Led by frontwoman and principle songwriter Luz Elena Mendoza, Portland, OR-based alt folk/folk rock/indie rock act Y La Bamba, the critically applauded act can trace its origins to early 2008 when Mendoza wanted to perform under something else other than her name, and began writing and making home recordings of her songs on a one-by-one basis largely drawing from the traditional Mexican folk songs she heard as a child growing up in San Francisco and playing with her cousins in the San Joaquin Valley, the work of Loch Lomond and Devendra Banhardt and others. Around the time she had begun writing her own material, Mendoza had begun regularly hosting an open mic at a sake bar in Northeast Portland, where she met the members of the band’s original line up — Ben Meyercord, Mike Kitson (drums), Sean Flinn (guitar) and Eric Shrapel (accordion).
Over the course of the band’s three albums and several lineup changes of collaborators, friends and musicians, the band’s material has gone through a variety of changes — but it’s the the band’s forth full-length effort Ojos Del Sol that may be arguably be the most radical turn in sonic direction, while returning to familiar themes of searching and personal discovery — themes that have come up a number of times in Mendoza’s own life, whether as the daughter of Mexican immigrants connecting with her ancestry and searching for spiritual meaning that goes much further than organized religion. In fact, as Mendoza explains in press notes, the material on the album thematically is a “cerebration of family and community” — but a community of shared humanity.
Interestingly, the album’s first single “Libre” finds Mendoza and company at their most self-assured but in one of the breeziest and pop-leaning songs as they pair an infectious and anthemic hook with an arrangement that includes what sounds like xylophone, a mischievous and sinuous bass line, a steady backbeat, Mendoza’s gorgeous vocals along three part harmonies in English and Spanish, a rolling, African folk music-like guitar line in a song that evokes a sense of almost childlike wonder and joy, while making a connection both to Mendoza’s ancestral homeland and Africa in a way that subtly channels Paul Simon’s Graceland.
The recently released video accompanying the song is a lush, cinematically shot video using impossibly verdant greens, bright reds, and a seemingly primal and ecstatic dance routine in the fields just featuring women wearing ancient-inspired costumes, masks and the like. And while being swoon worthy, the video manages to make a vital connection between the primal and ancient and the modern, between celebrating spring and summer and fertility, and a celebrating a community of strong like-minded women simultaneously.