According to popular lore, witches are creatures that find themselves in the exact point between night and day; in other words, the occult and everyday life. However, most witches in history—those who have been persecuted, burned alive, immortalized as enemies of the common people, or worse, forgotten in the annals of time—have been ordinary women who have gone beyond their assigned gender role to succeed extraordinarily in their fields, resulting in a threat to men in power. Look beyond the fairytales and witch trials and those same preconceptions, it’s still happening in 2020.
There has been a rise in women’s rights awareness on a global scale in the last few years, shouting “ni una menos” in the streets, raising their voices against abusers, and crying out for basic rights that have been denied to them time and time again. This is something Sexores have made into their grand statement. The result is Salamanca [Buh Records], their fifth full-length album, a celebration of 10 years making art and their most ambitious album to date.
Sexores are a shapeshifting band from Quito, Ecuador that can mix pop melodies with loud guitars (2014’s Historias de Frío), play dimly lit funereal pop songs with gravitas (2016’s Red Rooms), or turn up the beats and synths to deliver would-be hits from yesteryear (2018’s East/West). Their output has made them one of the most exciting alternative bands to come out of Latin America in the last decade.
All the while, Sexores have transformed from a quintet to a duo, moved to Barcelona after losing most of their gear at gunpoint in Quito, moved back to their native Ecuador and then settled in Mexico City where they now reside. Initially going by numbers instead of names, Sexores consists of Emilia Bahamonde Noriega (or 2046) on vocals and guitars, and David Yépez Valencia (or 606) on drums; with both handling electronics and programming and Bahamonde in charge of the production, mixing and mastering of the project. They have become quite popular thanks to the internet, where fans of shoegaze and goth in far places like Europe and Asia have made the band into their own. Institutions like NRMAL festival and Mexico and KEXP in Seattle have given a platform to the band. 10 years in, this is only the beginning.
Salamanca might be the most accurate representation of Sexores, an album that showcases a band at the peak of their powers communicating their dreams and desires. From their shoegaze influences to their darker hues to their poppier and most danceable moments; everything connected to a single concept. Songs like “Volantia” gracefully inhabit the ‘80s synthpop influences of East/West, while others like “Mistress of The Marble Hill” dive into the shadows of Red Rooms; and then there are songs like “The Depressing Sounds Of The Witch” which point to a hybrid of all their previous music into something new. Salamanca has the feeling of a pagan celebration as they write in the liner notes: “This compendium of tales and sounds could become its own ritual to summon personal demons and face them in the dark of any given sleepless and anxiety-ridden night.”
Salamanca strives to honor all the women that have unjustly been murdered out of fear of their power. Indeed, the album is described in the liner notes as interpretations of tales about witches and magic books of different cultures, written thanks to exhaustive investigation of folk tradition from around the world. Per the liner notes, “Salamanca is a pagan festivity, a witches’ Sabbath, a celebration and the end of a 10 year cycle.”
The themes explored in Salamanca are inspired by the feminist movement happening in Mexico and Latin America, how women have raised their collective voices. Although Bahamonde had already written a song expressing some of these ideas—“Tropical Nest” from East/West—she felt there were still things left unsaid. “We wanted to talk about how women have been written off as witches because they don’t fill the roles they are supposed to fulfil, like ‘wife’ and ‘mother,’” she says about the subject. “I have lived through that as a woman my whole life and I have seen it in my profession. I wanted to turn it around, not to victimize myself but to empower us. We’re sick of getting killed, the death rates are very high and the authorities are not doing enough to stop them rising.”
“There are a lot of cultural efforts from women as well [in Mexico],” Bahamonde continues. “Stuff like Cyborg Girls, Híbrida y Quimeras, Tiempo de Mujeres. It’s amazing.” Another aspect of said sorority in action can be heard in the album. Their live bassist Piaka Roela and Mexican electronic musician Naerlot contributed to the track “Volantia,” while Noelia Cabrera of the Peruvian band Blue Velvet guested on “Hanya.” However, the closing track “Salamanka” is perhaps their most intense celebration of feminism as the various types of vocals for the track were handled by Choute Sergina Honoré from Haiti, Mariana Carvalho from Brazil, Tamya Morán from Ecuador and Timpana from Bolivia.
While most of the subjects and inspirations for Salamanca are about the demythification of women as masters of the occult, Sexores do cite some supernatural inspirations. “There was a lot of magic involved,” Yépez says. “Like Emilia would be mixing a song and I would be reading, not paying attention to each other, and then we would find out we were thinking the same thing. The name of the song, “Aqueronte,” came to us that way. There’s a lot of chaos magick involved in the making of the record.” Both Bahamonde and Yépez attest to their connection getting stronger with time both as individuals and as musical collaborators.
The process of making Salamanca implied its own kind of ritual. After recording East/West in Quito at their studio with virtually unlimited hours—spending sometimes 15 hour days recording—Sexores tracked the album using free software at the Music Faculty located at UNAM using free software. Both members of the band had limited time to work on music because of their daytime jobs, Bahamonde at UNAM where she’s a faculty assistant as well as studying for a masters degree in music technology, and Yépez at MUTEK.MX. In their words, the process involved “spending a lot of days sleeping less, investigating a lot and really investing ourselves in it.”
“[With Salamanca] we thought that every take could be the perfect take because we were about capturing a moment and seizing it,” Bahamonde says. “We tried to make it the most transparent and liberating album we could and that has brought about the best of our creativity. Limitations don’t have to become frustrations. We didn’t have the best computer or the most expensive software but we made do.”
For the band, going out of the comfort of their home has been a constant. While it hasn’t been a stroll in the park, being an independent music act has been a goal for them since day one, which makes them experts of sorts. “You have to be brave,” says Bahamonde. “I think a lot of bands don’t dare to do things themselves because they think that it’s going to cost them a lot of money. It doesn’t have to be hard. You can find funding somehow. Giving lectures and such has helped us with our touring in Europe and South America. You can have parallel projects to make extra money and save up. I hope more bands take note of this.”
Sexores are entering a new era that feels like anything is possible. There’s still plenty to say and new challenges to overcome but the band is now its own entity, planted firmly in the present, finding a home at last. “In the past, we would finish recording our albums and immediately have regrets about them. Now we don’t have regrets because it was a liberating experience,” says Bahamonde. “I think it comes across as a great representation of our band. There’s a lot of ourselves in this album.”
Stream Salamanca here: