EUROPEAN TOUR JOURNAL #2: BORDEAUX TO FUSION FEST
………From the desk of Leo J Mintek. Todos Tour Journal number four……
We had spent 4 weeks in a van on the border, from Brownsville to Tijuana. We went up into occupied Arizona and into the darkness of Reno and into the central farm valley of California. The final leg of the Todos Somos Ilegales tour would take us back across the continent from LA to NYC.
“May Day” – Los Angeles, CA May 1st is ‘International Workers Day’ and has been celebrated around the world since 1890. For decades it has been known as an immigrant rights holiday in Los Angeles, marked by annual marches downtown celebrating Latino/Indigenous culture and defiance to capitalism.
1) We kicked off May Day at the American Reclamation garbage/recycling facility. There, the mostly immigrant workforce picks through and processes recyclables from city garbage. They have been penalized and harassed for trying to unionize, in a situation where they are treated themselves like disposable garbage by the company and the industry. We sang fighting songs from the stage. Dolores Huerta and the Teamsters were there. I met workers from Mexico and El Salvador, some of whom were musicians; they asked me where they could record a demo.
2) We raced downtown and quickly set up on another stage as the first waves of the LA May Day marches fed into Pershing Square. We sang as the march entered the plaza: a wild scene of workers, unions, #occupiers, punks, hippies, youth, communists, anarchists, leftists, humanists, all very fired up!! It was powerful.
3) We drove the van to Echo Park to set up our big concert that night, our final California show. It was fast and intense, with a nervous energy different than other nights. Ceci Bastida joined us on stage. She sang Canta El Rio and during Que Queremos played the vox continental organ as I shouted out the chord changes on stage. G minor!!!! During the final encore I thought a blood vessel would burst in my face as Miles cranked every knob on my amp and the band sounded like something between a wild animal and an earthquake. Afterwards I gave a fired up interview with Remezlca and we drove out that night, East out of LA towards the other coast.
May 2 – 4 Marathon to Houston. Los Skarnales, Houston underground legends for nearly 20 years, had invited us to play Cinco De Mayo with them in their hometown. So we drove across the southwest in 3 days from LA. The drives were long and dry and we stayed close to the border. In New Mexico we heard old west stories of Pancho Villa crossing north to fight Federal troops and heard about the waves of migrants who move in the night. Migra SUVs lurked in the highway hills and we saw beautiful, sad memorials to fallen immigrants. This one was for a 47 year old woman who crossed but did not make it.
In El Paso I began to notice the deep effect of the drug trade. People said that when the coke dealers start showing up at shows it ruins the scene. At 9am in an El Paso parking lot I spoke to two day laborers on their 2nd job of the day. They were painting the lines in the parking lot, and joked about “big texas sized lines” and pretended to snort. I realized so much cocaine is coming across the border through El Paso. And so much of it stays right here in El Chuco. Meth is made in labs. Marijuana is grown all over. But cocaine only comes from Central and South America. And unless it’s on a boat it comes across La Frontera. The cocaine trade fuels so much gangsterism, addiction, police militarization, and an overall insane climate of violence.
May 5, Houston, TX– Cinco de Mayo was a double bill: Los Skarnales & Outernational at the Continental Club. Los Skarnales played ska, pachuco boogie, cumbias, jump blues, and even invited us on stage to sign a few Clash covers. After the show we stayed up all night and learned real Tejas music history with Felipe from the band. Felipe’s father was the drummer for a group called Los Johnny Jets from Reynosa, Mexico, across the border from McAllen in the southern Rio Grande valley. Los Johnny Jets had a wild rock and roll style that could not be matched by the Mexican rock and rollers from Mexico City. The border music and rock and roll was a deep influence. Los Johnny Jets even once backed up Chuck Berry, since Chuck always played with local musicians and never toured with a band.
Felipe also had LPs from Chelo Silva, great-aunt of engineer Jordon Silva who recorded and mixed several tunes on our album Todos Somos Ilegales. Chelo Silva recorded in McAllen and sang songs for the girls of Reynosa, the women of the brothels, young girls trapped in the twisted border economy.
