To celebrate the release of the new Sotomayor album Origenes, we dug in the archives for this never before released interview with the electro-cumbia sibling dynamic duo, Paulina and Raul Sotomayor.
This interview took place at Kaedama, a ramen restaurant crossing the street from The Lowbrow Palace in El Paso, TX, where they were playing. Their second album Conquistaor had just come out, and they were concluding a tour in the Sun City.
The interview was done with the band eating “sushi-rritos” and with Ana Pao Calleros, a music writer who runs her own blog, Desert of My Eye, which is where this interview was published back in August of 2018. The interview was done in Spanish and translated by Calleros.
Antonio Villaseñor Baca: Can you tell me about the tour? I know you guys just arrived from McAllen. How has the tour been? It’s also the first time you guys have a lot of dates throughout Europe.
Raul Sotomayor: Today’s show is very special because, precisely, it is the last one. We have been doing this for about three months now and it started in Europe. In May, we went to Madrid, France, Berlin, Copenhagen, and we were even at a festival with music from around the world in Spain. It was like 15 days of just touring. It was a lot more intense than what we are doing now. At one point we played four shows in four different countries in the span of four days. It consisted of waking up early, going to sound check, playing and repeating that again for two weeks. When we finished with those shows we had a small break to kind of rest but not even because we played a big show in Mexico City. For the first time, we did a show (only Sotomayor) in a medium sized venue. It was an important challenge for us to be able to do a show that lasts two hours and not forty minutes and with all the production done by us. And now we just did Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix, San Antonio, McAllen, El Paso and then tomorrow Juarez.
Paulina Sotomayor: There are still a lot of things pending. It seems like the calendar is ending for us, but in reality that’s not the case. We still have upcoming shows in Costa Rica, Colombia, Peru, and Dominican Republic. They are big shows for us and we are very excited for them. Everything has gone by so fast. Normally, the life a band goes a bit slower but we are grateful that everything has been able to happen in such an organic manner and we see how people really enjoy this project. One notices this. One notices that people want to be able to share a bit of conversation with us and even go as far as inviting us for a drink and just being able to give them that time. It’s very inspiring when people tell us very nice things. It leaves one the “homework” of enjoying our project and trying to understand why we do what we do.
AVB: How do you guys feel or how do you see people receiving this project?
Ana Pao Calleros: May I add to his question? Not only is the question how have people responded to this project, but also how is it that you guys decided to fuse certain beats and music together. It’s music from your roots with a modern twist on it. How did that come about and why do you think it’s important to do so especially in today’s times?
Raul: I think that the two things that happened with Sotomayor is that the growth has happened so fast in just the three years. When we sit down and realize that we toured the world in just three months, it’s crazy based on the fact that we have existed for barely three years. In turn, the load becomes heavy for us because we feel a certain type of responsibility. I think all this has happened because we fuse electronic music with other things. It’s not only innovative, but it’s also something that other people in the world can relate to. In this tour, we got to see a little bit of everything. Like when we played in Denmark where no one speaks Spanish and many don’t even know where Mexico falls on the map or don’t even know what a cumbia is and yet they came out to see us. That says a lot about the reach Latinx music. The fact that we don’t do reggaeton, but still people appreciate it turns to be something interesting.
Paulina: I feel that there are a lot of people who are open to hearing Latinx music and it helps them open their curiosity to wanting to get to know the different rhythms of the world. This all started because my brother is a DJ, DJ de toda la vida, and that includes his use of global bass, world music, chicha music, cumbia villera, or even Mexican boleros. All of these things can be utilized to add a modern rhythm to it. It ends up working out because people, from what we see, love to dance. I think this medium that we use helps people connect to that music and our music. Music is not only Latin, but it has a lot of mysticism and energy that ends up working out.
Raul: Can I add to that? It’s been cool to arrive somewhere like Paris and see a big reunion of Mexicans there with the Mexican flag. It’s been very special to us. First of all, to see that there are a lot of Mexicans around the world and to see that our shows have become meeting points for that is amazing. It has happened to us a lot especially here in the U.S. People are very grateful in the sense that we are traveling to certain places.
AVB: Talking about how you guys have traveled a lot and crossed many, many borders, what have been your experiences been crossing these borders especially crossing la frontera between the U.S and Mexico?
Paulina: We have had a lot of experiences. Good and bad ones. I feel like it is this thing where one wants to come in the most legal way possible. Sometimes it’s not like that in the beginning, but now we are trying to take care of every single detail. It is this question of “Ok if I cross, how many days can I be here or what if my visa says I can be here for certain amount of days?” There are a lot of obstacles in this process. One has to investigate and do research in order for things to go in order en el contexto gringo.
Raul: El Paso was one of the places we really wanted to come to. When we went to McAllen for the first time, it was such a great experience. What we saw was something we didn’t understand. People connected with us because they identified with us. We played a festival and before us, four punk bands played and then when we came out on stage and started playing electro-cumbia, it was beautiful to see how our music really called out to the people. They all of a sudden had something that they could identify with and that was very special to us. I remember that, that day someone took us out to eat and he told us that he felt too gringo to be Mexican but too Mexican to be gringo. We had never been to El Paso before and we wanted to see what would happen.
AVB: Digressing from this topic regarding the tour, how is it that you guys came up with your sound and this style of music?
ACP: Not only that, but you guys have an extensive background. How is it that you guys decided that you wanted to embark on a music project together a brother and sister?
Paulina: It all happened very organically. My brother was doing remixes of some songs and one day I went over to his house and he showed me the songs he was working on and we decided to try the songs out and how they would work out with my voice and we really ended up liking the result. It all happened so fast. We released the first album and soon after that we were invited to play the Vive Latino Festival and it was a moment where we realized that we could live off of our music. It became our full time job.
Raul: Pau was always doing other projects. I knew she played the drums and that she sings well and I knew no one was taking advantage of that, which is why I decided to have her sing on this project. I know well, as her brother, what she can do. That allowed us to put together things faster. I know what she likes and what she can do. In terms of the type of music and it’s identity, that was more on my side. It’s something that kind of happened because I have had problems with bands that sing in English and want to sound like Radiohead. A lot of the bands in the 2000’s wanted to sound like Interpol, it’s not that I don’t like it but I don’t identify with it. If a band is Mexican, they should at least try to sing in Spanish. Then there was this moment where everything was electro-cumbia and I didn’t want to straight up copy that sound and be like everyone else. I wanted to be different and with Sotomayor that is what happened and it’s allowed us to have a place in the music scene.
Full gallery of the Sotomayor show in El Paso in 2018.
By Antonio Villaseñor-Baca