Photo by Maro Hagopian

Amor Prohibido Re-Envisions Selena Songs Through a Punk Lens

Shomi Noise sings at an Amor Prohibido party. Photo by Maro Hagopian

There can never be enough Selena cover bands. The rush of bittersweet joy in dancing and singing along to La Reina del Tejano feels new every time. But in the 21 years since her passing, one group is adding something unexpected to the conversation. According to Brooklyn-based outfit Amor Prohibido, Selena was pretty punk.

Shomi Noise, founder and frontperson of the five-piece group, points out that Selena was, in a lot of ways, a rebel. Re-envisioning Selena’s music through a punk lens, everything is twice as fast; the genre amplifies the defiant power of many of her songs.

Growing up, Shomi traveled between her native Bolivia and New York home often. Riot grrl introduced her to feminism but, as a Latina with footing in two disparate countries, identifying completely with the predominantly white, middle-class movement was difficult.

“That’s why I never fully fit in,” she says.

It’s in that struggle that Riot Chica, Shomi’s party for emerging bands featuring Latina and women of color, was born. From there, the jump to a Selena punk cover band wasn’t far.

“Selena was genuine and humble, and to me, that’s very punk.”

“I’ve been a Selena fan since she was alive in the early 90s [when] I was a little girl,” she says. “I’ve always found her to be one of the most positive role models for me. And at the time she was one of the very few women in the media who actually looked like me. She was a young Latina woman who was so proud of her roots and always true to herself and full of good energy.”

When Shomi first sought to round up members for Amor Prohibido last year, she worried nobody would be into it. But Maria Toro of Ratas en Zelo, who Shomi met through Riot Chica, jumped aboard as drummer quickly. Guitarist Chicago Noel Figueroa followed, then Maria’s bud Nico joined as bassist. Finally, videographer Emma Rock offered to play keyboard.

“I was like, sure, so we invited her — and she’s a musical genius,” Shomi says. “She was able to figure out all the songs and arrange them.”

Photo by Maro Hagopian
Photo by Maro Hagopian
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Amor Prohibido aims to ultimately inject the entire Selena catalog with the extra fierce, riotous energy of punk. That’s five albums. Shomi knows it’s an ambitious goal, but they’ll get there. Soon, they’ll also get to stages beyond Brooklyn. Texas, of course, will be their crowning achievement.

We asked each member for their take on the punk elements of Selena’s work and more. Check out their answers below.

How does Selena and her music relate to punk?
Shomi Noise: Many of the lyrics of the songs have that angst/fierceness in them, which we perform with a little bit of a punk edge, like “Amor Prohibido,” “Si Una Vez,” “Cobarde,” etc. But also the guitar riffs in many other songs like “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom,” “Como La Flor,” “Fotos Y Recuerdos,” etc. have a rock/reggae quality to them already (Thanks to Chris Pérez, Selena’s husband, who is known to be a metal/rock dude) so it was easy for us to translate that to a more punky vibe. But ideologically, I also find Selena to be very punk, because she was a rebel in many ways, and did things her own way and marched to the beat of her own drum. She also had a unique sense of fashion that was timeless. Most importantly though, Selena was genuine and humble, and to me, that’s very punk.

Emma Rock: In addition to crossing genre lines over and over again, and continuously experimenting and pushing herself artistically, without fear, Selena was a selfless person concerned with the needs of the group (her band, her fans, and children of the community). Giving back to the community, and empowering everyone to participate and succeed, is very punk.

Nico: I think her attitude and story is really punk – as a female artist in a male-dominated genre, and then as a Latina artist when she did the crossover into English, but always staying true to herself.

Maria: Selena y Los Dinos were a group of young musicians who were doing their own thing and breaking rules in a music scene that functioned under old school standards. That’s punk attitude.

Chicago: Selena was fearless in a male-dominated world. She broke through with no remorse. She’s great and one of the best role models for young women. There’s nothing more punk than that!

“Selena was fearless in a male-dominated world. She broke through with no remorse.”

How do you think Selena would feel about Amor Prohibido?
Shomi Noise: I think she would approve and be flattered. It is our goal to just honor her music and legacy 100 percent and to keep her memory alive because she had such a huge impact on our lives.

Emma Rock: I think she would be happy that people are coming together to sing, mosh, and in general have a great time together, and that her life and work continues to inspire people to do so. Maybe her own genre-crossing would have eventually led her to release a punk song or two herself!

Nico: I think she would love Amor Prohibdo! If nothing else just because we are having a really good time playing her music!

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Maria: She would give us one of her big, glorious smiles, two thumbs up, and give us her blessing to continue doing what we like and want to do.

Chicago: I think that Selena would love us. We named our band after one of the songs that touched her the most. Love in her eyes was punk, her life, her music, and Chris Pérez.

New York City dwellers can catch Amor Prohibido live tonight, April 15, 2016, at Don Pedro’s in Brooklyn. The band will celebrate Selena’s birthday — and Shomi’s too — as part of another party she organizes, Telenovela.