May 9-13 Texas Finales We played with Calle 13 at House of Blues Houston and at Pachanga Festival in Austin TX. Residente Calle 13 is on the title track of our album Todos Somos Ilegales. Their live show is undeniable. Everyone knows Residente is a tremendous frontman, lyricist and rapper, and that Visitante is a musical maestro… but PG-13, their younger sister, is the secret weapon of the Calle 13 live show.
Pachanga Fest is a great festival with a very forward thinking lineup and artistic concept under the umbrella of ‘Latin Music’. We played two featured sets and did a lot of interviews. “Who is the band? Why did you make this album about the border? Why do you talk about Revolution and what do you mean?” On our stages we met Ana Tijoux and Chico Trujillo from Chile, Chingo Bling from Houston, our buddies Forro in the Dark from NYC/Brasil, the undeniable crunk cumbia DJ squadron Peligrosa, and the up and comers La Divison del Norte who were making their US debut at Pachanga Fest. La Divison Del Norte had worked hard and won a contest to appear at the festival, driving up from Mexico to make their first show across the border. Afterwards we invited them to come with us the final Texas date of our tour, in San Antonio.
May 14-17 From San Antes we drove North through Austin, Dallas, Arkansas and St Louis to Chicago, backtracking the route we took two months earlier.
May 18-20 We arrived in Chicago for the anti-NATO protests. NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is basically a US-led military alliance and they are responsible for war crimes, massacres, and occupations from Afghanistan to Libya and beyond. NATO are war criminals breaking international law with no regard for human life, national sovereignty, culture, peace, or a livable future for the world.
Chicago was filled with activists from all over as well as tremendous police and military response. The city was on lock down and tensions were high! We sang at a World Can’t Wait event, followed by an Afghani Poet, an Iraqi poet, and a Chilean man who lived survived state torture in the 1970’s by the US-supported Pinochet dictatorship.
In Chicago I heard stories of border crossings. A friend tells me how 15 years ago he crossed over at El Paso and came to Chicago. He recently visited Mexico to see his family and hired a coyote to return through the Arizona Desert. Ever since 9/11 the traditional crossing points in Texas and California have been militarized and highly guarded. These days most people cross in the Arizona desert: occupied Tohono O’odham land, and a very difficult journey. I heard stories about the Coyotes, guides who rob, rape, and abuse the people paying to come to the US. It’s a full on illegal economy, a functioning part of this system. A system which lives off the labor of immigrants in the US, most of who must hire a gangster and risk death and rape to cross north to work in the shadows. That night I met a half Salvadoran, Chicago born and raised, ex-gang banger who had just left prison for the 2nd time. His only hope for a job and getting out of slanging was to travel to West Virginia and work in a coal mine. But his mother had died and he lost the opportunity. So he was back in his hood in Chicago, selling weed at a swingset at 1am.
The next night we special guested with Tom Morello at a night of music dedicated to Woody Guthrie (he would be 100 years old this year). We made friends with Son Del Viento, local Son Jarocho musicians who also performed, giving a crucial immigrant perspective to Woody Guthrie’s songs of class struggle in the fields. We jumped up to sing Deportees with Tom Morello and every other musician from the night. It was a beautiful chaotic scene.
The next morning we were in downtown Chicago, surround by uniformed Iraq Vets Against The War. They were kicking off a day of protests climaxing in a ceremony of throwing back their medals. Watch the Democracy Now video so you can hear what the vets had to say, it is incredible! We were singing in the middle of a huge crowd with Tom Morello, Tim McIlrath (Rise Against), Rebel Diaz, Son de Viento and Amy Goodman (Democracy now). The soundstystem on stage had malfunctioned so we marched out into the crowd, escorted by IVAW troops in formation. Tom and Tim both led songs and then it was Outernational’s turn. We played Sir No Sir. It was one of the most powerful moments I’ve ever had as a performer. Dr Blum said afterward he was in tears when the IVAW guys sang along to Sir No Sir. We love the soldiers who resist these wars of conquest and imperialist plunder, they are deeply inspiring and a crucial part of the future we need to manifest.
