Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Heaven knows Morrissey's songs are Mexican now

Mexrrissey, the band bringing latin flavour to the songs of Morrissey and the Smiths
Mexrrissey, the band bringing latin flavour to the songs of Morrissey and the Smiths

Morrissey; miserable, glum and rained on. Mexico; happy, colourful and sunny. As far as bad ideas go, mashing these two things together sounds positively loco.

It's not. Mexrissey, a superstar ensemble of Latin American musicians, have made this unlikely pairing work, adding a touch of exotic flair and fresh vibrancy to those familiar classic tracks.

Their album No Manchester, which combines studio tracks with live recordings, fully transports you to the streets of Mexico City complete with mariachi horns and wildly strummed acoustic guitars.

Mexrrissey doesn't just work. It works extraordinarily well. This is because the group doesn't merely cover Morrissey's songs. They reimagine, reinterpret and rearrange where necessary.

"We were trying not to do a covers band. That is not interesting. We didn't want to copy the songs and play them exactly as they are," synth player and co-vocalist Ceci Bastida says.

"We wanted to make them our own. Take them apart and then put them back together."
The idea, she says, was to imagine Morrissey had grown up and lived in Mexico, absorbing its sounds and style.

"We wanted to really experiment, in a respectful way, not being too far away from the song but allowing ourselves room to experiment," she explains.

"Even the translation of the songs are not that literal. The main idea is there, but there are certain things that are hard to translate to Spanish. The slang he uses or cities he references we switch to Mexican slang or cities in Mexico."

Obvious examples are their reworking of the Smiths' hit Panic which swaps Birmingham for Tijuana, and the replacement of a notorious Kray brother in Last of the International Playboys with an infamous 80s Mexican drug lord in the revamped, Bastida-fronted, Last of the International Playgirls.

What's remarkable is how completely different the songs sound in their new setting yet how faithful they remain.

"That was one of the main things," Bastida says, "We really did want them to sound effortless. We didn't want to force things. We wanted them to feel natural even though they're not. Because these songs, in theory, make no sense with Mexican music. But somehow it fits nicely."

They sound so sunny and happy, I say.

"I know!" she exclaims. "It's very much the opposite of what they [The Smiths] were conveying with their songs. But there is a dark humour, which is very much a part of Mexican humour. A lot of them work naturally."

I have to ask if Morrissey himself has seen, commented or heard the group?

"There hasn't been a direct contact from him but on his official website he has posted articles on us or video," she says. "So there's a few hints here and there that he's been supportive. We're very grateful. We haven't gotten a phone call and he hasn't jumped onstage but I think that by doing that he's basically saying that it's okay."

With a typically enigmatic endorsement from the man himself, how has the fans' response been? Messing with the classics can get you into trouble with the hardcore and devoted.

"People will hate it or love it and I understand both sides. I get it," she says. "If you're open-minded you'll see that it's done with a lot of love and respect, because we're fans. "

And the songs are far too joyful to get upset about.

"Exactly," she laughs. "You're upset and then two songs in you start dancing and everything's fine."

The LOWDOWN
Who: Ceci Bastida from Mexrrissey
What: Sublime Latin interpretations of Morrissey and the Smiths hits
When: Next Thursday and Friday, Auckland Arts Fest Spiegeltent, Aotea Square

- NZ Herald

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