Posts Tagged ‘mexico’
Russ Slater chats to the Mexican musical polymath Sergio Mendoza about his influences and various projects, prior to his UK tour
Talking to Sergio Mendoza, Orkesta Mendoza’s softly spoken bandleader, you get the impression of how different life can be either side of the US/Mexico border, and how incredible it is that his own music has been able to traverse the two countries so freely. His first musical memories hail from Mexico, when he was living in the border town of Nogales, Sonora. At an early age he would listen to cumbias and rancheras, learning to play the melodies on the family keyboard. Then when he was around eight years old his family moved north to Nogales, Arizona, back when the border didn’t seem so immutable.
Though only a few miles north, the move meant a big change in culture. “I remember the first day of school,” Mendoza says. “There was free paper and pencils and that was a big shock to me. In Mexico you show up to your class and there’s nothing but a desk and a chalkboard.” Of bigger impact though was the change in his musical habits.
“I started letting go of all that [Mexican] music and just listened to everything American,” Mendoza tells me. “My friends looked down on all the Mexican stuff because they thought it was cheesy. So we started listening to classic rock, rock’n’roll and grunge.”
It would take years, many fateful rock groups and a stint in a local salsa band until Mendoza would finally get in touch with his roots again. By that time he’d become known in the Tucson, Arizona music scene when Calexico’s Joey Burns got in touch, asking if he wanted to play with them. “I was the perfect combination of a guy they wanted to play with. Somebody who was Latin but also loves rock’n’roll.”
He’d also come to a point where he was ready to re-embrace his earliest musical influences, going back to mambo and cumbia. “I wanted to learn Pérez Prado’s style,” says Mendoza, “so we decided to do a Prado tribute. It was supposed to be a one-time thing, but Joey Burns and the local promoters were like, nah, you’re going to do this again and started booking us. Then right away I started writing songs in a similar style, and that’s how we made those first [Orkesta Mendoza] recordings.”
Three albums later – the latest one, Vamos a Guarachar, was reviewed in #124 – and Orkesta Mendoza are as strong as ever, moving fluidly between Mexican and American music with a fiery mix of ranchera rock’n’roll, indie mambo and psych cumbia. Their music represents the cultural fusions that could only exist on the border. Mendoza, who continues to play with Calexico, as well as the Mexican Morrissey tribute band Mexrrissey, and Los Hijos de la Montaña (an experimental indie-pop collaboration with fellow US Latino Luz Elena Mendoza) is the perfect example of this.
“I feel like I fit in both worlds,” he replies, when I ask him whether he feels more Mexican or American. Thankfully, unlike the hard hand of politics, music does not seek to erect walls. Though, you can be sure that, if it did, Orkesta Mendoza would do their best to shake them down.
2015 is the Year of Mexico in the UK and Mexican music is in rude health with two Top of the World reviews this issue. Chris Moss celebrates with a selection of the best albums.
La Cantina (Narada, 2006)
Rancheras, norteño and mariachis are rebooted with hip-hop phrasing on Lila Downs’ fifth studio album, and she plies her rich baritone to seduce us into lullabies and bellow out brash leftist slogans. As hot as a habanero chilli, she makes the recipe in ‘La Cumbia del Mole’ sounds almost as sexy in English as it does in the original. A Top of the World in #36.
Lo Esencial (Sony Music, 2009)
Mexicans love to debate who is their most representative singer, but Jiménez must be a favourite. He never learned to read or write music, was never seen playing an instrument and wasn’t the best-looking or most mellifluous of his era’s pop stars. What he possessed was a natural warmth and a gift for emotional intimacy, as demonstrated by the 60 rancheras and corridos on this triple-CD set.
40 y 20 (BMG Ariola, 1992)
The 26th album by the crooner’s crooner, José José, takes its title from the mega-hit about a man aged 40 falling for a girl half his age. The whole record is the angst-ridden outpouring of a sometime film star, alcoholic, and famed lover of actresses who ended up residing in a taxi – no essential list would be complete without it.
The Originals: Agustín Lara Sings His Songs (YOYO USA, 2006)
With a career that spanned 60 years and around 700 songs, Lara grew up in a hospice but later lived at his aunt’s house where he was introduced to 19th-century Mexican poetry. A scar-faced rebel and committed bohemian, Lara became famous for his boleros and soundtracks for films of Mexico’s Golden Age. He was covered by artists as diverse as Desi Arnaz, Bing Cosby and Placido Domingo – none of whom could match the soulful spirit of the originals of ‘Imposible’, ‘Maria Bonita’, ‘Santa’ and ‘Noche de Ronda’, contained here.
En Concierto (Universal Music Mexico, 1989)
Formed in 1897, this celebrated mariachi ensemble has been through multiple reincarnations, updating along the way. Playing harps and vihuela as well as trumpets and six violins, the band gives the classic martial and melancholy strains of the mariachi a symphonic twist.