May 21-22 We left Chicago for New York. And we felt it proper to cross the border into Canada on the way. It’s always good to visit Canada. As similar it is to the USA (and fundamentally the same system), I always get a good perspective by leaving the country. Canada’s cities are international and culturally rich and even the mainstream white Canadian culture is more open minded and less paranoid than American culture.
May 24-26 NY Finally we made it back to NYC. We nearly lost our voices and our marbles along the way. We had to cancel a night in a favorite city of ours: Buffalo, NY. The sheer physical strain and mental challenge of the tour was taking its toll. We rolled into NYC and played our homecoming show at Dominion NY. Chad Smith was in town and jumped behind the drum kit with no preparation. I seem to remember the last time I saw him was the same circumstance. We set off the next day for Dr Blum’s home of Staten Island and closed out the tour with a very weird show in the Hamptons of Long Island.
I WANT TO THANK EVERY SINGLE PERSON WHO WAS INVOLVED IN THE TOUR AND ALL THE FAMILY, FRIENDS AND FELLOW DREAMERS FROM BROWNSVILLE TO SAN ANTONIO, HOUSTON, LAREDO, MCALLEN, MARFA, AUSTIN, DENTON, EL PASO, TOHONO O’ODHAM, FLAGSTAFF, TUSCON, PHOENIX, LOS ANGELES, SAN DIEGO, TIJUANA, LYNWOOD, CARSON, SANTA MARIA, FRESNO, SACRAMENTO, BERKELEY, SAN FRANCISCO, RENO, MEXICO, EL SALVADOR, HONDURAS, GUATEMALA, ARKANSAS, ST LOUIS, CHICAGO, ONTARIO, BUFFALO and NEW YORK… WE ARE ALL ILLEGALS!
Check out Tour Diary #3 via our Official ‘Todos Somos Ilegales: We Are All Illegals’ tour partners, CUENTAME.
WE ARE ALL ILLEGALS TOUR JOURNAL PART 3 – by Leo Mintek of Outernational
April 19 – Santa Maria, CA
We began the California leg of the Todos Somos Ilegales Tour in Santa Maria, California. the strawberry capital of the USA. We were invited by CE’ENI (Colectivo Educativo Estudiantil de Naciones Indigenas) and were greeted by an airbrushed banner announcing our concert: in a backyard. We rocked through an acoustic set of songs from Todos Somos Ilegales and the coming album Welcome To The Revolution. A circle pit broke out and the fired up young crowd danced and sang along to songs like For It All Now, Que Queremos and Across the Borderline.
Santa Maria is the strawberry capital of the USA and most of the workers in the fields are from far south in Mexico and Central America. Many of our hosts were Mixteca people from Oaxaca in southern Mexico. Afterwards they treated us to an incredible Pozole dinner accompanied by fresh strawberry juice. We heard stories of recent border crossings from Baja California all the way to Santa Maria. One friend had just crossed back to the US through the Arizona desert, the very same land we had visited last week, hosted by our indigenous O’odham friends from the Tohono O’odham Nation - which the Arizona-Mexico border cuts in half. It was chilling to hear his stories of a week long journey: hiring a coyote, climbing desert mountain passes for days, running out of water, and riding in an overcrowded truck all the way to Phoenix. It was very heavy to hear his story and remember the desert mountain ranges from last week, having been told by our O’odham hosts that the migrants travel the mountains to avoid the Migra surveillance on the desert floor.
April 20 – Fresno, CA
In Fresno CA we played a rock show hosted by the Todo A Pulmon: Radio Bilingue radio show and played alongside Los Angeles punks Chencha Berrinches. Fans were waiting for us, ready to sing along to all the new songs from Todos Somos Ilegales. Little did they know that the intense touring had taken its toll on Miles’ vocal chords and they would have to indeed sing along – from the stage! We invited fans to jump up and sing and we rocked an amazing wild show, supported by our fans who knew all the lyrics and gave back such energy! What a night!
