SXSW Spotlight: Luz Elena Mendoza of Y La Bamba on music, identity

Luz Elena Mendoza at SXSW 2017. Photo by Reshma Kirpalani/American-Statesman

Catch Y La Bamba at 11 p.m. March 18 at the Palm Door on Sixth Patio

For Y La Bamba frontwoman Luz Elena Mendoza, music has been therapeutic. And when she takes the stage, you feel the raw emotion of her journey.

Mendoza, a South by Southwest showcasing artist, has been performing sans her Portland-based band at the festival. It’s something that she says is “really scary and hard, but also inspiring.” A stripped down version of her music means she’s relying on her individual strength while she’s on stage, which results in honest performances that are a refreshing step away from the usual SXSW madness that can sweep up the festival.

Mendoza, 35, has been writing and singing since she was a young girl and remembers penning her first song in elementary school. She didn’t grow up on Bob Dylan or the Beatles. Instead, as a daughter of immigrant parents, her childhood soundtrack included artists like Vicente Fernandez and Ramon Ayala.

Her bilingual folk music has also been an exploration of her Mexican identity. “I’ve never felt Mexican enough for Mexicans or American enough for Americans,” she says. “But also I’ve never felt Mexican American enough for Mexican Americans because of the way I look,” she says.

Mendoza, who is tall with short hair and fair-skin, says she knows what it feels like to be “an outcast among outcasts.” Lately, even at SXSW, she’s been asked about her identity a lot and peppered with questions from why she speaks Spanish so well to why she’s singing in Spanish.

“How do you talk about this with someone in a way that’s productive?” she says. When Mendoza writes, she doesn’t think about what language works best for what song. She writes what she feels and that comes from all the layers that make up her identity.

“People sometimes want to put you in a box,” she says. “But I’ve realized that I just need to take care of my spirit. My body is just a capsule and it doesn’t define everything.”

 

Residente talks Trump, fascism, and baseball at SXSW All Latino Resist Concert

Residente performs at Auditorium Shores during the 2017 SXSW Conference March 16. 03/16/17 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Latinos have been at the center of many contentious issues lately, from raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement across the country to a controversial border wall debate. At South by Southwest on Thursday, the nonprofit organization Voto Latino brought together activist musicians for a free concert at the SXSW Outdoor Stage at Lady Bird Lake.

Featured performers included Mexican ska-fusion band Panteón Rococó, Los Angeles-based Latin music mashers Ozomatli, and Residente, who headlined the special All Latino Resist Concert. Festivalgoers waved Mexican and Texas flags and at one point chanted, “Latinos! Latinos!”

Former Calle 13 rapper Rene Pérez Joglar aka Residente pumped up the crowd with a memorable, high energy performance that kicked off with his latest single as a solo artist “Somos Anormales.” His new album was inspired by a DNA test the artist took years ago. His journey around the world to retrace his genetic makeup is also the subject of the “Residente” documentary that premiered at SXSW. In it he features musicians from China to Niger.

“My band is made up of immigrants from around the world,” he told the cheering crowd. “F*** Trump.”

Ozomatli performs at Auditorium Shores during the 2017 SXSW Conference March 16. 03/16/17 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

From past Calle 13 hits like “El Aguante” to his new hip-hop/world sound, Pérez Joglar united the crowd at Auditorium Shores by dedicating the goosebump-inducing performance of “Latinoamérica” to all immigrants. At the Drive-In’s Omar Rodríguez-López joined Pérez Joglar on stage for several songs where he played lead guitar. His mad skills are also featured in the new Residente album, set to drop later this month.

At one point Pérez Joglar, a self-professed baseball fanatic, asked the enthusiastic crowd to chant “Puerto Rico! Puerto Rico!” so he could send the video to the Puerto Rican baseball team competing in the World Baseball Classic. He also gave a platform to festivalgoers holding a “Refuse Facism” sign that said, “In the name of humanity, we refuse to accept a fascist America.” Pérez Joglar asked for the sign, read it aloud and displayed it on stage for all to see.

 

Can’t miss Latin alternative bands at SXSW 2016

Colombia’s Systema Solar is among the SXSW 2016 showcasing artists.
Colombia’s Systema Solar is among the SXSW 2016 showcasing artists.

Our Austin360 music team has poured over the intense South by Southwest music schedule and picked out our favorite SXSW showcases to check out each day of the fest, hour by hour. For music lovers who enjoy listening to Latin alternative music or want to check out some international bands, here are my critic’s picks.

