A Brief Introduction to Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta, featuring Salvador Duran It’s a safe bet that most of us haven’t heard the term “Indie Mambo” to describe a group before now, because such a style simply did not exist until young Sergio Mendoza invented it in late 2009, in Tucson, Arizona. The impetus? Mendoza was participating in an annual benefit event held at the world famous Club Congress, called ‘The Great Cover-Up,’ and had chosen the legendary Cuban bandleader Perez Prado as his coveree, as the rules of the event dictated. But combining that influence, as well as Cumbia and other Latin styles, with psychedelia-tinged rock music proved to be a formula that was extremely palatable, nay – savory, to Arizona music fans and Mendoza’s fellow musicians. Mendoza had long paid his dues in various redoubts of the greater Tucson music scene – first with the crowd-pleasing Latin-influenced rock group The Jons and then with his own combo Seven to Blue, where he first got to spread his wings as a songwriter and bandleader. Over the next three or four years he did several stints with professional Salsa and dance units, like the high-energy Latin dance group Descarga, and started to, as he puts it, “really get schooling for Latin music as a piano player.” In 2007 Mendoza was asked to be an emergency sub and then became a regular player in the domestic incarnation of Calexio. With Calexico, Mendoza has played the Rhode Island Folk Festival, the World Music Festival in Chicago (at the Frank Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavilion), the 2010 iteration of Vive Latino in Mexico City, and countless shows throughout the Southwest and elsewhere. Lest you consider it grandiose to call such a group an “orchestra,” you must bear in mind the deadly assemblage of supporting talent that bears that moniker: a six(?)-member horn section-two drummers that put so much energy into Y La Orkesta’s polyrhythms; a Latin Jimi Hendrix of a lead guitarist (Brian Lopez, whose other gig is as leader of the rock group Mostly Bears), who is a great composer and singer in his own right; and the secret weapon of y la Orkesta, the great Salvador Duran. Duran moved to Tucson from Cananea, Sonora, Mexico. Soon enough he was invited to play with Calexico in various incarnations and on various projects, including lead vocals on the title track of Calexico’s joint EP with Iron and Wine, In The Reins, as well as a haunting contribution on their cover of “The Guns of Brixton” on the iTunes exclusive “Live Session” EP. He has also recorded with Willie Nelson on the song “Senor,” which was released on the soundtrack for Todd Haynes’ brilliant “I’m Not There” Bob Dylan biopic. But it is as the featured player in Y La Orkesta that Salvador has found the true milieu for his genius as a singer, performer, and, shall we say, ham. He serves as the perfect foil to Mendoza’s suave, mannered bandleading, lending a somewhat manic and almost comic gloss to the proceedings when he’s not pulling your heartstrings with his otherworldly resonant baritone. Words do not do justice to the alchemy that this combination of performers can conjure up – it is something to be heard, and witnessed, and most importantly, felt. The good news is, this is a band that is going places both physically and metaphorically. With a debut album due to be released in March of 2011, this is no doubt the first of many times you’ll be hearing about a little phenomenon known as “Indie Mambo.” Sergio Mendoza Y La Orkesta featuring Salvador Duran – lengthy name, yes; over-wordy, perhaps. Memorable? Indeed.


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