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First Play: Boogat, San Cristobal Baile Inn

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Reuben Maan

Boogat's new album, San Cristobal Baile Inn, is a brilliant personal exploration of the multiplicity of identity. As Boogat explores his own multiplicity (and the idea of home and belonging) he reveals truths we can all contemplate — while dancing.

Being a second-generation Canadian, Boogat had always dreamed of living in Mexico — his mother's homeland — at some point in his life. So last year he moved to the country for a year, exploring his roots and travelling in Europe and the Americas for gigs. It's also where he wrote San Cirstobal Baile Inn: San Cristobal being the patron saint of travellers; "baile" meaning "to dance."

While exploring the personal, Boogat reveals various themes and truths that range from universal to Canadian to Latino to Mexican. For this album, he decided to only write songs about things that make him happy. With that, you'd think that any political messages might be the buried; but wrapped in subtlety and humour, San Cristobal Baile Inn makes richly nuanced statements.

In the song "Aqui," Boogat sings about the good vibes in Latin America, rapping a list of legendary people and places, ranging from Borges to Mercedes Sosa to Machu Picchu. Through call and response, Boogat lists the "good things" that Latin America has, responding with the exclamation "chingon!" (Mexican slang for "f--king cool"), whereas the "negative aspects" of Latin culture receive a "no hables de eso" response ("don't talk about it").

The song captures the duality of life in Mexico. Boogat elaborated in his First Play Live interview with CBC Music, saying that Mexico is a beautiful place but, at the same time, you have to look out the window before leaving the house; look behind you when you get on the metro; put your wallet in your front pocket; adjust your backpack; check your back again while getting out of the metro; make sure the kids are home by sundown.

The Montreal-based artist said he loves his Latin heritage, but after a year in Mexico, he has chosen the safety of Canada. "I'm not crazy," he said.

The complexity of the song "Eres Una Bomba" is full of the same nuance. The song has a reggaeton beat, which has a history of misogynist content, but Boogat messes with the genre, writing a song about empowering women while mocking the hyper-sexualization of the genre. "Fresas de Coyoacan" is another song with multiple meanings. Coyoacan is a neighbourhood in Mexico City where Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo famously lived; Leon Trotsky also fled to Coyoacan when he and Stalin fell out. The neigbourhood was filled with artists and left-leaning bohemians. "Fresa" is Mexican slang for a yuppie or preppy, but it's also the Spanish word for "strawberry" — which is red, the colour of communism — as well as Mexican slang for "snob." Now, Coyoacan is completely gentrified — and more representative of the death of communism than any sort of dream. It's also the neighbourhood where Boogat and his family decided to live for their year in Mexico.

The lyrical interpretation could continue song by song, but the whole album is filled with this richness. "Mezcalero Feliz" describes the history and tradition of the world's hottest spirit, a type of tequila from the Oaxaca region. "Sabes Muy Bien" is Boogat's favourite song on the album, joyous and all about love and his family. "Tanto Tattoo" is a hilarious song about people with (too much) ink. "Wali Wall" is a shrewd comment on the commercial side of the music business — a non-commercial message produced as a commercial reggaeton. "Au Revoir Mexico," the last song on the album, ties it up perfectly: it's the only song on the album sung in French, and the lilting cumbia is joyous — but the lyrics are about missing Mexico and saying goodbye.

It has a sense of melancholy that is true to life. Boogat wrote this song after a mezcal-soaked goodbye party, lamenting having to leave his new friends, with whom he'd shared so much. One of Boogat's friends, who immigrated to Canada recently, suggested that Canada accepts you with open arms — but never closes the hug. As Boogat explores the idea of belonging and being the "other," he says

"That's not true," Boogat says, "but it feels that way ... Canada is way more complex than that, and there's a lot of different Canadas."

There are multiple identities in all of us, and Boogat opens the door for you to explore your own.

Boogat's San Cristobal Baile will be released Oct. 6. Pre-order it here.