The members of the celebrated ska/punk/everything else band Los de Abajo may hail from the streets of Mexico City, but their sound is so wild and all-encompassing (they’ll incorporate just about any style of music that’ll get the crowd jumping), they could be from anywhere. Formed in 1992, they had already become a cult phenomenon in their own country before a demo sent to Luaka Bop in New York City caught the ear of label owner David Byrne, who, after flying down to Mexico to catch the group in concert, signed them up.
Los de Abajo’s first two albums—and especially their stirring live performances, comparable in energy and infectious party vibe to ’80s funk-ska-rockers Fishbone—launched the group into the world’s consciousness, permitting them to tour throughout Europe and Asia. Their second album, 2002’s Cybertropic Chilango Power won the BBC Radio 3 Award for World Music from the Americas in 2003. North of their own native border, though, their profile’s remained relatively low. The cultural border between the two nations may be even more porous than its physical/geographical equivalent, but the group is still better known across the ocean than in the U.S.
LDA V The Lunatics, produced by Temple of Sound’s Neil Sparkes and Count Dubulah, was released in early February on Peter Gabriel’s RealWorld label. The first track, "Resistencia,” makes explicit reference to the guerrilla movement that’s been battling the Mexican government for years. A Zapatista leader, Commander Esther, is heard on tape, discussing the necessity of standing up to unjust leadership.
"That song reflects the sentiments most young people are having today,” explains vocalist Líber Terán, who is also the primary lyricist for the band. “We don’t believe in politicians. We don’t trust our institutions. While there is a definite sense of pessimism on the streets, the song talks about standing up for your rights, fighting—non-violently, of course—for what you believe in every day, to try to make things better.”
LDA’s lyrics have evolved over the course of their three studio albums. “By the time we had recorded Cypertropic we were already ‘growing up’ as individuals and as a group. We all had different personal experiences; the band collectively as well,” Terán explains. “So I started writing about love and sadness, our personal stories, and other issues. But it is still important for us to talk about political and social issues, especially in Mexico.”
"Tu Calor,” a love song, demonstrates how the band’s vision of the world has enlarged since some of its members have gotten married and started their own families. “It reflects a feeling that anybody could have, talking about the love for one another, or God, or a special spiritual force you may be seeking during a difficult moment,” says Terán.
Just as LDA’s lyrics have taken on new dimensions as the band continues to travel the world—26 countries, at last count—so has their music. The group throws all sorts of sounds and rhythms into it, including ska, reggae, rock, salsa, polka, cumbia and more, often cutting and pasting different styles within the same song. Its band members coined the phrase “tropipunk” to describe their zesty, eclectic approach. LDA V The Lunatics is their most sonically expansive disc yet, featuring guest appearances by vocalists Neville Staples and Natacha Atlas, bonus horn players (augmenting the band’s own section), and strings on “Sombras,” to name but a few additions to their already almost overstuffed sound. In a blatant nod to their roots in second-wave ska, the album contains two versions of Fun Boy Three’s “The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum),” one in English and one in Spanish.
The “official bootleg” album Complete And Live (L.A./04), a two-CD set released in early 2005 on Kufala Records, not only captures the band’s dynamic stage performances, but also documents it