April 21 – Sacramento, CA
We were invited to Sacramento, CA by the Sol Collective, an amazing local art/culture/activism group we worked with at SXSW in Texas just a month before. They host concerts and have been providing a center for local youth for years despite police repression and harassment. They were having an awards dinner and Outernational was the afterparty. We played acoustic in the back room and received a standing ovation from the mostly older crowd, some of them beaming with smiles, seeing that their lifelong efforts were being carried on by a new generation. It was powerful; afterwards we heard stories of everything from SWAT team raids to neighborhood harassment of the center - because of the ‘dangerous youth’ Sol Collective works with. This is Sacramento, the capital of California, the city Arnold used to commute to daily from Beverly Hills in a helicopter; and where 40 years ago, Emory Douglass and other Black Panthers marched with arms into the capitol building.
April 22 – Berkeley, CA
We rolled into Berkeley down Telegraph avenue, passed People’s Park and entered Revolution Books. This revolutionary communist-led bookstore was throwing a fundraising concert to raise money for the BAsics Bus Tour which just kicked off from Atlanta, GA, spreading and promoting the writings of Bob Avakian, who you can hear twice on our new album: The Theme From Todos Somos Ilegales VI: ”The Greatest Country”and singing lead on Across The Borderline.
April 23 – San Francisco, CA
In San Francisco we played at the great rock club the Elbo Room. It’s in the mission district and we were greeted by this mural in the alleyway “To all indigenous people made prisoners in their own land”. We played a super high energy rock show to a near empty room. Nonetheless the people wilded out during the set and the encore of Fighting Song, but we walked away feeling ‘why is this band such a secret’? I heard the same sentiment from all the folks at the show. We left and hoped to return to the Bay again soon.
April 25 – Reno, NV
We arrived in Reno the morning that SB1070 entered the Lower Supreme Court. Actions were called for around the country and we performed in the street downtown with a local coalition rallying to make sure no SB1070 copycat bills are passed in Nevada. It’s important to understand that the Federal government blocked some parts of SB1070 when it passed in 2010. This Supreme Court hearing - happening right now - is to try to enforce the full draft of SB1070, to increase the racist climate of policing, fear and deportations in Arizona.
That night we played at the Reno Underground, where years before we toured with UK punk godfathers GBH. The owner of the club is from France, he grew up and cut class with Manu Chao and loves Todos Somos Ilegales so much that he set up a great cool show, which was broadcast live on the web. Reno is a very dark place. There is so much suffering in the streets: homeless, drugs, drunks, down and out people looking for saviors in the slot machine or a bottle. It’s also the state capitol and gambling extends from the glitzy downtown to neighborhood 7-11s where you can find slot machines next to the beer cooler and porno magazines. We left that night, and drove through the mountain pass, past the memorial to the Donner party: white colonists from 160 years ago who got stuck in the snowy mountains and ate corpses to survive. We made it back to California.
April 26 / Part 1– Sacramento, CA
We made a quick appearance in the morning outside a State building in Sacramento where family members of prisoners in California State Prison at Pelican Bay were rallying. Pelican Bay Prison is the most notorious of the super max prisons in California, at the furthest point northwest in California, over 13 hours drive from LA. There, on the beautiful Pacific Northwest coast, the state houses prisoners in Secure Housing Units (SHU) which are sensory deprived torture chambers, designed for short term punishment, and now used on people for decades. These are people whose only physical human contact comes from beat downs by guards and who are kept in windowless cells for 23.5 hours a day for years and subject to what is understood as Torture by any modern definition. Last year the SHU prisoners began hunger striking, led by a defiant multi-racial unity coalition, unheard of in California prisons, where the administration fosters and enforces racial division and warring. Read more about the SHU and the Hunger Strikers here.
