Courtesy of Ceci Bastida

Julieta Venegas And Ceci Bastida: The Sisterhood At The Heart Of Mexican Rock

The two lifelong friends and collaborators talk about their inspiring bond

by Isabela Raygoza

If you were around for Mexico’s punk rock height in the early 1990s, then you know that Tijuana No!’s influence in the rock en español movement runs deep. Ceci Bastida, the band's frontwoman, is one of the genre’s most recognizable voices, heard on hits like the ska-heavy “Pobre De Tí” and the Clash cover “Spanish Bombs.” Julieta Venegas, Mexico’s beloved pop darling, was responsible for much of Tijuana No!'s early songwriting and backing vocals, as well as sharing keyboard duties, before she left for a solo career in the mid-'90s. The group, which disbanded in 2002, ultimately made Bastida and Venegas into national stars in their own right — two musicians leading the heavily male-dominated scene of Mexican rock from an unflinching feminine perspective.

Armed with a fervor for music and a formidable approach to creating it, Venegas and Bastida discovered that their strong bond went far beyond Tijuana No! Their deep-rooted kinship sustained multiple band transitions and city migrations — extending from Mexico City, where Venegas is currently based, to Bastida's new home of Los Angeles. Both musicians have led tremendously successful solo careers and noteworthy side projects. To date, Venegas has released seven studio albums, including 2015’s buoyant yet introspective Algo Sucede, which she’s currently touring internationally. Bastida's solo material includes 2014's poptimistic and political La Edad de la Violencia, which guest stars Venegas on the endearing “Ven (Beautiful)”; she is also a key member of Mexrrissey, a star-studded Mexican tribute to the Smiths' bequiffed frontman that recently released a mariachi-infused LP called No Manchester.

MTV caught up with Venegas and Bastida for a very charming, sometimes giddy phone conversation. The two musicians discussed the essence of what binds them together as friends, collaborators, admirers of each other's work, and, ultimately, as loving sisters.

How did you two first meet?

Julieta Venegas: We met in high school in Tijuana. Ceci was in primera prepa [a freshman] and I was in tercera prepa [a junior]. I really don’t remember if we started playing in Tijuana No! a long time after we met, but we became friends in school first. Ceci joined Tijuana No! and then they invited me to play, because I was playing in another band called Chantaje that had the same people who eventually got together with Tijuana No!

Ceci, you’ve been a part of Julieta’s solo work, touring with her for several years; Julieta, you’ve featured on Ceci’s solo music as well. What's your dynamic as collaborators?

Bastida: When we first started playing with Tijuana No!, we were both playing keyboards, singing, and doing backup vocals. That was the extent of it. Then Julieta and I would get together separately from the band and started writing musical ideas.

Venegas: Oh my god! We had a great project that we never finished, but it was a great idea. Ceci would play piano; I’d play cello. We wanted to put a vocal group together, [like] voces bulgaras! We wanted to get, like, five or six girls singing while we played cello and piano.

Bastida: We were inviting random girls that we didn’t even know if they sang or not. It was like, “I want her!” We also tried [Venegas’s twin sister] Yvonne once. This was, like, 1990, and after that, Julieta decided to move to Mexico City.

Venegas: When I left Tijuana No!, I started writing my own songs, and I put a band together to do a few shows. Ceci came and helped me out and played a couple of shows with us. She was in Tijuana No! touring the world, so they didn’t have much time.

Bastida: The world. [laughs sarcastically]

Venegas: They were total rock stars by then, so they were pretty cool. She would come and play with me when I’d do a show in Tijuana. And when I moved to Mexico City in ‘92, we’d see each other whenever she’d go there with Tijuana No! We kept on seeing each other a lot, and I would go to her shows.

Bastida: And I would stay at your house … Y tenías pura agua fría. [And you only had cold water running.]

Venegas: Que risa, ya ni me acordaba de eso. Me encanta. [That’s funny. I didn’t even remember that. I love it.]

What made you two depart from Tijuana in the first place and relocate to Mexico City and L.A.?

Venegas: I went to Mexico City to visit, and I fell in love with the city. I went to my house to pick up my stuff. It was the craziest, most impulsive move I’ve ever done. I just felt like I had to stay there.

