When Tijuana No brought their "Revolutionary" punk-ska sound to Studio 435 last Friday night, the spirit of San Francisco's
early '80s punk scene was born again. But the scene that was resurrected was unequivocally Mexican. As the On Broadway, the
club was one of the only venues in the city booking bands like the Dead Kennedys, MDC, and Fear. SF cops, who at the time
were cracking down on punk shows the way they're now targeting hip-hop shows, ultimately shut down the On Broadway in the
Ten years later Tijuana No invokes the usual slam dancing and stage dives. But when their Zapatista anthem -- Transgresores
de la Ley (Law Breakers) -- was introduced with conch shells and indian flutes, all the punks turned toward their mythical
homeland of Aztlan. Brown, shirtless, flailing bodies suddenly calmed and transformed the mosh pit into a mystical Aztec circle
It was an incantation to ritual, culture, and politics that wasn't forgotten when everyone started slamming again to the
driving music that was accompanied by lyrics like:
"El indio sigue labrando la tierra,
como un feroz guerrero defendiendo la sierra,
Zapata vive y sigue
en pie de guerrra,
solo un puñado de hombres dispuestos a morirse
por continuar la revolucion."
The six member group has been playing together for more than five years. Three of the members were born in Mexico City
and the other three are from Tijuana, which for the most part was their musical breeding ground. Living close to the border
gave them access to concerts taking place in the U.S., including Peter Gabriel's Genesis, David Bowie, The Clash, Black Sabbath
and countless punk and metal bands.
Don't let appearances fool you. Although onstage Tijuana No looks like a fledgling band, their musical tastes have formed
and transformed through more than ten years of friendship together. The band is tight and its progressions sharp, as the music
moves from punk to ska to afro caribbean to heavy metal to reggae to the indigenous.
One of Tijuana No's three lead singers, Luis Güereña, summed up the group's obvious "message" in an interview with the
music zine retila.
"If you stay quiet you are a loser. The misery is not hiding...It is painful for us to see our people being driven from
their homeland. They are running away from a rich land that has literally everything. We got oil, gold...we got fucking everything
and it's being taken away by a group of fucking mafiosos -- you know, the PRI (Mexico's ruling political party) and the military."
When Tijuana No left the stage with a final salute of "Heil Pete Wilson!" the crowd was left reeling from the visceral impact
of the politically charged performance.
Influential Mexican punk band Tijuana No! has always seen itself as the mouthpiece of the downtrodden on
both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border.
"We are a continuity of the voice of el pueblo," said Teca García, one of three singers in the band, which has been putting
injustice and human rights abuses under the spotlight for over seven years now as one of the premiere underground groups in
the rock and punk en español scenes.
But these days the pueblo is an international one, thanks in part to a new album, Contra-Revolution Avenue, which pairs
Tijuana No!'s official members &emdash; García, along with Luis Güereña on vocals and percussion, Ceci Bastida on vocals
and keyboards; Jorge "Borja" Velásquez on bass; Jorge Jiménez on guitar; and Alex Zuniga on drums &emdash; with some of
indie rock, world beat and hip hop's most experimental musicians.
With participating musicians hailing from as far away as the Basque region of Spain and America's midwest, Tijuana No!
has taken the phrase "border region" beyond its obvious geographic meaning to encompass a psychological and musical space
inhabited by artists willing to break down artificial boundaries of language, genre and citizenship.
Contributors include tracks with Rasta-punk legend H.R. of Bad Brains, former member of The Breeders and the Pixies Kim
Deal, Chicano hip-hop pioneer Kid Frost, Fishbone's Angelo Moore, Horny Toad's Kid Caviar, Negu Gorriak's Fermín Muguruza,
as well as members of L.A. punk-a-billy favorites Calavera, the Pietasters and John Pantle, Tijuana No!'s trombone-playing
manager who had also previously managed Sublime, Save Ferris and No Doubt.
On the album, Deal and Bastida pair up for a grungy, bilingual duet. Moore sings and plays his sax and the space-age, violin-like
instrument, the theremin. H.R. offers backup vocals, as does Muguruza of Negu Gorriak, a Basque tropical-punk band with a
separatist political agenda. Frost raps with Güereña in "Stolen at Gunpoint," a song about U.S. land acquisitions.
