Sergio Mendoza’s intoxicating music crosses boundaries both real and imagined, and erases the lines in joyful communion. The Arizona native is an integral part of the rich musical scene in his hometown of Tucson, and has steadily expanded his musical reach throughout the past decade. Mendoza has been a key collaborator with leading Tucson export Calexico in the recording studio, and has been a serial visitor to Chicago as part of the group’s touring ensemble. This time, he’s returning with his own crew. Orkesta Mendoza performs at Thalia Hall this weekend on a GlobalFEST tour with likeminded Los Angeles-based friends Las Cafeteras.
Omni-instrumentalist Mendoza earns his crown as Tucson’s modern Mambo king with his group, while creating a fusion of additional styles that reaches from Arizona into the Sonoran desert of Mexico. Born in Nogales, Arizona, the omni-instrumentalist cut his teeth across the border playing gigs in nearby Nogales, Mexico.
The band’s most recent album is 2016’s “¡Vamos a Guarachar!” Opening track “Cumbia Volcadora” blends old world and traditional Latin musical styles with modern attitude, streetwise pulse and space-faring production, creating a body-moving hybrid that may ring familiar to fans of Calexico staples such as “Guero Canelo.” Sung in Spanish, the music is both innovative and true to its musical roots.
“Misterio” is a haunted and sleepless tango, overflowing with the type of loss and lovelorn longing that communicate in any language. “Caramelos” is a propulsive confection of ‘60s surf and garage-pop guitar, mellow flute, hand-clap rhythm, lo-fi radiotronic sounds and rowdy gang vocals. “Redoble” is frenetic ska. Other songs pit salsa, mariachi or norteño against spy guitar, big-band swing or psychedelic rock. The spirited sound of numbers like the horn- and accordion-led “Mambo a la Rosano” practically demands participation through wild dancing. Studious observers of the new sound of Mexican-American music may try to resist, but where is the fun in that?
Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.