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We Went Crate Digging in Mexico City with Black Pumas’ Adrian Quesada

Ahead of his new album, the musician walked us through his finds from La Lagunilla flea market

On June 1, 2022
Photos by Toni Francois

Adrian Quesada is putting a new twist on a classic genre. The Black Pumas musician is bringing back Latin America’s balada movement from the ’60s and ’70s in his upcoming album Boleros Psicodélicos. Like he’s done in most of his past projects, Quesada weaves in his bicultural influences from growing up near the Texas and Mexico border. While crate digging in Mexico City, he talked with VMP about his finds and how those artists influenced his new LP.

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Quesada had a chance to visit Mexico City in late March when the Black Pumas performed at the Vive Latino music festival. During his time off, he stopped by La Lagunilla flea market, one of the biggest “tianguis,” or open-air street markets, in the area. The market has become a popular place to find antiques, including classic vinyl records. Quesada picked up records by Latin icons like Argentina’s Sandro and Mexico’s Rigo Tovar and José José, all of whom flourished during the balada movement with their revamped boleros. His finds also included LPs by Los Jaibos, who recorded traditional Cuban boleros, and French film composer François de Roubaix.

With Boleros Psicodélicos, or “Psychedelic Boleros,” due out June 3, Quesada is looking to reexamine the balada movement that redefined boleros while also putting his alternative edge on the sound. The 12-track album includes covers, including “Esclavo y Amor” by Los Pasteles Verdes, the band who first piqued Quesada’s balada interest. Quesada also produced original songs with a timeless feel like “El Paraguas” with Gabriel Garzón-Montano, “Mentiras Con Cariño,” with iLe and “Hielo Seco” with Money Mark. Many musicians from across different genres go back in time with him as he takes boleros into the future.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

VMP: What inspired you to go on this crate digging trip at La Lagunilla?

Adrian Quesada: A couple of people actually recommended it. A friend of mine recommended it as a good place for finding records. Other people told me it was just an incredible experience. It was absolutely massive and jaw-dropping. It was all it was cracked [up] to be.

   Photo by Toni Francois  

Let’s go through your finds. Why did you pick up Rigo Tovar’s Amor y Cumbia and Greatest Hits?

I had heard some Rigo Tovar songs in the past that were really amazing and kind of fit in with this style [on my album]. I actually have a friend from Texas whose dad played with him. It always felt like I sort of had a connection to the music because my friend used to always tell me, “Yeah, my dad used to play with Rigo Tovar.” Every time I see his name, it’s always something special. He’s more known for cumbia music and I found one of his cumbia records. He was a Mexican singer, actor and musician.

Why did you decide to pick up Sandro’s Te Propongo and Penas, Rosa Rosa y Otras?

When I was making this album, I had never heard of Sandro. I had a pretty heavy duty playlist of inspiration music for this album that I made and I prided myself on the digital digging that I did. I had never heard of his name or even seen it and I when I was working with iLe from Puerto Rico, when we started trading ideas back and forth, she was like, “You have to check out Sandro.” I had never heard of him and now I’ve gone down the rabbit hole. I think those are actually my best finds here. It’s kind of serendipitous that now that I know who he is, I see his name everywhere.

And you also picked up an album by François de Roubaix (Les Plus Belles Musiques De François de Roubaix Vol. 3).

Not totally in line with the bolero record but an influence nonetheless. He’s an incredible French film composer. Ten years ago I had another project with a friend where we covered a piece of his music, so every time I see a record of his, I snatch it up.

   Photo by Toni Francois  

Why did you decide to pick up José José’s Reencuentro?

José José is a Mexican singer and crooner who I definitely always knew of when I was growing up. He was one of those household names in Latin American and on the border, he was always on TV and singing. I remember when I was working on this album, I had to go back and I was listening to all kinds of early music. A friend of mine recommended the early José José albums. I went and of course, he had some that go back to the like the late ’60s, early ’70s, and those are just amazing records, so I knew I would find something like that in Mexico. It’s harder to find that stuff in the U.S. His early stuff is, like, equally amazing, and not quite as psychedelic, but it definitely had this funky, kind of soulful feel that I really like.

And you also picked up an album by Los Jaibos (Boleros de Siempre a la Manera de Los Jaibos Vol. 2).

That one is a more traditional bolero record. It may be more of a traditional approach than some of the other ones. I just saw it there. It looked cool. I thought it would be a good kind of counterbalance to the rest of it.  

