POTRA

Things to do in Mexico City - eat “cabeza” tacos, drink too much tequila on a floating party bus in Xochimilco, make friends with an Argentinian band by pretending to be American documentarians. So far we’re batting 1.000.

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As with many of life’s rewarding experiences, our encounter with Potra was an accident. Still recovering from the revelation that we could survive on $2 huevos rancheros for the rest of our lives, the Human Connection Project team decided it best to retire to our Roma apartment for the afternoon. But as it was only our second day in the western hemisphere’s largest metropolis, we started to wander.

Somewhere between dodging a speeding VW van and envying a stray dog’s sidewalk sun bath, we heard the angelic pop-rock melody of Sofía Vitola’s voice. If you know either of us, you know we’d follow an indie rock ballad to the end of the earth. Lucky for us, we only needed to strain our necks to the second story of an apartment building.

Sofía is the lead singer of a bad-ass, one-woman music project called Potra (short for the Spanish word potranca, which translates to “a wild horse that is difficult to tame.” Fitting.) Notes escaping oversized living room windows belonged to her most popular single, “Todo Azul.” A few thoughts rushed to our minds standing outside the industrial abode - “this sounds awfully similar to Sixpence None the Richer’s ‘Kiss Me’” and, “this is really good.” We’re suckers for a good Freddie Prize Jr. flick.

So as any good corporate castaways-come-photo journalists would do, we bust out our equipment. Our head of product management, content strategy, and videography (aka, Kyle) stands atop a concrete planter box with a voice recorder extending from his arm like a chalice. I’m simply a backup dancer with an iPhone. We hold our applause through the second rehearsal of “Todo Azul” before bursting into a synchronized hoot and whistle. Which is when a smiling bearded man curiously poked his head out the window, Sofía lurking in the background with her phone camera fixed on two gringos.

No words had yet been spoken - but a conversation was unfolding. I was capturing Sofía, capturing us on video. My legs were still vibrating, Kyle’s arm still extended to the window. Sofía and her bearded accomplice (also bass guitarist) were laughing at, or with us. To us, it didn’t really matter.

And then, in a bastardized Spanglish inquisition characteristic of our first weeks in Mexico City the silence was broken, “Cual es su nombre?! Uhh - who are you?!” After struggling through five minutes of nonsensical false cognates, we understood that a band called Potra was playing a small venue down the street that night. And that we would be present.

It’s funny how remarkable life’s encounters and situations seem in the moment. We returned to our apartment that afternoon a couple of giddy schoolchildren - Ben Affleck and Matt Damon writing the opening scene of Goodwill Hunting. Hours, days, and weeks earlier, our minds were peppered with thoughts of doubt. “What in the hell are we doing? What is an RSS feed? Humans of Mexico City is going to be a tough sell without speaking Spanish.” But alas, we’d hit the jackpot - we’d met a famous Argentinian band. And we would ride their singsong to the moon.

We spent the rest of the afternoon listening to Potra and various Mexican indie artists, marinating on our breakout story. “What shots do we need? What questions will we ask? How much beer do we need to drink to speak passable Spanish?” We were nervous - my speech shifted from rhythmic cadence to warped speed. But we had a plan. We had the shots. We had the beer.

As these things go, nothing went as planned. We arrived a few minutes before nine o’clock showtime - just enough time to snap a few shots of the venue and settle in with a drink. This was before we were appreciative of Mexican time. The show would not start for another hour. And what we expected to be a crowded theatre, turned out to be a mostly empty restaurant bar. And oh, the band? They would surely be backstage preparing for the set. Not sitting at the first table in the restaurant.

From a lighthearted, fun first encounter transpired a somewhat awkward second encounter. We said hello to Sofía and her bandmates, and explained that we’d be capturing some “fotos y videos” of them while they played, if that’s was alright. Of course it was. “But what for?” She wanted to know. The best answer we could come up with, in our bastardized Spanish, was a documentary of the Mexican music scene. “Great!” She said. What have we done…we thought.

After exhausting 40 cumulative years of Spanish vocabulary within 10 minutes of conversation, we sunk away to a neighboring table and ordered two Tecates. Classic gringos. We fidgeted with our recording equipment for the next 30 minutes while exchanging uncomfortable glances with the band. I’m sure it wasn’t uncomfortable for them, but for two guys recently released into the wild from office cubicles, we felt a little out of our element.

Fortunately for us, three Tecates later, the Buenos Aires-born Potra and her bandmates - various musicians she amassed from Mexico City - began to play. And Sofía put on quite a show.

With killer hip thrusts, emphatic boot stomps, and a genuinely sexual stage presence, you would have never guessed Potra was playing for an audience of less than 40 people. Over the course of the hour-long set, drenched in purple light, Sofía beckoned male and female onlookers, stealing looks and props (including Kyle’s glasses) from her captive crowd. She stood atop chairs. Sprawled across the floor. And with this, steadied our camera hands and relaxed our front row smiles.

We had a chance to catch up with Sofía and her bandmates after the show. Potra was in the midst of a month-long tour in Mexico. She loved playing her music at small clubs and theaters around Mexico City - but she was equally excited to visit with old friends made during her last tour in Mexico, see Phoenix play at a local music festival, and absorb the city’s energy. We thought we’d spent our Spanish vocabulary before the show, but it turns out we had another 30 minutes left in the reserve tank. Her bearded accomplice used to live in San Francisco. We shared stories, laughed, drank beer, and took a few cool headshots. Then we headed home.

As you’ve gathered from reading this story, there has been no big break. Potra, for her catchy melodies and sexual energy, is just trying to navigate the beginnings of a musical career. La Chicha, what we envisioned to be a hot music venue, was more like a space for open-mic nights. But what we’re learning, is that this is the beauty of beginnings - of figuring things out. It would be amazing to have a backstage interview with the Black Keys. But we would never meet them outside an apartment window, exchange numbers, and share beers at a mostly empty restaurant. 

We’ve spent some more time with Sofía and her mishmash Mexico City bandmates, including a show at Roma’s Departamento. The acoustics were much better. But we decided to leave the recording equipment at home.

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We plan to visit with Potra when we make our way to Buenos Aires. We’d love so see her play at another restaurant bar, but we’re hoping it’s a sold out stadium.

P.S. Without our own needing to clarify, Sofía discovered we weren’t American filmmakers. And that was OK.

Kyle Hilken