"We have always been versatile, always experimenting and not necessarily with Mexican music alone, but also employing all
the cultures of the world," says founder and primary songwriter Luis Güereña about the music on Tijuana No!'s first two critically
acclaimed albums in the Latin market on Culebra/BMG, Tijuana No! and Transgresores de la Ley (which Negu Gorriak's Muguruza
The result is Tijuana No!'s hybrid sound, which blends Afro-Latin folk-punk with reggae and hard core, world beat and ska,
coated with abrasive male and melodic female vocals. "We don't look to fall under any one musical line or genre," Güereña
says. "Our sound is a fusion that reflects what everyone brings to the group."
But while the band has always seen itself as an international, rather than strictly regional, band, Contra-Revolution Avenue
(BMG Latin U.S.) marks Tijuana No!'s first official attempt to tap the U.S. market.
"We think it's important that as many people as possible listen to our music," said Güereña, who wears a T-shirt with a
manipulated image of the Pope holding his pregnant stomach &emdash; an obvious jab at the Catholic Church's stance against
One half of the new album is English, which means Tijuana No! is not afraid of wandering beyond the constrains of a genre
of music that is often called "rock en tu idioma" or rock in your language. "So many Latinos know English," Güereña says.
"To record in English gives us the opportunity to not only reach the Latin market but the mixed U.S. market as well."
Tijuana No! started as a group of friends with shared ideals. In the 1980s, Güereña was a punk concert promoter who organized
shows for U.S. and Mexican punk bands in Tijuana. At the time, he was in a band called Solución Mortal. When the band played
in San Diego or Los Angeles, he would smuggle his bassist in through border tomato fields. (Everyone but the bassist had legal
Later, he met Zuniga at a fundraiser he had helped organize to raise money for the leftist rebels in El Salvador and Nicaragua.
It featured bands such as Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys.
Zuniga had been working with Julietta Venegas in a band called Chantaje. Güereña joined Chantaje and recorded a demo featuring
the ska-punk sound &emdash; with Venegas as vocalist &emdash; which later became Tijuana No!'s signature sound.
Venegas, who wrote one of Tijuana No!'s most popular songs, "Pobre de Ti," left for a solo career and just released her
first album in Mexico this year.
The rest of Tijuana No!'s current line-up &emdash; including Bastida, who replaced Venegas &emdash; came on board.
Originally, the band was just called ¡No!, but members soon found out that another Mexican band already had the same name.
"We were going to call ourselves No de Tijuana, but realized that other bands could just say No de Monterrey, No of whatever
town or city in Mexico," Güereña says. "We wanted to keep 'No' in the name, so we decided on Tijuana No!"
In the 1990s, the band moved on to sing about the Zapatista and Tupac Amaru guerrilla movements in Mexico and Peru, respectively.
In the meantime, they played key benefits such as the Big Top Locos 1 and 2 festivals in Los Angeles in 1994 and 1995, where
they performed alongside Rage Against the Machine and Youth Brigade.
Having three voices gives Tijuana No! the amorphous quality of being three bands in one. García raps. Güereña growls. Bastida
sings with a folksy bite.
In the past, Tijuana No! &emdash; unfortunately &emdash; didn't capitalize on Bastida's voice. One of the few high-profile
female vocalists in the rock en español scene (Andrea Echeverry of Aterciopelados among them), Bastida has sung at most a
couple of tracks per album, relegated to back up vocals most of the time on the first two albums.
But her vocals have always been the highlight of any performance.
Her rendition of The Clash's "Spanish Bombs," a simple three-chord classic, displays her ability to switch from accentless
English to the Spanish-language chorus in the song, which appears in the album Transgresores de la Ley.
Now, on Contra-Revolution Avenue Bastida sings on at least four of the tracks. She adds grace to the forceful rhetoric
the band employs to get its message across and strengthens the music's impact.
And while this newest album may catapult Tijuana No! to a new level of popularity and sales, politics will still be front
and center for this group, whose name is interpreted by many as a protestation of the flight of Mexicans to the United States
via the Baja California city of Tijuana.