Politico (Chusma Records, 2012)
Mexico-city DJ and producer Camilo Lara is the man behind Mexican Institute of Sound and he demonstrates his political leanings on this, his 2012 album. Not afraid to call things as he sees them, Lara covers sensitive subjects – from corruption to drug violence – through a veritable pot of hip-hop, mariachi horns, cumbia and dance music. A Top of the World in #89.
Tijuana Sessions, Vol. 1 (Palm Pictures, 2001)
Nominated for two Latin Grammys, this electronic music sampler presents an alternative sound from the Mexico’s frontera. Tijuana-based artists Fussible, Bostich, Panóptica, Clorofila and Hiperboreal meld traditional Mexican music with techno beats to create cool, colourful and fun music that has gone down a storm at WOMAD airings and is the soundtrack of choice for Mexican lucha libre wrestling tours.
Jefe de Jefes (Fonovisa, 1997)
The Tigres’ masterpiece, this Grammy-nominated double-CD is a landmark for fans of modern norteño. The title-track (‘Boss of Bosses’) sets the tone, with a gangland capo walking tall all the way from the corridors of official power to the back alleys. Los Tigres del Norte never play for mere shock value; prescient, potent and timeless, they sing about the pain and passion of the long-suffering borderlands.
At Carnegie Hall (Tommy Boy, 2004)
Mould-breaking and heartrending like no other Mexican performer, Chavela Vargas’ 2003 concert to a sold-out Carnegie Hall audience reveals all the rough edges, spontaneous sobs and gutsy growls that made her such a force.
Aliens of Extraordinary Ability (Villalobos Brothers, 2012)
Born in Xalapa, based in the Bronx, this trio of brothers lead with fiddles on a rich assortment of roots music, including mariachi, son jarocho and son huasteco – with bits of jazz, blues, and rock thrown in. A folksy falsetto sound that represents the new cross-border Mexican scene.
This article originally appeared in Songlines issue 112, November 2015. Subscribe to Songlines.
La Linea, the London Latin Music Festival, kicks off in the capital next week featuring performances from Ana Tijoux, Buika and Plaza Francia and a celebration of Mexico
Launched by ¡Como No! in 2001, La Linea celebrates its 15th year with a sprinkling of chilli and mescal, as the official Year of Mexico in the UK gets into full swing. Aside from the Morrissey madness of Mexrrissey, there will also be a Mexican-flavoured electronica with Mextronica and Anglo-Mexican classical music from Morgan Szymanski & Alejandro Escuer.
La Linea begins with Oscar-winning Uruguayan musician Jorge Drexler on April 21 at Union Chapel. Plaza Francia – the trio that sees Eduardo Makaroff & Christoph Müller of Gotan Project join forces with French pop powerhouse Catherine Ringer – will head to KOKO on April 23. Flamenco singer Buika returns after her sold-out 2013 La Linea show, while the South American hip-hop scene is well-represented by Chile’s Ana Tijoux and Brazilian MC Emicida.
Click here for your chance to win a pair of tickets to see Plaza Francia on April 23 at London’s Koko.
Jorge Drexler April 21, Union Chapel
Z’ikr April 21, Leicester Square Theatre
Plaza Francia April 23, KOKO
Emicida April 24, Rich Mix
Year of Mexico in the UK 2015
Morgan Szymanski & Alejandro Escuer April 23, Purcell Room Southbank Centre
Mextronica featuring Compass (Mexican Institute of Sound & Toy Selectah) April 24, Village Underground
Mexrrissey April 25, Barbican
Mexacustico featuring Ceci Bastida, Chetes, Jay de la Cueva, Alejandro Flores + more April 26, Rich Mix
Buika April 27, Barbican
Ana Tijoux April 30, Rich Mix
Eduardo Makaroff & Christoph Müller
Afropop Worldwide explores the little-known African side of Mexico’s music
Recognised for its Spanish and indigenous heritage, Mexico is not really known for its ‘third root’ or African heritage. Producer and music journalist Marlon Bishop explores the culture and traditions of Afro-Mexico in a new project for Afropop Worldwide.
Arriving with the Spanish as soldiers and slaves, the African community expanded across Mexico and is still prevalent today. A road-trip across the country introduces Bishop and co-presenter Georges Collinet to the sounds and stories of these little documented Afro-Mexican communities.
From Veracruz (where the Afro-Mexican son jarocho sound was made famous by the 1958 hit cover of ‘La Bamba’) to the Afro-Cuban beats of Mexico City and the Costa Chica of Guerrero (where Afro-Mexican communities fight for government recognition to protect their diminishing musical traditions) this hour long radio documentary brings to light a rich and vibrant culture which has too long been silenced.
The project also features accompanying articles and a series of short video documentaries. Hear the full documentary below:
The first video in the series: Keepers of the Chilena
Afro-Mexico Road Trip blog posts can be found here: http://www.afropop.org/wp/tag/afromexico/