Culture a l’aztlan: Santa Sabina presents “Rita, the documentary” at the Montalbán Theatre, celebrating their 30th anniversary
After the death of lead singer Rita Guerrero in 2011, Mexico City-based rock band Santa Sabina keeps her memory alive with the release of “Rita, the documentary.”
The film is set to portray the lead singer’s life following her role in the band and her activism in defense of indigenous communities. The nine former members of Santa Sabina will play live at the Hola Mexico Film Festival after the screening of the documentary as the band also celebrates their 30th anniversary.
The influence of avant-garde art and theater has accompanied the band members from their time as university students to their live performances. After their last live performance eight years ago, the band will bring a new set of arrangements to create an experience unique to Angelinos, such as the inclusion of a chorus on stage.
“It’s hard for us to fill the space of Rita,” Alfonso Figueroa, the band’s bass player, said in an interview with The Sundial. “Because aside from her being a great singer, she was a great actress on stage and dedicated herself to the songs, therefore we don’t look for someone to substitute Rita, but we do invite close friends.”
Among those close friends are Ceci Bastida, lead singer of Mexican ska band Tijuana No!, and experimental vocalist Carmina Escobar. Figueroa mentioned inviting Alfonso Andre, drummer of Mexican band Caifanes, to their first live presentation after the death of Rita at 2019’s Vive Latino festival.
“He is a dear friend (and important) to the history of Santa Sabina. In fact, Rita wrote him a song and he sang it on stage with us with the chorus,” Figueroa shared.
Rita had also shared a song on stage with Caifanes when the group was active in the 1990s.
Santa Sabina is looking to push their live performances with the use of surround sound system, knowing it will strengthen their psychedelic and dark sound. They created a space where jazz and heavy rock clash with a dark ancestral image native to their Mexican heritage.
The origin of their name comes from the first contemporary Curandera, Maria Sabina, who was known in the ’60s rock world for her use of psychedelic mushrooms. The name is a clear indication of what Santa Sabina would sound like: a mashup of jazz and heavy rock with poetic lyrics either sung or performed in spoken word style.
Figueroa remembered his favorite performance with Rita, having occurred in Tijuana. The band played after the audience had burned the stage the previous night after a different band played.
“In our show, we had a big screen projecting shadows (of the band members) performing an exorcism to Rita,” he said. “I would dress as a preacher and Julian would read an apocryphal of the Bible. Then flames would appear and the shadow of Rita looked as if her soul was doomed, and then a giant devil with a big penis would come out to fuck her and throw her to the roof. It was something that made everyone go quiet and we played without anyone saying a word. I’ll never forget that because we were waiting for the fire but I think we ended up causing it to avoid getting hurt.”
Santa Sabina is not a common name to hear in the context of the classic rock in Spanish bands or the contemporary Latin alternative, but to those who hear the music will find an ensemble of skilled musicians breaking conventional rules of music refusing to be categorized into one genre or one form of expression. One of the most experimental bands and some of the most creative artists to come out of the Mexican music scene.