Portland’s indie folk pop ensemble Y La Bamba is fronted by Mexican-American singer-songwriter Luz Elena Mendoza, who grew up sandwiched between jaunty rancheras, corridos, boleros and huapangos, a collage of traditional Mexican music her Michoacán parents listened to. Her purepecha blood is reflected in the band’s musical experimentation, with a sound that repeats itself through her ancestral lineage.
“Corridos, especially, was very well present in a lot of the bands that played in quinceañeras, weddings and parties,” Mendoza tells Billboard over the phone. “Those grupero, Tex-Mex, and norteño five-piece acoustic bands with harp and violin, have all shaped my music.”
An overpowering connection that she has purposely taken across the journey of self-discovery, Mendoza gushes about memories and traumas, visceral emotions of her childhood in her songwriting. “This journey is about getting closer to everything that I am, it’s in my spine,” she adds. “It’s a most intoxicating and very inspiring purpose in my life.”
The issue of women’s survival and uprising against the male gender is deeply rooted in her lyrics, an argument ingrained in her as she was raised amid a misogynist and patriarchal circle. “I’ve had a really rough go and I know I’m not the only one, obviously, and it’s because I’ve known that archetype of toxic masculinity that it’s been traumatic for me,” she pauses. “Music became the tool that enabled me to proclaim my power and self-value and worth, it’s vulnerable stuff.”
Mendoza’s creative process is an erratic path of twists and bends, a tool of endurance which concludes in a sensation of extreme openness. “I feel pretty insane most of the times when I write,” she laughs. “It starts with an emotion, with a memory, with whatever it is that I’m absorbing either that day or that week or that month. I process a lot, as a way of survival. Sometimes I don’t realize that it’s happening, I’m just writing. I let go, it’s a form of meditation, looking where my inner critic is taking me.”
Mendoza’s vocals pounce over life’s intricacies in Mujeres, Y La Bamba’s full-length Latin-tinged 14-track set, which extols traditional Mexican music and the storytelling of American folk. The self-produced album gives a voice to those who struggle to be heard, who lack self-validation as Mendoza unapologetically tackles vulnerabilities, womanhood and empathy for one and other.
The band’s latest seven-track EP, Entre Los Dos, is a continuation of that exploration. “It’s been a journey of taking ownership of who I was as a person,” she continues with bated breath. “I’ve had a difficult time of navigating the music industry and its terminology. On the patriarchy, trying to find the self-worth and value. It’s all part of the process. It’s going and flowing. It’s all equal in its way that it’s been urging me and pushing me forward.”
Starting to believe in myself and learning about boundaries. Our most recent full-length album Mujeres debuted at No. 7 on Billboard’s Latin Pop Albums chart (Feb. 23-dated chart).
“Octavio.” It’s probably the one that will get past the most. It’s short little poetic blurbs which I wrote when I was in Guadalajara; it’s a very dense sentiment.
After we are done with European tour and the release of Entre Los Dos, I will continue to write a piece for the Camus choir, at least one hour worth of original music for the choir to sing which they will tour next year. I’m getting a group of collaborators, half of them from the band, very excited about it. It’s very hard to see all the good things that are happening, so I’m just encouraging myself and allowing other people’s support to really just sink in; I feel very grateful for the community that I have.