There is a fault line that runs through the city of Nogales: the Mexican-American border. Sergio Mendoza has often crossed it. He was born in Nogales, Arizona, raised in Nogales, Sonora, and now lives back in Tucson, Arizona. But the music he and his band make isn’t Mexican or American, it’s something else entirely – a sound that marries the regional styles blaring from speakers on one side of the border to those from the other; and a sensibility that thumbs its nose at los políticos. Border, what border?
Blending cumbia and mambo with psychedelic rock, polka, country and electronica, Orkesta Mendoza imagines what Nogales would sound like if the border didn’t exist. On their new album, ¡Vamos a Guarachar! (“Let’s Dance!”), spirits run high. Effervescent horns in “Cumbia Volcadora” make for a bold, brassy stomp. Bristling with guitar riffs, “Caramelos” swaggers and struts. And dressed in their uniform of black suits and sunglasses, the band look like nothing so much as the Blues Brothers playing at a Day of the Dead party.
Sergio Mendoza grew up listening to the Mexican regional styles jostling for headspace in a young, music-mad mind – cumbia mainly, but mambo, rancheras and mariachi too. The border is always a fierce arena of exchange, both commercial and cultural, and so there was American music too. At one point ‘rock and roll, the classics’, as Mendoza himself deadpans, seemed to win out and he stopped playing those ‘Latin styles’ for a good decade and a half.
The return to those sounds was a strong one in the band’s 2012 release ‘Mambo Mexicano’, co-produced by Mendoza and Joey Burns of Calexico – a band for which Mendoza has become an increasingly integral touring and recording member. While that record had a studied air, tentative in parts (as befits the renewal of an old love affair), ‘¡Vamos A Guarachar!’ is another beast entirely: by turns raucous, tender and plain serious fun, it also bears a robust electronic edge, a keen pop sensibility and all the hallmarks of Mendoza’s love of 60s rock. Focused, fierce and beautifully executed by a superbly drilled set of musicians, it is a record that fully matches the band’s explosive live performances.