Did some of these records help shape your new album?

Just about all of them I would say, at some point or another, they were directly referenced on the album.

How did you first discover the balada movement?

I didn’t really know it was a movement. My first exposure to it was about 20 years ago when I heard Los Pasteles Verdes from Peru. They just completely blew me away and it led me down the path of just finding other artists that were similar. It wasn’t until much later that I read that that was like a whole movement of bands that were doing that. I think there’s sort of a little bit of a resurgence here of people really embracing that era and kind of trying to reference it but also take it forward.

Photos by Toni Francois

What fascinates you about the balada movement?

The actual sort of style of a bolero or a ballad, it was something that I always heard very traditionally. I didn’t even know until I heard Los Pasteles Verdes that people were interpreting it with references to American soul music and psychedelic music, and kind of cross referencing music from all over the world. It just completely blew my mind because I love the song style. I love the form. The songs are amazing. They’re just timeless. And when you have people interpreting them with a certain palette and a certain feel and a reference point, I think it’s like an amazing intersection of the Americas, of North America, South America, Central America and beyond. In terms of the Americas, I think it just creates this fascinating central ground between all these different styles of music.

Growing up as a Mexican-American near the Mexico border must’ve had an influence as well.

That’s a big part of why I’m attracted to things like that, because I grew up on the border of Texas and Mexico. I grew up in a culture that was between two cultures, between two countries, between two languages. The majority of my life has been two places, so anytime I find another convergence of culture like that, I’m always immediately attracted to it. And plus, more than ever, I think nowadays with the divisive times that we’ve been through recently, I think it’s important that we find common ground between people.

How are you putting your stamp on balada with your new album?

Well, I hope I am. [Laughs]. Part of it was like a little bit of a tribute and a little bit of me running with it. I have this playlist that was inspiring me throughout the process of making it. At a certain point, especially when I was making the original songs, I would kind of just stop listening to that, and just run away with my own ideas and hopefully bring a little bit of what I do to the sound and not just be a carbon copy of [those references].

How did you pick which songs to cover?

Those were kind of the cornerstones to it all. The ones that I kept coming back to and referencing and really being inspired by. Then I just realized I’m not going to write anything better than this, so might as well use them for little bookends for the album.

What was the experience like to work with iLe in your new single “Mentiras Con Cariño?”

iLe is amazing! This was one of the last songs to come together. I sent her my playlist of inspirations and she was like, “OK, that’s cool, but how about this?” She kept coming at it from a different point of view. Being from Puerto Rico, I think she was exposed to different artists that maybe I wasn’t exposed to. And she sent me other songs back in turn, and I think that was really good because it kind of pushed me a little bit out of my comfort zone, and it was something that I think benefited the song and the whole album really. It came together beautifully.

Your second single is “El Paraguas” with Gabriel Garzón-Montano. What was the experience like to work with him?

Amazing! He’s a force of nature. While I was working with him, we got to visit LA together a little bit and hang out. He’s simultaneously working on trap music and salsa music and whatever else. He’s a musical force. I was actually not sure if he was going to be into it. I remember kind of feeling a little bit nervous about him. He was all about it! He’s such a storyteller, too, that he really took the idea and put his own twist on it all. 

Money Mark did amazing work with the Beastie Boys. What was the experience like to bring him into the bolero world in “Hielo Seco?”

It was cool! Because it was the pandemic, all of it was done remotely. He was someone who really inspired me, even with his solo album and his work with the Beastie Boys, all stuff that was really influential to mine. I was working with him on some other tracks for a soundtrack and I just threw [the idea] at him and explained it to him, and he immediately got it. Half of his family is Mexican from south Texas, so we had that connection. He was super intrigued by it all and just ran with it.

What do you want people to get out of the Boleros Psicodélicos album?

Just to enjoy it. I think you start to realize and appreciate why this style of songwriting is timeless. It never goes out of fashion. It never goes out of style. It may be having a little bit of a resurgence now.  But I think that even if this comes and goes, it’s still going to be something that’s — it’s true human passion and feeling in a song that never goes out of style. However you wrap it up. However you package it, it’s always going to be there. If it turns people onto some old music, that’s cool. If not, if you just enjoy this one, that’s amazing. 

Profile Picture of Lucas Villa
Lucas Villa

Lucas Villa is a Mexican-American music journalist from Santa Ana, California. In his decade-long career, he loves exploring the intersection of pop and Latin music. He's interviewed many pop icons and Latin music superstars over the years. 

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