Stephen Morrissey, the British rock star who led The Smiths to worldwide fame, morphed into Frida Kahlo on a screen in Brooklyn on Sunday night. Animations colored his shirt teal and green, and his eyebrows fluffed up until he was completely transformed.
In front of the animated Morrissey, eight all-star Mexican musicians infused the damp, melodramatic sadness of Morrissey’s discography into a warm-blooded, mariachi horn-infused expression of just how impactful Morrissey has been on their lives. They are Mexrrissey, and their show in Brooklyn was the first U.S. stop on an international tour.
Mexicans love Morrissey. It’s no secret by this point that the greaser-haired rocker took root in Mexican and Mexican-American culture and that his impact hasn’t slowed down. In 2002, Chuck Klosterman wrote a feature on the Mexican fandom of Moz, as he’s called, for Spin magazine. Klosterman theorized that maybe Mexicans loved Morrissey for his immigrant story, his hopeless romanticism or his infatuation with hot rods.
But why a person or a group of people love something isn’t nearly as interesting as how that love makes them feel, and what that love makes them do. And Mexrrissey has taken their love for an English rockstar and re-imagined it as a spunkier, louder, and much more Mexican affair.
Meeting the fans where they are
Before the show began, fans milled about in front of BAM — an old opera house — where the concert would take place. They wore sunglasses and smoked cigarettes in the waning afternoon sun while they waited for the doors to open. The 2,000 person venue wasn’t sold out, but the front steps were crowded with people waiting for dates, friends, or fellow Morrissey lovers.
Mexrrissey is just coming off a two-week England tour where they were met by entranced audiences. In London, they sold out a 2,000 seat arena, no easy feat for a band formed less than a year ago. They’ve met a kind of sweet spot.
“Am I a fan of Morrissey? I have a shrine in my bedroom with candles, photos, posters,” Andrew Diaz, an attendee of the show told Fusion before the show. He said he loved Morrissey not only because of his music but because “I’m Mexican! I feel like that gives me an extra connection with him. He’s an outsider, just like us.”
Of the ten people we talked to before entering the auditorium, nine of them had an intersection of fandoms that made them hepped up.
“I’m really excited to hear this music because it’s all the things I like. I think Camillo is great, and I love Morissey , and it’s in Spanish,” said Rocio Guerrero .
That’s what makes Mexrrissey so special. The crowd was a good mix of young and old, Hispanic and not, women and men. All people whose own journey with music and culture had brought them to this event.
“I thought this was kind of amazing to be Mexican and have this wonderful bond with tradition, and then to see that made into an event,” Victor Ledezma, another attendee of the show, told us. “ It’s good to support the young Mexican artists who are showing their influences and doing something innovative.”
They certainly are innovative. Mexrrissey is the creation of Camilo Lara who has radically reinvented Morrissey’s work so that it is not only sung in Spanish, but recomposed with Latin musical genres like danzon, cha cha cha, and ranchera.
Camilo Lara — founder of the Mexican Institute of Sound — wears the same uniform as the rest of his band, Marachi pants with silver detailing up the side and a Mexrrissey t-shirt, but he adds a black felt ten-gallon hat. Lara makes jokes throughout the set. He talks about how he discovered The Smiths as a teenager in the 1980s, and became obsessed; he says the love for Morrissey stems from the “drama, black humor, whimsy, and playing with sexuality.”
Lara has had no problem asking some of the biggest names in Mexican music to join this project. “To recruit for this was pretty easy,” Lara said in the event program, “there are a lot of Mexicans who are absolutely devoted to Morrissey and The Smiths.”
“Whenever Camilo asks you to say something you say yes,” Ceci Bastida, who plays keyboard and sings vocals for Mexrrissey, told Fusion in an earlier interview.
Alongside Bastida and Lara are musicians Adanowsky on guitars, Jay de la Cueva on guitars, Ricardo Najera on drums, Jacob Valenzuela on horns, and Sergio Mendoza on accordion and guitarron.
On stage, they are jubilant, and the audience relishes in their performance. They laugh at the jokes, stand up in their rows, and flood the front of the auditorium to be closer to the music. They dance to the Morrissey songs now translated into Spanish with a kick of mambo and danzon.
Morrissey’s music has some elements that cross over easily into the transformation. Some of his work with The Smiths — “The Boy with The Thorn in his Side” and “International Playboy” — has underlying beats that meet easily with ranchera music. But other songs have to be bent to fit. Mexrrissey fuses together elements of pop, rock, mambo, New Wave, and heavy sprinkling of punk.
When they play “Girlfriend in a Coma,” the audience sings along as de la Cueva croons “es muy serio,” over a vihulea and a light mariachi-inspired keyboard. The audience laughs, too; it's an upbeat, positively inspired revisitation of a song that was melancholy in Morrissey’s hands.
“We thought this song was just too serious,” Lara explains after the song concludes.
There’s a lightness, a celebratory quality to his interaction with the audience, one that welcomes them to the front of the room to dance, and chastises them for sitting between songs.
And the audience loves him back.
After forty-five minutes, the band walks off the stage to rapturous applause. It’s easily their fifth standing ovation of the night, and they return willingly to play two more songs. In the encore they play “Suedehead,” probably Morrissey’s most famous solo single. The lyrics have been completely rewritten. There’s no word in Spanish for “Suedehead” but the new chorus, “yo lo siento,” and emphasized “I’m sorry” transforms the hit into a deeply felt ode.
Mexrrissey isn’t a cover band, it’s a tribute to everything Morrissey has been to Mexico, and everything Mexico has made him to be.
Photos of attendees by Jorge Corona.
Jorge Corona is a filmmaker born in Mexico, raised in Texas, and living in Brooklyn.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.