April 26 / Part 2 – Occupy Fresno
We returned to Fresno and set up a DIY outdoor concert at Occupy with 24 hours notice. It was incredible. The fans, friends, the rebellious youth,and the local occupiers all came out and sang along to Que Queremos, Fighting Song, Sir No Sir and other acoustic jams including First Among Equals’ Fresno has a very inspiring new generation coming up, many of them students whose Chicano Studies professor told them to take off class and come to the Outernational Occupy Fresno concert.. It was one of those concerts that was so honest, so face-to-face and real… the type of show that will keep you going for weeks of no sleep and hard times.
April 27 – Tijuana, CA as told by Dr Blum
I was so excited to go to TJ and glad to finally leave stinktown USA. We dropped our van and trailer off with the San Diego promoter and jumped in a van from across the border. We drove across to Mexico which took a much shorter time than anticipated. We went to the club and met the promoter, a very cool laid back old school kind of guy. He took us around TJ and showed us the town. He showed us all the maquiladoras, which are those huge factories where America farms out its production to cheap labor. He showed us the wall which was pretty crazy and built into the ocean. It was covered in street art. We ate tacos.
After sound check we went to a Luchador match which was a silly cultural experience: dudes in wrestling masks pretending to hate each other. More like ballet than fighting.
We were performing at and old strip club. There was a pole on the stage. We rocked the show despite obvious sound system issues and we were joined by Ceci Bastida and we played Canta El Rio. I forgot how awesome that song was, I get to play a lot of accordion. The show was decently attended and fun was had by all. Afterwards we hung out in TJ and we met up with Pepe from Nortec Collective. What a crazy cool guy. Had a long talk with Pepe about the state of music today and how disappointed he is that there’s no new music, there’s too much just recreating old styles; no one is pushing boundaries enough.
I got a chance to hang at the oldest bar in TJ before retiring to our hotel. It was interesting, people tell you “TJ? Be careful!” But it didn’t feel dangerous; it’s like every city, there are parts of town that are tough. I thought it was going to be poor and violent, but just like any city it is a mix between all classes; the area we were in was where middle class Tijuana people go to party. TJ is no longer the American tourist area it was; there are no longer crowds of drunk Americans. It has been decaying and now revitalized for Mexican party-goers.
We saw police officers armed with machine guns. We drove by the red light district. Pretty fucked up that anywhere in the world is a red light district. It’s a cash town; many handshakes were exchanged. There’s a lot of hustling going on in that place.
When we were leaving to cross the border, that’s where we saw the poverty. There are all these people whose job it is to sell things to people waiting in line to cross to the US. Even I bought a $10 statue of a rooster from a man in the street. We crossed over and I was sorry to leave so quickly…. (Dr. Blum)
April 28 – San Diego
We crossed back to the USA, and looked back into Mexico from Tijuana. There are 4 border walls between the cities, walls which extend deep into the ocean, severing the land in two and maintaining two very different worlds on both sides. That night we played the Roots Factory, who built a stage and painted this Todos Somos Ilegales mural in our honor.
April 29 – Los Angeles
We arrived in Los Angeles on the 20th anniversary of the LA Rebellion (aka the Rodney King Riots). Revolution Books LA threw a series of events and we performed at their fundraiser concert at the historic Fais Do Do music hall the Crenshaw district. People spoke on the meaning and significance of the LA Rebellion – the largest rebellion in US history, sparked by the acquittal of the police who savagely beat Rodney King - which was exceptional only in that it was caught on videotape and laid bare for the world to see. The rebellion was responded by the largest domestic military operation ever and should be celebrated, with its shortcomings, as a righteous people’s uprising. We performed acoustic on stage and were followed by Leon Mobley and Da Lion: a super energetic, highly skilled and orchestrated symphony of African drumming and voices. He called his music American-African. It was incredible and everyone danced.
We left Fais Do Do to take a well earned day of rest before May Day, where we were preparing for street performances and a big Los Angeles concert before rushing back east to Texas, Chicago and NYC: for the final return leg of the Todos Somos Ilegales / We Are All Illegals tour.