On Her New Song 'Horsemen,' Angelica Garcia Imagines The Apocalypse

Jul 8, 2020
Originally published on August 4, 2020 11:26 am

The pandemic, a bad economy, police killings and a fight for racial equality: It's a lot of take in. For some, music has been a way to cope and try to make sense of it all and that is the premise behind the Morning Edition Song Project, in which we asked musicians to write and perform an original song about this moment.

At the end of February, Angelica Garcia had just released Cha Cha Palace, a personal new album about her Mexican and Salvadoran heritage and about growing up in East LA, which NPR Music put on its list of best albums that month. As cases began to spike and some states began issuing stay-at-home orders, Garcia had just started to tour to promote the record but had to call it off.

"Although I was disappointed, I was more concerned about the state of the world and what was going to happen," she says.

She wrote "Horsemen," the song for our series, in the early days of the pandemic. It's a little disquieting, but true to the spirit of making sense of the moment.

"I'm a musician, right? So if I'm full of all these weird feelings of uncertainty, then this is a perfect time to write," says Angelica Garcia. "Sometimes I use music as a way to understand my emotions and I'll realize later what a song was actually about even though while I was working on it, I might not have realized what I was trying to say."

That idea of finding resonance in a song after its completion rings true for "Horsemen" as well. Garcia finished it before a police officer killed George Floyd and before the protests that followed, but she sees her song's imagery in the statues now covered in graffiti in her current hometown of Richmond, Va., one of the epicenters of this moment of cultural reckoning.

NPR's David Greene spoke to Angelica Garcia about living a few blocks from Richmond's Confederate monuments, or what her friend calls "the world's largest collection of second-place trophies" and the inspiration behind her song "Horsemen," which she says in retrospect is "totally a song about anti-colonization." Listen at the top of the page and hear the full song in the audio player titled "Angelica Garcia, "Horseman (Web Exclusive)."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The pandemic, the bad economy, police killings and a fight for racial equality - it is a lot to take in. And for some, music has been a way to cope and to try to make sense of it all. This is the premise behind our series the MORNING EDITION'S Song Project. We asked musicians to write and perform an original song about this moment.

ANGELICA GARCIA: I'm a musician, right? So if I'm full of all these weird feelings of uncertainty, then this is a perfect time to write.

GREENE: This is Angelica Garcia.

GARCIA: Sometimes I use music as a way to understand my emotions. And, like, I'll realize later what a song was actually about even though while I was working on it I might not have realized what I was trying to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HORSEMEN")

GARCIA: (Singing) I saw the ocean right at my door waiting to surge.

GREENE: She's written a song called "Horsemen," and it's a little disquieting.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HORSEMEN")

GARCIA: (Singing) Outline of horsemen rode through the night, shadows of white.

GREENE: Angelica Garcia wrote this in the early days of the pandemic when many Americans were under stay-at-home orders and the economy was shedding millions of jobs. She had just released a really personal new album about her Mexican and Salvadoran heritage and about growing up in east LA. She had just started her tour to promote it, but then she had to call it off.

GARCIA: Although I was disappointed, I feel like I was just more concerned about the state of the world and what was going to happen and - I don't know. It was a lot.

GREENE: And this was before the police killing of George Floyd and protests that have followed. Angelica Garcia lives in Richmond, Va., which is one of the epicenters in this moment of cultural reckoning.

GARCIA: It's pretty crazy right now. And I live, like, just a few blocks from Monument Avenue, which is where you have, like, as a friend of mine says, the world's largest collection of second-place trophies. (Laughter) And...

GREENE: The Robert E. Lee statue is there, right?

GARCIA: Yeah. All the Confederate monuments are there. They've all been, like, spray-painted over. They've become the sites of all these protests happening regularly that we can hear from our apartment almost every night.

GREENE: I mean, the protests and the effort to take down the statue of Robert E. Lee and the other Confederate statues, like, how do you relate to that as a Latina?

GARCIA: Our people were changed by the conquistadors coming over to the Latin Americas, right? And they did actually take down the Columbus statue here, too, and they threw him in the pond. That was pretty great (laughter). But it's just this idea of, like, we should not be idolizing people that basically did horrible crimes against humanity. And this whole idea that, oh, they're revolutionary, or they explored something or whatever, and it's like, but it came at the cost of thousands and thousands of people's lives. And it doesn't make sense to glorify them.

And that's the thing about the way that these statues are. Robert E. Lee is, like, depicted as strong on this big horse, and it makes him seem powerful. We shouldn't give them that power anymore. In that sense, I connect with that for sure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HORSEMEN")

GARCIA: (Singing) Down are our warriors, useless our gold, and no one to call, yeah, call.

GREENE: I just think about, like, the idea of statues and some of them on horses, and I think about (laughter) the song that you have created for us. Can you talk about any connection there might be to that and kind of what the inspiration was for the song?

GARCIA: I first heard the music, and then I kept thinking of this imagery of horsemen kind of, like, riding through the night. You think of horsemen kind of just, like, sweeping in and overtaking a town or a city. And then to me that kind of, like, connected to the Spanish horsemen that first came to the Aztec empire because that was, like, the first time the Mexica people had ever seen horses.

And then I was also kind of drawing a connection between that and the four horsemen of the apocalypse - right? - like, this idea that the end of the world is going to be brought unto us by horsemen, which in the case of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, it's death, famine, war and conquest. And I was thinking about how, like, the horsemen themselves might try and mutate. They might become different with each subsequent generation, but they're still arriving. And I think it's imperative that people try to understand what they're dealing with when it happens.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HORSEMEN")

GARCIA: (Singing) They're here, here now. Yeah, now they're here.

The air is definitely heavy. It feels like a lot is changing, and a lot of people leading in positions of power aren't giving us the answers that people need.

GREENE: So does that make you pessimistic about the future for all of us?

GARCIA: I try not to be pessimistic, but I try to be aware. I think it's really important to look things in the face and be like, this is what's going on.

GREENE: This song feels in the face and to make sure we all realize that there is a lot of stuff happening.

GARCIA: (Laughter) Yeah, sorry, but also not sorry (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HORSEMEN")

GARCIA: (Singing) Our pyramids fall, yeah, fall, yeah, fall, yeah, falling.

GREENE: So the music you've been hearing is from a performance Angelica Garcia did for us when we taped with her. She was with musician Calvin Presents on keyboard. The song is called "Horsemen." And remember how she said that sometimes she doesn't understand a song until after it's written?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HORSEMEN")

GARCIA: (Singing) Yeah, now. Yeah, now. Yeah, now. Yeah, now. Yeah, now. Yeah, now.

GREENE: Oh, Angelica, thank you.

GARCIA: Yeah. You know, it's kind of funny because it's, like, after you play a song and you get to, like, re-engage with lyrics and stuff, I feel like, oh, this is totally, like, a song about anti-colonization (laughter).

GREENE: And how does that sit with you? Are you OK with it?

GARCIA: Yeah. I mean, I think it's important to talk about all chapters of history and from all perspectives, meaning not just from the perspective of the victors.

GREENE: Yeah. Thank you for writing it, and thank you for talking to us.

GARCIA: Yeah. Thank you for having me. I appreciate you all.

GREENE: Musician Angelica Garcia. You can hear the finished version of her new song on our show's Facebook page and on Twitter @morningedition. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.