Outernational

Todos Somos Ilegales: We Are All Illegals, a new record released by Brooklyn-based rock group Outernational, is nothing short of a hard-driving public awareness message about the injustices of the U.S. government’s harsh treatment of undocumented migrants. The album is a collaborative effort with The Sound Strike, an organization that has brought together hundreds of musicians who have agreed to abstain from performing for profit in Arizona in response to S.B. 1070.  With vocalist Miles Solay, Leo Mintek on guitar, Jesse Williams Massa on bass, and Dr. Blum on trumpet, organ, keyboards, and accordion, Todos Somos Ilegales: We Are All Illegals is Outernational’s first full-length record. It features guest appearances from renowned artists Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, The Nightwatchman), Ceci Bastida (Tijuana No.), Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chickenfoot), and Calle 13, among others.  Sampling a wide variety of musical genres from rock to rap and American folk to traditional Mexican musical styles, it’s aimed at a broad listening demographic. Much like the albums of the progressive rock band Pink Floyd, Todos Somos Ilegales: We Are All Illegals is a concept album.  Making use of theme tracks and audio samples from films, the album weaves together a narrative of the hardships faced by undocumented migrants in the United States and their resilience in facing impossible choices and conditions.

Describing the U.S.-Mexico border as a line drawn by an imperialist nation over stolen land, the title track “We Are All Illegals, draws attention to the hypocrisy of American border control policies. Beginning with a guitar solo by Tom Morello, the song soon falls into a catchy rock riff while horns blare mariachi-inspired melodies and bass drum and high-hat keep time. Lyrics delivered by Miles Solay in Spanish and English suggest that the notion of any person being “illegal” is absurd, as the border is just a line dividing land that did not originally belong to the European settlers and founders of either nation.  “We are all illegals,” because this land isn’t ours.

In a class visit to Occidental College, Solay stated that the album aims to spread awareness of the terrible and dangerous social conditions surrounding undocumented migration in the United States.  The band also wants to humanize migrants who are so often dehumanized by mainstream media.  Films such as Cary Fukunaga’s Sin Nombre (2009) and Gregory Nava’s El Norte (1983), both of which deal with the hardships faced by undocumented migrants in transit from one nation to another, inspired his desire to raise social consciousness of the dangers encountered by people trying to better living conditions for themselves and their families. In fact, several films about immigration are sampled in the albums tracks. For example, “No Hay Lugar” includes dialogue excerpted from both El Norte and Sin Nombre. Such samples to enhance the sense of reality and urgency that the band hopes to express with the music: “This is a very large phenomenon,” said Solay, “That’s a lived experience…real stuff that more people need to know and begin to feel…”

Also included on the album is, “Deportees,” a cover of Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).”  Written in 1948, this folk song describes a plane crash that killed dozens of migrant workers being deported from California to Mexico during the Bracero Program. The racist treatment of the workers killed in the crash inspired Guthrie to write the song.  Looking back on the event, Solay sees many parallels to the discrimination migrants face as a result of SB 1070.  When he heard that SB 1070 was going to be put into effect, Solay’s immediate reaction was to record Deportees with Tom Morello.

Outernational is currently touring to promote their new album, with the large majority of their shows in states along the U.S.-Mexico border, and even a venue in Tijuana—their first performance south of the border.

- By Samuel Carton, Occidental College Class of 2014