Bastida: Actually, I stayed in Tijuana for several years. I didn’t move to L.A. until 2000. Before I left Tijuana, Julieta had some shows in L.A., and she asked me to play keyboards on two gigs. I ended up joining her band in 2000. The band was based in Mexico City, and at the time I really didn’t have anything going in L.A. that would keep me here. So I moved to Mexico City, and I didn’t leave her band until 2008. I was playing with her for almost eight years.

What are some of the things you have learned from each other musically and artistically? And what are some of the influences that you’d say you’ve gotten from each other?

Venegas: I definitely learned a lot from Ceci in every sense. Musically, I think we both influence each other by what we’re listening to. I really like her vision, and the way she listens to music is always intriguing to me. She’ll be like, “what do you think about this part or that part?” when talking about music. Technically, we just listen to each other. Somos nuestras porras. [We’re each other’s cheerleaders.] But I definitely think that the entire time Ceci played with me was really important because it was like having family — we’re like sisters. Having Ceci there with me was really important, like feet on the ground. She was like my conscience, my Pepe Grillo [Jiminy Cricket]. She’d be like, “You’re being a bitch,” and stuff like that.

Bastida: [laughs]

Venegas: It was really cool, because she became this roble [oak tree] that kept me super grounded. That’s something that I recognize now from a long time after, and it was really important to me. She’s always been like my sister, and we became family during those years. We were already very close, but that totally cemented our relationship.

Bastida: I think what she said in the beginning is true — the sharing of the music, like, “What do you think of this part or that part?” Even with books, I ask her, “What are you reading?” I think it all has to do with the way we end up approaching music. To me, it was also about being able to travel with my sister, which was super important. Watching her lead a band was such an important thing to learn from. She knew exactly what she wanted, and she knew how to guide a band, and she knew how to be supportive of the band members. But at the same time, she knew exactly where she wanted to go. Also, once you start playing someone else’s music you start looking at how they write songs, and see, “Oh, she went this way with this song; she played this chord after that.” You start appreciating her talents. I’ve always been a fan, but I think once I started to really watch her work I was like, Oh, wow, she’s a really talented artist. So, it’s a combination of friendship, family, mutual support, and admiration. I miss it sometimes, I really do.

Venegas: I love you, baby!

Julieta, if you were to describe Ceci in three words, what would they be? And same question to you, Ceci.

Venegas: Three words. She’s cálida — like, one of the warmest people I know. She’s super generous and she’s extremely talented. What’s really great about seeing her and the way she does music is that she doesn’t consider it anything out of the ordinary — it’s completely her own personality, the way that she writes and the way that she does everything. She’s totally cool about it, like, "Oh, I’m doing this,” and you listen to it and you’re like, oh my god. It’s amazing. What I like is that she’s completely not conscious of what she does, and that makes it even more special. Then you listen to the whole thing and you’re like, wow, this is way superior stuff.

Bastida: Aww!

Venegas: No, es que te juro! [No, I swear!] She’s always like, “Oh my god, this happened.” And then you see her onstage and she’s incredibly charismatic and cool, and she’s a hot dancer. I could go on!

Bastida: Oooh! Putting it in three words is almost impossible. But I think that she’s completely loving and supportive, even though we don’t see each other everyday. The first and only person that really knows every single thing about me, like every single thing — it’s her. If I ever have any issues, problems, or I want to share something good, she’s the person who I first think about.

Bastida: She’s one of the strongest women that I know and that I admire. She’s an amazing mom. Lots of things.

What’s the funniest, most ridiculous, or most memorable story you can recall sharing together?

Venegas: I have a favorite! We went to Cuba to play at La Havana once. We were totally freaked out, because the weather and all the humidity was impossible with our hair. So we spent hours fixing it, and trying to make it a bit straighter. While walking around La Havana, we got on one of those open taxis that are mounted on a motorcycle. As the guy drove, it started raining immediately. We had spent hours trying to make our hair look decent, and then it was completely soaked in two seconds. We couldn’t stop laughing.

Bastida: We got out of that motorcycle a mess! We spent hours getting ready just to look like a complete mess afterwards. We started taking pictures of each other. We have a ton of pictures of the air and rain falling all over our face. We always laugh about it.

You must share some of those photos with us!

Bastida: I have them here, but I don’t think I can share. There are some that my husband has that are just like … yeah.

Venegas: He could blackmail us with those! [laughs]