Ceci Bastida on Her ‘Sueño’ EP and the Tangled Politics of Artist Activism

It’s hard not to feel like the world is a more harmonious place after hearing “Un Sueño,” the first track off of Ceci Bastida‘s latest EP. The song has everything you need to move your bones, including a booty-shaking bass drop and Aloe Blacc’s smooth undertone to Bastida’s vocals. But it’s also infused with something else, something more ephemeral: hope. “Solo tengo un sueño, yo no tengo miedo,” Bastida coos. And of course, as I do, because I am the queen of overthinking, I read a whole possibility of theories into the lyrics. By the fourth listen, I’ve convinced myself that this chorus is the soul of inception for the whole EP. When I call Bastida, who lives in Los Angeles, I lay my case for this word-driven theory. “Well, I come up with music first and not lyrics,” Bastida politely tells me without batting an eye.

Busted. But also, a good and humbling reminder that Bastida is smart as a whip yet so warm. She tells me about being in the punk rock band Tijuana No! as a kid wanting to find her crowd. She played the keyboard back then, and nowadays, she sits at the piano and riffs until she gets something she likes — music first, then lyrics. During the course of our conversation, she mentions wanting to travel to actually meet Spoek Mathambo, one of her collaborators on Sueño. They did the entire EP across oceans, he from South Africa and she from LA, but had a hard time figuring out when to meet, because she’s a mom, and you know, mom logistics. As a fellow working parent whose polar pulls of career and motherhood are constantly in motion, I feel her.

It makes sense that this is the artist who wrote a record about navigating the violence she saw around her as she became the mother of a soon-to-be woman. And now, Sueño is the logical follow-up to La Edad de la Violencia. Both are solid pop records, but in mood, this is drastically different. Where the other has pensive joy, this one has ganas. It’s a work of collaborations; it’s the dream of many, and Bastida is one to be affected by and receptive to her surroundings. “Collaborating is a good way for me to learn from other people and the way they work and approach music, and also by listening constantly to new stuff,” the solo artist says. She’s unafraid of labels and just experiments, and then figures it out later.

“To me [the music I write] is like a need to express what I’m feeling and what I’m feeling is what’s happening around me,” Bastida says. She’s aware that different artists have different takes on the world at large, and she’s not one to impose. “There are people who write love songs; they are so incredibly beautiful and powerful and I wish I could write like that, but I just don’t,” Bastida says. This is why the Tijuana-born singer doesn’t dare call herself an activist, even if nowadays she finds herself banging her hands against the steering wheel in LA traffic whenever she hears our president-elect choose a cabinet member.

“I don’t want to sound like I sounded 20 years ago.”

She saves the loaded a-word for people who are doing real organizing and grassroots movements. “I feel like they’re the ones that are doing all the hard work; I just talk about these things and try to participate in workshops and [do] shows.” Plus she doesn’t want to be judgmental — she stresses this multiple times — and she gets that people don’t want to talk about politics or what’s wrong with the world all the time. This doesn’t mean that Bastida does not have feels, like many do, about where our country is going. But above that, Bastida wants to soak up any and all knowledge around her like a sponge.

“I still want to be informed,” she says. “I think these things wake us up.” She compares our current political climate, artistically speaking, to “what happened in ’94” — meaning when the Zapatista movement hit its political peak in Mexico and art and music captured the climate. “Art will always reflect the times,” she says.

If this seems like a similar origin story to La Edad de la Violencia — well, it sort of is. Both projects are about Bastida trying to make sense of the world around her. Both are, in their own way, milestones. But that’s where the similarities end. You can tell that La Edad cuts deep — it’s intimate despite being approachable, and Sueño is a little less thorough. But what it lacks in a bird’s eye view, musically speaking, Sueño makes up with gusto. Even the song they share, “Cuervo,” feels less melancholy and sultrier as part of Sueño.

You can hear the ways in which MIS, Aloe, and Mariel Mariel left their sonic footprint on Sueño, and in that sense, it’s an EP that’s beyond just a Ceci Bastida project. But that’s ultimately what gives it its power. It’s a heavyweight, and it manages to keep Bastida peak Bastida while showing the versatility that an artist needs to have in order to stay current and fresh. “Un Sueño,” above all, is the song that portrays the EP best. It’s the coming-together-slash-rallying-strength anthem for 2017. And it’s fresh, fun, smart, warm, and modern, just like Bastida.

“I don’t want to sound like I sounded 20 years ago,” Bastida tells me. “I think I just try to experiment, and as cheesy as it sounds, let go and see what happens.”

Un Sueño EP is out now on Nacional Records.