Making it Grande: Frontwoman for Y La Bamba, Luz Elena Mendoza
Y La Bamba is the musical brainchild of Rogue Valley native Luz Elena Mendoza. Over the past 11 years the band has made a name for themselves throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond for their own unique brand of indie rock. After releasing six albums of gradually evolving Latin-infused indie folk, their newest offering Mujeres feels like a recapitulation of all the past successes of the group. Released via Portland label Tender Loving Empire in February 2019, Mujeres has seemingly taken on a life of its own with glowing write-ups in outlets like Pitchfork, NPR, and Paste.
Making beautiful use of lush harmonies, dreamy guitars and latin beats, Mujeres sits atop an already illustrious discography from Y La Bamba. Continuing some of the story arcs introduced in 2016’s Ojos Del Sol as well as introducing new ones, the album asks as many questions as it answers. On the label’s website, Y La Bamba and co. ask: “Where do Mujeres fit in to the American story? What are the sins for which we are all guilty? How do different generations interact with the world? How can a culture become visible without being tokenized?”
These are heavy questions to ask, but something Y La Bamba really nail on this album is their ability to approach large subjects and tackle them with catharsis. Even when things get impossibly heavy, there is always a groove underneath to keep the listener pushing forward.
I sat down (technically the email correspondence was written while sitting down) with lead singer and songwriter Luz Elena Mendoza to talk about touring, the reception for Mujeres, their new music video, and music in general.
Rogue Valley Messenger: How has your tour been so far?
Luz Elena Mendoza: Tour has been so many things. The way that I feel about tour is so unique… well it’s an overall unique experience. Being in the van and sharing energy with your family band, to outside of the van vibes, from the bands we play with, sharky industry people and to many, many heart felt connections. So much happens and what’s important is to nurture the band family and be there for one another. There’s beauty on the road alongside the occasional toxic sound person, irresponsible staff at venues and learning how to create boundaries with our fan community. In addition to all of this, the people who have been showing up are there because they care and want to be there. It’s a family growing right before our eyes. The band, the audience: we’re growing together. That’s what tour has been feeling like so far.
RVM: Your new album seems to be doing really well; how does it feel to achieve this hard earned success?
LEM: Define earned success? What does that mean to you? This can mean so many things. I don’t know how to answer this question. All I know is that I am living day to day trying to find new ways to make change through art. I have never felt earned success. I feel something different. I have a strong conviction in me that is telling me to keep going and take care of my family.
RVM: What inspired the direction for the “Boca Llena” video?
LEM: I had a vision of bringing my friends together and doing all the things. I don’t limit myself anymore. The intention was to be open and make shit happen. I love learning new ways to love my body and my spirit, and uplift others around me.
RVM: You used to live in Southern Oregon. Does the region hold any meaningful memories for you?
LEM: There are a lot of painful, beautiful memories, yes.
RVM: How would you say Portland and its music community have shaped you as an artist?
LEM: I’m an open spirit. The openness and vulnerability continues to shape me and my environment. Portland has had to learn a lot about how to support women artists of color. If anything I hope that my presence and purpose has affected how Portland is being shaped, because… holy shit.
RVM: How important is collaboration to you? Do you prefer to write on your own or with other people?
LEM: Loving others is important. Loving yourself is number one.
RVM: To me, Mujeres almost sounds like an album made outside of time. In other words, it’s very retro and very modern simultaneously. How do you balance those two sensibilities as a producer?
LEM: I don’t know I just make it and don’t think about it too much.
RVM: Lastly, what words of advice might you have for young women in the recording industry?
LEM: We are our strong body of creation, inspiration, drive, and magic. We are whole.
We are Kali. We are fire. Don’t let anyone tell you who you are.
Mujeres is available on all streaming services, as well as on CD, LP, Cassette, and Digital Download via Tender Loving Empire: tenderlovingempire.com/products/ylabambamujeres