One part electronic and one part rock, Francisco y Madero brings together Mexican and American perspectives to make culturally distinct music. San Francisco-based Jess Sylvester, 31 and Guadalajara-based Carlos Pesina, 27 usually send music back and fourth using Dropbox, and eventually post finished tracks and EPs onto their Bandcamp site. The duo kicked off a two-week West Coast tour last Tuesday, July 22 at Blackbird Tavern in San Jose with Guadalajara-based band Dorotheo.
Francisco y Madero formed nearly four years ago when Sylvester, who is a Spanish major at San Francisco State, was preparing to study in Guadalajara, Mexico. He reached out to a few musicians over Myspace and Pesina, a computer engineering student and part-time musician, happened to respond.
At that time, Pesina was working on another project called "Los Amparito." He was pretty well known in Mexico’s alternative music scene. “I collaborated with a lot of people from different places and one of those was Jess,” He says.
Pesina became Sylvester’s guide in Guadalajara, showing him around the city and introducing him to new people. The two started collaborating more frequently and messing around with different samples, “We kind of had this affinity for like '60s music together, and in two days we recorded and just made a bunch of demos and from that spawned our first few EPs,” Sylvester recalls.
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Francisco y Madero's music can be described in a few different ways, says Sylvester. “I’ve heard people say taking acid in the Caribbean -- or in the 1960s, or something to that effect, which is funny. I tell people that it’s like the idea of '60s music, in a sense, sort of like this nostalgia."
The duo's latest tracks are slightly different than the stuff they have put out thus far, but the band's Latin-American perspective remains, with samples of bossa nova and cumbia. Lately, they’ve been having some fun experimenting with cumbia rebajada, a pitched down version of the popular dance music, which they say sounds ghostly and dark. When paired with Sylvester’s vocals, their sound becomes a strange blend of pop and sci-fi. “Its like sugar gum pop on one hand, but at the same time it leaves you with this feeling of like, what was that? You know, that discomfort,” says Sylvester.
Similar to their music, the band name has tongue-in-cheek undertones. Francisco y Madero is a play off of former Mexican president Francisco I. Madero’s name. Pesina spotted an image on Tumblr, with the words Francisco y Madero drawn out like two lovers inside a heart. Pesina says it’s like a joke about identity, which in his opinion is always fake. The duo has given up on searching for cultural authenticity (of the Mexican or American identities) in their music. The thought behind the identity of the band captures the spirit of Sylvester’s first trip to Mexico.
Sylvester is half Mexican, half Irish. Part of his goal while studying abroad in Mexico was to form a connection with his mother’s family living in Jalisco. For him, observing and experiencing his extended family in Mexico opened him up and inspired him personally and creatively.
“I like having the perspective of having friends and family from Mexico, but it doesn’t make me Mexican. And being very fair-skinned makes me not really Mexican either here, you know?”
Before Jess met Carlos, he stuck to playing mostly rock music. But now he finds himself making more Latin sounding and even electronic music. Carlos has also started playing traditional Mexican music like son jarocho, adding guitars to his usual computer-only musical style.
Francisco y Madero’s music demonstrates how people of different backgrounds are coming together -- even over long distances -- in a creative capacity to work on projects of mixed origin, inspired by travel, culture, and even humor.
“I was really lucky," Sylvester says. "I’ve been in bands for a long time. It’s hard to find people to play music with... It’s like a relationship. You don’t just find your girlfriend or boyfriend and pick them off a tree. It’s not easy. It’s hard to find bands or artists to work with in that regard as well."
The band’s goal, for now, is to continue making fun, accessible music that people can enjoy. In the meantime, both Pesina and Sylvester still need to finish school.
Funding for KQED Arts is provided by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Support is also provided by Yogen and Peggy Dalal, Diane B. Wilsey, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Helen Sarah Steyer, the William and Gretchen Kimball Fund, and the members of KQED