Growing up in Tijuana, Mexico, in the early ’90s and playing in ska-punk band Tijuana No! at just 15 years old, Ceci Bastida said she and her bandmates knew the music of punk rock bands like The Clash, Ramones and Sex Pistols, but didn’t realize that Latin music and culture had also had an instrumental role in the genre.
Now Bastida, who currently resides in Los Angeles, is the host of the eight-episode podcast, “Punk in Translation: Latinx Origins,” that tells the stories of Latin artists and their music’s role in the evolution of punk rock music. The audio documentary, which was written by Judy Cantor-Navas and Nurla Net, is available on Audible in English and Spanish.
“Generally, people don’t know these stories,” Bastida said during a recent video interview. “A lot of people associate punk rock with a certain kind of look and see it as music made by men. But I think it’s important to talk about and show the influence that came from Latin America and the impact it had on American music.”
In each episode, she interviews a wide variety of artists, including Louie Pérez of Los Lobos, Erwin Flores of Peru’s Los Saicos, Joan Jett of The Runaways, Gun Club/The Cramps guitarist Kid Congo Powers, Blondie drummer Clem Burke, Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra, John Doe of X, and Latin pop star and Bastida’s former Tijuana No! band mate Julieta Venegas and more.
One of the most interesting stories, Bastida said, is told in the opening of the series as she speaks with Question Mark and the Mysterians’ guitarist Bobby Balderrama. The band of Mexican American musicians from Michigan appeared on “American Bandstand” in 1966 to perform its song “96 Tears.” It was the first song by a Mexican American band to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart, something that wouldn’t happen again until 1987 when Los Lobos covered “La Bamba,” Bastida noted.
In 1971, the term “punk rock” was coined for the first time by music journalist Dave Marsh of Creem Magazine – and he used to describe Question Mark and the Mysterians.
“I think that’s the story that I kept going back to that really surprised me,” she said. “We’re talking the late ’60s and early ’70s with these Mexican American kids from a random town and all of a sudden they’ve created this sound. Even though the band didn’t really last long, they did something so remarkable and I had no idea.”
Other episodes explore things such as how Mexico’s flag inspired the Ramones logo; Latin music’s impact in New York City; the musical developments in East Los Angeles; the influence of queer Latinx punks; and the women making music, including Alicia Armendariz, who goes by the stage name Alice Bag, of the Los Angeles punk rock band The Bags.
“She’s this tough vocal person who has done so much for women in punk, but at the same time she is still very sweet,” Bastida said of interviewing Armendariz, whom she describes on the podcast as a proud Chicana and a punk rock trailblazer from East Los Angeles.
On April 16, 1977, Armendariz and a friend went to see The Weirdos and The Zeros play at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles when they saw a new band, The Germs, open that show. It was that night she decided “I could do that. I could get on stage and be crazy,” she said with a laugh during a recent phone interview.
“That moment taught me that it was more about the audacity to take on whatever comes your way, and that’s really important in punk,” she continued. “Don’t let the desire go unfulfilled. If you really want to do something, go for it and don’t worry about failure. Failure is a part of life and a part of growing.”
She moved to Hollywood, formed The Bags and the group went on to play with bands like The Germs, X, and The Go-Go’s.
“It was a good time for me because I was very young and it was my first taste of true independence,” she said. “It was the first time paying rent on my own, living with roommates or boyfriends, because things like that changed all the time. It was having sexual independence and the freedom to do whatever I wanted. I woke up when I wanted, went to sleep when I wanted and I could be creative all day long. It was probably dangerous, too, because we took a lot of risks and I think we all truly lived life on the edge. It was exciting. But having said that, I also have to say I’m not at all sad about being past that now because I feel like my life is every bit as exciting now. I still take chances, though not the same type of chances.”
Though the band broke up in the early ’80s, Armendariz continues to make music and is currently working with a new group of women in Mexico City. In 2011, she also released a memoir, “Violence Girl: East LA Rage to Hollywood Stage, A Chicana Punk Story.” She remains an avid supporter of women in punk rock and said she’s a big fan of the young Los Angeles-based band The Linda Lindas, who signed to Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz’s Epitaph Records last year.
“I am so excited for The Linda Lindas and I’m constantly keeping up with what they’re doing and I’m inspired by the way they’ve done things,” she said. “One of the things that inspired the way I approach releases now is to see the way the Linda Lindas have been doing it. They record singles, they put them out and they go out and build a connection with their audience that doesn’t require the tangible piece of vinyl. They are accessible, you see them constantly and you hear singles or little bite-sized pieces of music that they release every few months and it’s exciting as hell to watch them progress.”
In the final episode of the podcast, Bastida, who is also a Latin Grammy-nominated solo singer-songwriter and member of Mexrrissey, a band inspired by Morrissey and The Smiths, takes a road trip home to Tijuana. Through a series of interviews, she learns the impact her own band, Tijuana No!, had on other artists with its songs about social injustices and the countless problems at the US/Mexico border.
“Hearing all of that was very flattering to me, but honestly I played in that band when I was so young and my main focus was just performing, recording albums and doing shows and that was it,” she said. “I never thought of the band as something great. I always felt like I could have done more. It wasn’t until like 10 years passed that I was like, ‘Oh, I guess we did do something cool.’ There were things I started appreciating in hindsight.”