Around the time that the musician Ceci Bastida started working on her album Every Thing Taken Away, she was also volunteering for the Young Center, a non-profit organization that champions the rights of unaccompanied immigrant children in the U.S. Once a week, Bastida would meet up with different kids in person and help them advocate for themselves. She worked with about five in total, including a girl from Central America and a teenage boy from Somalia.
Bastida, who grew up in Tijuana before moving to Los Angeles, has always been interested in stories of migration and displacement. Her past projects, such as 2014’s La Eda de la Violencia and 2016’s Sueño, have shone a light on border issues and immigrant rights. Her political work extends even farther back: Bastida’s music career started when she joined the outspoken Mexican punk band Tijuana No! at age 15.
On Every Thing Taken Away, Bastida found that hints of the kids she’d come across at the Young Center began appearing in her music in abstract, subtle ways. “They somehow got in my brain and ended up in some of the songs and different forms,” she tells Rolling Stone on a recent Zoom call. “In a way, it’s sort of an homage to them.”
The album — specifically its title — also draws on Everything Will Be Taken Away, an exhibition by the conceptual artist Adrian Piper that went up at the Hammer Museum in 2018. As she developed the music, Bastida worked closely with Alex Epton, known as XXXchange formerly of Spank Rock, to put together sharp songs that are often tenacious and strong, yet tender and tethered with emotion. Throughout the process, Bastida also pulled on her own experiences to examine motherhood, art in the social media age, and consumption and capitalism. In a conversation with Rolling Stone, she broke down several of the songs on Every Thing Taken Away and shared how they came together.
“How Are You?”
This interlude opens the album, and I wanted to feature the voices of children. These are children that I found online in a random, free recording from a country in the Middle East, though it’s unclear which country that was. But I heard this recording of them walking and then saying, “How are you?” In my head, it was more of like, “Do you see me and how are you?” We tend to focus so much on our lives and sometimes we don’t look outside of that. So, for me, it was trying to see beyond ourselves and [have the kids] ask, “Are you looking at me? This is my reality and how are you?” I included it in a different track farther along, just that little piece, as sort of a way to connect the whole record. I just heard it and I felt like it was a great way for the record to start.
“No Les Dire La Verdad”
I wanted a song that was a little bit more upbeat and this one was a song that I wrote that has less to do with the themes we’ve been talking about, like migration, displacement. It has more with having a child and social media, which is something that I struggle with as an adult. I love and hate it at the same time, but I also feel like, and especially during the pandemic, it affected many girls, where it’s this constant comparison that we that we do — even, like I said, as grown adults.
When I write music, for some reason — and I’m not a drummer — but more times than not, I start with creating a beat. I want the music to physically move you. So I start playing around with it, and I play on a loop. And then I start playing the piano or my keyboards or whatever, and I start coming up with chord changes or melodies. And Alex [Epton], my co-producer, is also very influenced by hip hop. A lot of stuff that he’s done in the past was very hip hop heavy. And he’s a drummer also. So we have that in common, where we want music to like feel powerful and big.
“No Tengas Miedo”
This was the first one that I recorded. It started as a story of a woman leaving a child to take this journey to wherever she felt she needed to go to. It’s about telling this child or this family member that they shouldn’t be worried and that they shouldn’t be scared. It’s saying, “Ignore everything that you’ve heard and know that this person is a strong person, strong enough to do whatever she needs to do, and that when the time comes, she’ll either come back to whoever she’s left behind.”
This song was again about this idea of leaving, which is a constant in the record. I wanted to record some background vocals for it, so I did it myself but I wasn’t crazy about them. So I asked my daughter to record them, so that’s her on the song.
I went to an artist’s retreat in Wyoming and started working on this song. I didn’t quite know what it was going to turn into, what it was going be. I started adding like this horrible jarana sound, like a plug-in. And I’m good friends with Quetzal; they’re a band from L.A. They’re incredible musicians who do a lot of son jarocho, and so I talked to their guitarist and asked if he wanted to collaborate with me. I sent him the track as it was with my horrible jarana and then he recorded a lot of stuff with me. And and he’s not a purist, thank God, because I was like, “I’m mixing son jarocho stuff with something that is totally not son jarocho.” But he but he was totally open to it.
I started thinking about “D$NERO” because I wanted to talk about greed, and I wanted to talk about this fascination we have over money. And it’s not to say that we don’t need money, but it becomes an obsession, when everything around the world revolves around it. We’ve started wars because of money, so many things that have been ruined in the world because of money. Some people don’t get the message. People think, “Oh, you want more money. What a terrible message to send out in the world!” No, it’s not that. [Laughs.]
“Ese Lugar”/ “Mexique”
I kept going back to “Ese Lugar” because I felt like it was working, but it was missing something. And sometimes there’s songs that don’t work, and I just kind of decide that they’re done, that they’re not going to come out because there’s nothing else I can do, and I also don’t want to linger too much on one. But somehow, I felt like this has some potential to be part of the record.
I put that after a little interlude called “Mexique,” which features a Haitian friend of mine, Nickson Pierre. It’s in Creole. And so he came to Tijuana after traveling for a long time and he ended up going back to Haiti. But we were trying to collaborate on something for a long time — he’s a rapper. So I asked him if we could share this journey, which was intense for a lot of the Haitian community. After the earthquake in 2010, many Haitians ended up going to Brazil, and when that economy went fell, they started traveling north with this possible idea of getting something called a temporary protected status. That ended under the Obama administration, so they ended up staying in Tijuana. [Pierre] was very grateful to be in Tijuana, which was surprising to me. So he just told me his journey in Creole and I recorded it. “Ese Lugar” is an idea of this place that is not magical, but it will somehow guarantee you a life of dignity.