In fact, Güereña can often be seen goose-stepping across stage while he sings "Gringos Ku Klux Klanes," a protest of California
Governor Pete Wilson's hostile anti-immigrant legislation, or kicking an effigy of former Mexican President Carlos Salinas
With their aggressive lyrics &emdash; sung in Spanish, English and Spanglish &emdash; and political-rally style
stage show, Tijuana No! delivers a message the members believe will take a long time to get across to a wider audience.
Contra-Revolution Avenue, a play on the name of Tijuana's commercial strip Avenida Revolución (an oxymoron, the band members
say), stays true to the group's political leanings. The song is a statement about the hypocrisy involved in a commercial strip
populated by destitute people.
Recently, Tijuana No! headlined a benefit for Zapatistas in Mexico City. It was the culmination of a march that began in
Chiapas and ended in the city, where food and supplies awaited the Zapatista rebels. It's a sign that for some, being there
for the causes you believe in is more important than just sending cash contributions.
"Until the quality of life for the underclass improves around the world, we will always sing about political awareness,
" said Güereña. "As long as those who cause misery to the underprivileged don't change their ways, we can't stop trying to
spread our message."
This article originally appeared in Frontera Magazine, which chronicled the Chicano/Latino arts and cultural movement
from 1995 to 2001.
at Jai Alai Palace, Tijuana, March 13, and at the Knitting Factory, March 14
It wouldn’t have been a real Tijuana No experience — as well as an appropriate tribute to the late T.N.
singer-prankster-gadfly Luis Güereña — if there hadn’t been a bit of chaos at his hometown memorial. The concert,
which had been moved to the jai alai arena earlier that day, started several hours behind schedule, after the promoters tracked
down a generator for the stage lights. Nonetheless, the mood was festive rather than impatient or funereal as a couple thousand
kids in black T-shirts lined up along Avenida Revolución to celebrate the life of the man who first smuggled punk rock south
of the border. You could hear his impact in the other groups’ set lists, with even the sunny pop band Ohtli tackling
a Sex Pistols tune, and L.A.’s fearsome hard-rock/rap collective Aztlán Underground slamming home a sinister remake
of the Dead Kennedys’ “California Über Alles” via new Schwarzenegger-specific lyrics. In fact, Güereña’s
absence was more of a palpable presence, with his leftist, rebellious idealism linking the otherwise disparate openers: Miseria
Humana (propulsive, guttural grindcore), Dubus Sound System (idyllic reggae trances), Mercado Negro (Clash-like funk-reggae),
L.A.’s Calavera (feverishly souped-up rockabilly) and a reunion of Mexican
veteranos Solución Mortal (grungy
The pit really began to spin out of control once Tijuana No launched into the instrumental “Cowboys” and the
hardcore rant “Conscience Call,” as guitarist Jorge Jimenez vented his grief through a psychedelic flurry of bitterly
stinging note-stabs. Halfway through the planned set, the panicked authorities cut the lights and most of the power, but bassist
Jorge Velasquez, drummer Alex Zuñiga and an army of percussionists improvised a wild “Sympathy for the Devil”–type
samba-funk jam, with John Pantle’s forlorn trombone squalling above the murk like a spontaneous New Orleans funeral
parade. Then the crowd rushed the stage and chanted the lyrics, soccer hooligan–style, to the band’s most beloved
song, “Pobre de Ti,” until they were joined by T.N.’s clearly delighted Ceci Bastida.
The following afternoon’s Knitting Factory set was less anarchic, but just as thrilling, as Tijuana No’s third
singer, Teca Garcia, pierced the Andean highland fog with his haunting flute intro to the epic “Transgresores de la
Ley,” before Velasquez’s seesawing bass lurched into Bastida’s exotic, Persian-pop keyboard waltz. Garcia
and Bastida did a brief slow dance together during a bluesy intro to the last song, Bastida’s winsome remake of the
Clash’s “Spanish Bombs,” which — with Güereña’s death, and coming just days after the Spanish
train-station bombings — was freighted with several new layers of poignancy. Under the band’s green EZLN Zapatista
banner, revolution was still in the air, and Luis Güereña seemed more alive than ever.