tackle racism, toxic masculinity, and the influence of matriarchal structures in marginalized communities — basically, how abuelitas and grandmas run shit. “Whether it’s me talking about getting my ass beat by my grandma for staying out late with her car when I was a teen, or Daniel and I confronting how problematic hypermasculinity is, each song offers a different representation of El Paso.” Watson says. “Our city often gets misinterpreted a lot because people don’t really know anything about it,” Daniel adds. “So it was important for us to capture some of the layers of El Paso and tell our stories in a way that’s earnest and raw. That’s why we decided to name our three EPs La Solidaridad, because it’s the celebration of black and brown pride and trying to uplift our people both on the border and beyond with our music.”
Growing up black in El Paso’s’ Lower Valley – a predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood – gave Watson firsthand experience with anti-black racism in the Latino community. “Growing up black in the Lower Valley distorted my perceived notions of what racism was and how it goes beyond color…” he tells me. “My first instances of racism and prejudice were from Mexican people. Whether it was trying to play soccer with classmates and understanding what they meant when they said ‘Pinche negro,’ or when I was first called a ‘nigg*r’ by a middle school classmate, these experiences were very sobering for me.”
But even with issues like racism and colorism, Divine Kegel proudly rep the city that birthed them (Lopez still lives in El Paso, while Watson resides in Brooklyn). “El Paso is the connective tissue that brings these songs together,” Watson says. He tells me that the racist incidents, while severe, were also isolated. “Overall, brown people treated me as one of their own, which is why I ride so fucking hard for the Latinx diaspora…From the food to the music, to the slang, to the history, I’m grateful to have been immersed in Mexican culture since I was a young blood because I realized the similarities between black and Mexican culture.”
Stream our premiere of Divine Kegel’s La Solidaridad I above.