Pyramid-builders. That’s the way Leafar Seyer (aka Rafael Reyes) of the electronic rock duo Prayers describes his people — the Mexican people, or the Mexica — one of the indigenous peoples of the American continent. A brand new Prayers song and video named after them, “Mexica” is embedded above, but watching it only gets you half of the story behind this song.
Seyer, who has been a musician for the last four years, and currently works under the marker Prayers with producer Dave Parley, recently found himself driven to examine his own perception of himself as a Mexican-American. His primary impetus was the racist and derogatory rhetoric about his community that Donald Trump infamously spewed during his campaign as the Republican candidate for president.
“What I’m trying to do is decolonize myself and help my people find value in themselves,” Seyer said. “As Mexicans, we often portray ourselves as ‘just humble people that want to come to this country to work.’ I say no — screw all that. Yes, Mexicans are hard-working people, we are the foundation and the backbone of America. But we’re so much more than that. Our civilization goes back to 3700 BC, we’re older than Egypt, we had our own customs and our own cities.”
Today is October 10, a holiday that’s still traditionally celebrated in many parts of America as Columbus Day, or the day Christopher Columbus landed on this continent. Seyer and others are seeking to further refocus the conversation away from Columbus and celebration of white, European colonialism and imperialism to focus on honoring the indigenous people of this continent.
“The truth of the matter is, people of color are oppressed, and we have been since 1492 when the settlers came to the Western Hemisphere and started raping us and pillaging our land,” Seyer said. “We’re Mexica and we are the indigenous people of this continent. There was no borders before the Europeans came. They came and divided our continent among themselves. Even now we’re still colonized, and our minds are colonized too. It’s to the point that we’ve lost our own identity. I want to decolonize not just the minds of my people, but everyone.”
Indigenous Peoples’ Day was initially conceived in a UN convention in Geneva in 1977, but since 1992, a movement began in Berkeley, California to use it to replace celebrating Columbus Day. The movement reframes cultural conversation, highlighting the abuse that the native people of America endured when Columbus and other white settlers immigrated here. It also also seeks to celebrate and uplift the indigenous people of this land, affirming their heritage and their legacy that long pre-dates the country of America itself.
In conjunction with Prayers, Uproxx Music is supporting that movement, celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day by premiering the “Mexica” video, which speaks directly to these concerns. The video up top seeks to decolonize the minds of Mexican-American people, to remind them of their powerful legacy and uplift them. Today, Prayers are flipping the script on stereotypes against their people.
“Whenever there’s talk about Mexicans, it’s always the word immigrants that comes into play,” Seyer said. “I understand America was built on the backs of immigrants — but we’re not immigrants. I’m trying to re-educate people: We are the indigenous people of this continent. We are the indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere and 95% of our people were slaughtered, murdered and raped when the land was settled. Everything we’re being accused of? The settlers did that to us. They killed 95% of our people and the 5% that actually survived had to convert to Catholicism and Christianity. We lost our identity and we lost our roots.”
Seyer art-directed the “Mexica” video himself, which takes place in his own community of Sherman Heights in San Diego, California, and was shot by the group’s frequent collaborator Gavin Filipiak. In the clip, an indigenous man is juxtaposed against the concrete and cars of the modern city, bringing up the question of which element is out of place? The thrust of the video focuses on Calpulli Mexihca dancers, who requested that Seyer and Parley endure a two-hour sweat lodge before working with them, and who emphasize the traditional customs of the Mexica people.
“I did the ritual with them to earn the right to even put this video out and film them,” Seyer said. “It taught me about myself, and I really had an out-of-body experience while doing the sweat lodge. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do — and I’ve been in jail! I’ve been in and out of jail my whole life and the sweat lodge was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
As for the track itself, “Mexica” was co-produced by Shlohmo, the LA-based hip-hop producer of the WeDidIt Collective is a friend and fan of the group, and he recently hit them up to collaborate on some new music.
“Shlohmo reached out to us a while back and said he’d love to work with us,” Seyer said. “So he sent us that beat and we loved it — I started immediately writing to it. When I brought this idea to the table, he was like, ‘I’m down. You want to do something for your people, let’s do it, I got you.’ I know our teams wanted us to do something marketable, but I didn’t want to do something marketable. It felt really important for me to embrace my culture, and let my culture know that I’m behind them, and that I’m with them, and that I’m thinking of them. Especially with all the talk that’s happening right now in politics with Donald Trump dividing so many people. I’m hoping that even if it’s in a tiny way, this video can bring some unity among my people.”
After working with Parley and Shlohmo in the studio to create the track, Seyer and Filipiak worked out ideas for the video, enlisted the dancers, and prepared the visuals with the specific vision of releasing it on Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
“We built the pyramids and you call us primitive / I’m the sun / I’m the moon / I’m the earth / I’m the wind / Mexica,” Seyer sings on the chorus of the song, followed with the more definitive statement: “Give the power to the people / Or we’re taking it.” Another primary part of the chorus is the repetition of Mexica, a specific lineage and ancestry that Seyer is speaking to and differentiating from the terms Hispanic or Latino.
“They tried to turn the word Mexican into a dirty word,” he said. “They tried to have ‘Mexican’ be something that we’re ashamed of, so they call us ‘Hispanic’ or they call us ‘Latino.’ But Hispanics are Spaniards and Latinos are Italians. So they’re still taking our identity and calling us white Europeans when we’re not white Europeans, we’re Mexica, and that’s who we are in this continent as a race.”
Although this is the most specific thing that Prayers have released regarding their heritage, their identity is a central point for the duo, who met in 2013 and had an instant creative chemistry. They’ve embraced the label “Cholo Goth” as an astute descriptor for the way their music ties in divergent influences, but it should be reiterated — especially on a day like today — that their creative output cannot be boxed into a simple two-word phrase.
“We wanted to do something more radical in this video,” Seyer said. “I’m tired of just fucking showing off my gang tattoos. There’s more to David and me than that. We want to move away from that and show that there’s something else. What about empowering people? I feel like we have a right to empower people. If you continue to put me in this box, then you’re only proving Donald Trump right. Yes I am a cholo, but I’m not a criminal. Yeah I’m down for my neighborhood, and I’m a gang member, but I’m not a drug dealer. I’m repping my own heritage, and I feel like I have a duty and a responsibility to try to look out for my people. What I’m looking forward to in the future is to not have a curtain between me and my audience.”
The “Mexica” video is the first step toward Prayers lifting that curtain for good. Watch it above. The song will be included on Prayers’ forthcoming Baptism of Thieves EP and is available for free download over at CD Baby. To learn more about Indigenous Peoples’ Day, go here.