Outernational raises the red flag over Alamo City
Published: May 2, 2012
The revolution may not be televised, but it'll definitely have its own music anthology. Freely available, one hopes, under a Creative Commons license. The latest band to assume the protest rock unleadership mantle is New York's Outernational, a hard rock political phenom sweeping through San Antonio this weekend as part of the Todos Somos Ilegales tour throughout the borderlands.
"The band started in New York always with this concept to make radical, revolutionary music and art," says guitarist Leo Mintek. "The concept was to fulfill a need, meaning that we wanted to see more radical bands out there, not just criticizing the system, but also putting out a vision of how the world could be different."
Anti-capitalist, anti-war, anti-Wall Street, and jamming under the banner of human rights, Outernational could be the encampment band for the Occupy movement. Within the protest music scene, the act seeks to carve their niche with hard-hitting lyrics and genre-jumping rhythms, which have garnered the attention of such notables as Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine, Chad Smith of Red Hot Chili Peppers, and René "Residente" Pérez of Calle 13. The band's current incarnation of Mintek, frontman Miles Solay, bassist Jesse Williams, drummer Nate Hassan, and multi-instrumentalist Dr. Blum came together in 2008, and soon thereafter received the backing of Morello, who produced both their Eyes On Fire call-to-arms EP and anti-war single "Sir No Sir" the following year.
Outernational's latest album, Todos Somos Ilegales: We Are All Illegals, was inspired by Arizona's controversial immigration legislation, namely Senate Bill 1070, and the tour, which kicked off in Brownsville, will hit cities throughout the border states (though as of yet no New Mexico gigs have been announced). It wraps up with a romp through Chicago, Buffalo, and New York. The CD features Morello, Residente, and Smith on the title track. It also includes a corrido cover of Woody Guthrie's "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" with Morello on guitar.
They label their musical genre as future rock (so what will post-future rock sound like?), which, judging by the laundry list offered by Mintek, seems to mean, "a fusion of too many genres to list." Somehow, Outernational's sonic smorgasbord balances complexity without tipping into gratuitousness. Stripping away the multitudinous musical accents, Outernational's core sound is reminiscent of Chumbawamba, Consolidated, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers on The Uplift Mofo Party Plan. Given the subject matter, Todos Somos Ilegales draws heavily on Latin rhythms and melodies; the tracks smack of Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Molotov, and Maldita Vecindad.
It's a fun and sometimes inspiring album, but Outernational's bid to tackle the thorny issue of immigration policy produces mixed messages and fails to expound any clear "vision of how the world could be different." To be fair, boiling complex political issues down to rhyming hip-hop lyrics is always a messy business. Still, on the title track, Residente's rap, "Ilegal como un Nazi/En una sinagoga" (illegal like a Nazi in a synagogue) stands a metaphor on its head in a fairly confounding manner. Maybe it's meant to be ironic, but it comes off as either insulting or, at best, insensitive. Later he sings, "Más de 600 millones de personas/ Gritando luz verde/ Pa' invadir Arizona." (More than 600 million people [in Latin America] screaming "green light" to invade Arizona.) Really? Isn't one of the main arguments of activists opposed to border militarization that, in fact, the entirety of Latin America is not chomping at the bit to pour into the U.S.?
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