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Photograph by Fabiola Zamora
Mexican singer Zemmoa's first memory is of The Little Mermaid, and--thanks to Ariel, the lovelorn heroine trapped under the sea -- it was formative. "Since the beginning, I felt like I always wanted to be part of another world," she says. "I felt like a mermaid in the sea wanting to get out." She wanted a hada madrina, a fairy godmother, and she also wanted attention. Though uncomfortable with the negative interest at school, where a fey boy was, in her words, a "point of attraction," Zemmoa craved recognition at home. "Every Christmas when I was a child, I was like, 'I have a magic trick! Come everybody to see me in the living room!' And then I'd make the trick. Now my trick is, 'I'm a woman! Surprise!' "
Zemmoa's playful moniker, chosen for its similarity to "It's me" in French -- "C'est moi" -- is fitting. She began dressing as a woman in her early teens, but doesn't identify as a drag queen or transsexual, or as any label, really. "I'm unique, as is everybody else," she says, running her hand through her luxurious chestnut hair. "This is my expression; this is who I am."
Zemmoa threw herself into Mexico City's club scene at age 16. "The night set me free because, at night, I can be whatever I want," she says. But it was her songwriting and singing skills that helped Zemmoa make a name for herself. Her 2006 single "Fashion Victims," an electro-pop middle finger to superficiality, caught the ear of Canadian performer Peaches, who invited Zemmoa to open one of her Mexico City shows in 2007. Erasure soon followed suit.
Zemmoa met another nightlife pioneer around this time, New York City's Ladyfag, who describes Zemmoa as a "Mexican princess" and remembers her dancing in front of the mirror before going out one night. "She was looking in the mirror, dreaming that she was a star," Ladyfag recalls. "But the truth is, she is a star, and she knows it."
As familiar as Zemmoa became in Mexico City's club scene, and, despite modeling for Calvin Klein Mexico and appearing in numerous magazines, she still couldn't get a record deal. Her gender identity was too offbeat, executives said.
Determined, Zemmoa started her own label, Zemmporio Records, and this year released her first full-length, the disco-centric Puro Desamor, Vol. 1. Available on SoundCloud, the album is almost exclusively about Zemmoa's primary quest: finding love. "In my songs, I'm asking, 'What is fame compared to eternal true love?' " she muses. There's no comparison, she says, evoking a dreamy princess, like Ariel. "Fame is nothing; it's a moment. Money is nothing. Love is eternal."
Watch this video, "The Beginning of the Age of Aquarius," that shares Zemmoa's career trajectory:
Watch the video for "Te Enterrare El Tacon"