Ice Cube, one of the most influential figures of West Coast hip-hop, and Banda Sinaloense MS de Sergio Lizárraga (better known as Banda MS), one of the most revered regional Mexican acts of Northern Mexico, team up to deliver a powerful message in “¿Cuáles Fronteras?”
A pinnacle moment in regional Mexican music’s continued rapid ascent, the powerful rap-encrusted banda jam sees two legendary acts representing Black and Brown communities join forces in their latest joint venture. The two mighty acts slay over an energetic banda rhythm powered by blaring horns and commanding vocals. Above all, it’s a response to the ongoing immigration injustices and militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“This song is a tribute to [immigrants],” Banda MS singer Oswaldo Silvas tells Billboard Español. “It is a voice of solidarity for all our people from all over the world who are looking for a better future.” Adds Ice Cube: “It’s very important, especially coming from Los Angeles, being able to preach that message that we’re better together than apart. We have more in common than not,”
Billboard Español spoke with Ice Cube, as well as Banda MS’ composer/clarinet player Pavel Ocampo, frontmen Silvas and Alan Ramírez and the multi-hyphenate Angeleno via Zoom, to discuss racial, linguistic, and institutional borders, and why we must team up rather than divide.
Watch the exclusive teaser for “¿Cuáles Fronteras?”, full song and music video out Friday, May 5.
How did this collaboration first come about?
Ice Cube: We have a mutual friend, Bobby Dee, who’s been doing great [promotion work with me] and doing a lot of great shows around the country. He knows my audience, which is important. Once we got to know each other real good, he started saying, “Hey, you got to do something with my guys.” I was like, “Well, who are you guys?” “Banda MS.”
I had heard about the group because I have a box [suite] at Staples Center. Whenever [Banda MS] came to town, all my friends would want the box. They were like, “Can we get the box? We want to see them perform.” I knew they were huge. [Bobby Dee] sent me a few links to check out how they get down, and I was sold. The music is incredible. I was like, “Okay, I like the music. But how is the track that we’re going to do?” When I got it, it was amazing on all levels, from start to finish. It really inspired me, [especially with] the lyrics. It’s been a blessing ever since we were able to connect.
Oswaldo Silvas: The importance is the impact that this collaboration has, not only on a musical level, but on a cultural and social level. It breaks down so many barriers and so many paradigms. I think that is the strongest impact it will have. We approached him through a third party, Bobby Dee, and we loved the idea, because I think the admiration we have for Ice as a singer, artist and actor is very great. Sergio [Lizárraga] was the one who arranged everything, and when we got the news, it was incredible.
Ice Cube, you’re from LA — one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world — where there’s a very strong hip-hop presence, but also regional Mexican music. I imagine this unity was more seamless than what some might expect. Agree?
Ice Cube: Without a doubt. To me, L.A. is a city where black and brown people really interact and connect on a lot of different levels, from culture to our love of sports, music and hip-hop. I think there’s a lot of different things that really connect our cultures, and I like to highlight those things. I think it’s important that we work together, that we show unity, that we speak up for each other. Some people are going to see us getting together like peanut butter and jelly, like it’s meant to be. The song is powerful. It’s the perfect song at the perfect time with the perfect artist.
Tell me more about the song.
Alan Ramírez: What the song says is something very cool for everyone in the United States. There was that chemistry at the time of the composition with Ice Cube and his people. Ice’s people did the rap part of it, and Omar Robles, the lead songwriter for Banda MS, worked [with his team]. We know they’re going to like the [music] video. They were Ice’s and Banda MS’s ideas. It’s a very nice thing that came out very original.
Ice Cube, was writing rap verses different to a norteño song than to a traditional hip-hop song?
Ice Cube: Yeah. In hip-hop, you’re looking for a kick, and it tells you what you can do. Here, I wanted to make sure I was in a set rhythm, so that it would have the right momentum. There was a test track of “It Was a Good Day” [where] they took the lyrics to the beat to make me know where to rap. The rhythm was a little slow for me. I wanted to make sure I stayed with the rhythm, so the flow could be easy for other people to sing along, even if they don’t speak good English.
I just had all those things in mind, as well as delivering a message of unity, of hope, and of defiance. We got to fight back against people who don’t want to see us succeed. Those who don’t want to see people get ahead and have a better life. I wanted to rap all that into the lyrics.
What was different about the process of writing the musical arrangements knowing that Ice Cube was involved?
Pavel Ocampo: We have the experience of having worked on “Qué Maldición” with Snoop Dogg, where we did this collaboration between hip-hop and regional Mexican. This time it’s a completely different thing. When we were talking to Cube the first time, I said, “Hey, how did you rap here?” Because this song is more Mexican, where he had to adapt a lot to a more Mexican beat. In the arrangements, we did a banda track with hip hop elements. I think it suited Cube very well, it was very natural.
The song is about breaking barriers. Language has been considered a barrier too. What was it like for you to be making a bilingual song?
Ice Cube: It’s amazing. Throughout my career, I’ve gotten so much love from the Spanish community — Mexican, Cuban, and all over South America. For this to be the first time that I have a song in Spanish and English is pretty remarkable. The timing is right, with the perfect message to put out there in the world. I’m glad that we’ve really been able to bring it together. I do it in my movies a little bit, but this is another great way to do it. I appreciate all the fans I have and so I want to make sure they know that I got nothing but love, and I want to reciprocate the love that they’ve given me. This is a small way to do that.
Silvas: I think we are playing the universal language that is music, we all understand each other there. It is a problem when we feel admiration for an artist like Ice Cube, and suddenly you want to communicate with him. Alan and I don’t speak English, and sometimes we feel like, heck, don’t think that we’re being nasty because we don’t talk to each other — because the language has that barrier.
Can you talk about your personal relationship with the U.S.-Mexico border.
Silvas: As a band, we have not had an experience where there have been complications when crossing the border. But there are many cases of people we know who have encountered problems in their search for a better life. Above all, to those people who could not make it, who stayed on the road, who unfortunately lost their lives, and their family suffers the consequences of this process. This song is a tribute to them, a voice and a song of solidarity for all our people – not only Mexican, but Latin, South American, Central American, from all over the world who are looking for a better future. So, it’s a way of how with what we do, we put that grain of sand of solidarity for our people.
The plight of Black and Brown folks in the U.S., have been parallel in a way. This song sets a precedent in unifying cultures. How important is it for you to convey that message now?
Ice Cube: It’s very important, especially coming from Los Angeles, being able to preach that message that we’re better together than apart. We have more in common than not. At the end of the day, we have fun together. I always like to push that message, not just stand on a soapbox and say it, but do things that are unexpected that’s cool and makes an impact. That’s what it’s all about, to catch [audiences] by surprise with something cool that they can be a part of and show the unity. It’s important to show that we need to work together and make each other’s lives easier and not harder. We all know there are forces against both communities that make life hard, so we shouldn’t contribute to that.
Ocampo: We know that African-American, Mexican and Latino communities in general have a lot of similarities, culturally — in positive things but also in negative things. Economic inequality, access to education, medicine. Although this theme speaks to a specific issue, migration, it enhances the unity of the two communities or more that bring this message of unity, and that we are compas.
Silvas: I think we are living in times where the content of disunity between races is very much spread. I have seen many videos where they try, in some way, to set against each other, the African-American against the Latino, for example — and a kind of media battle is made. With this collaboration, what we are trying to say is that, we can be united, we can be part of the same team, there are no borders, there are no barriers, we are one. When people, life, God has given you the opportunity to be able to be on this platform, you can do something of positive impact to say to people, “We can come together through this.” That is priceless.
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