Tuesday

8 p.m. Gina Chavez (The Sidewinder Outside). Embracing the space between cultural lines, this Austin-based songstress offers a glimpse into the path she’s been on to connect with her Latina roots with inimitable bilingual folk-pop songs.

9 p.m. Natisú (Friends). Chile keeps making some of the best pop music in Latin America thanks to adventurous musicians like experimental indie artist Natisú. (Also playing at 9 p.m. Thursday at Departure Lounge.)

10 p.m.-1:40 a.m. SXAméricas: Zona Indie showcase (Sledge Hammer). Check out a sampling of Latin American indie music at this showcase. You’ll discover bands like Los Detectives Helados, who come from Ecuador’s burgeoning music scene with their indie rock that flirts with cosmic pop.

Wednesday

8 p.m. The Warning (Karma Lounge). When a YouTube video of these three Mexican sisters playing a cover of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” went viral, the young girls ages 15, 13 and 10 rose to the spotlight. They appeared on the Ellen De Generes show and raised money to attend a summer program at the Berklee College of Music, where they also created video diaries for the EllenTube Channel.

9 p.m. Jéf (Sledge Hammer). The Brazilian singer-songwriter got his big break in 2014 when he won the reality show music competition “Breakout Brazil” and landed a record deal with Sony Music.

10 p.m. Molina y Los Cósmicos (Sledge Hammer). In recent years, the tiny country of Uruguay has been producing unbelievable music. At previous SXSW festivals, the country has brought a delegation of diverse artists. Although there’s no official Uruguayan showcase this year, there are several standout artists like this folk-pop outfit.

11 p.m. Cabezas Flutuantes (Russian House). Using homemade instruments and everyday objects like pencils, Cabezas Flutantes of Brazil present upbeat, pop experimental songs that showcase tropical soundscapes.

Midnight Oques Grasses (Flamingo Cantina). Rising stars in the Catalan music scene, Oques Grasses of Barcelona deliver reggae-inspired pop music. (Also playing Friday at the Palm Door, time is TBD.)

1 a.m. División Minúscula (Karma Lounge). The SXSW alums’ punk rock sound was discovered by legendary DJ Toy Selectah of Control Machete fame. (División Minúscula also plays at 5 p.m. Saturday at the SXSW Outdoor Stage at Lady Bird Lake.)

Thursday

8 p.m. Velo De Oza (Speakeasy). When you mix Colombian folk music with rock and pop, you get an energetic live show from this charasmatic band that’s sure to create a fun vibe. (Also plays at 11 p.m. Friday at Flamingo Cantina)

9:20 p.m. Arianna Puello (Speakeasy Kabaret). Now more than ever fierce women in Latin hip-hop are bringing inventive and politically savvy rhymes to the forefront. Arianna Puello, a Spanish rapper of Dominican descent, has been delivering her spit-fire lyrics since 1993. (Also performs at 9:40 p.m. Friday at North Door.)

10 p.m. Elida Almeida (Flamingo Cantina). Music lovers will be enchanted with the powerful voice and incredible depth that this songstress brings from Cape Verde, an island off the west coast of Africa. Though danceable and uplifting, some of her songs in Portuguese reflect on meloncholy moments from her childhood including the death of her father when she was just a girl. (Also plays at midnight on Wednesday at Russian House.)

11 p.m. Las Delailas (Departure Lounge). The Monterrey-based pop-folk outfit creates melodies composed using a combination of guitar, ukelele, harmonica, tambourine and vocal harmonies.

Midnight. A-Wa (Flamingo Cantina). Yeminite sisters infuse Arab folk songs with modern beats. (Also play 1 a.m. Friday Russian House.)

1 a.m. The Chamanas (The Townsend). Drawing musical influences from 1970s Mexican pop and modern indie music, the Chamanas call the border region of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez home. They recently captured the national spotlight with their cover of Portugal. The Man’s song “Purple, Yellow, Red, and Blue.” (Also play at 1 a.m. Saturday at Blackheart)

Friday

8 p.m. Lulacruza (Palm Door on Sixth). The Argentine electronic folk duo beautifully melds modern and ancient sounds. It’s the place to be when you’re ready to get away from the SXSW chaos and reenergize with inspiring music. (Also play at noon on Wednesday at the International Day Stage and at 12:05 a.m. on Wednesday at The Townsend.)

9 p.m. Sotomayor (Flamingo Cantina). Siblings Raul and Paulina Sotomayor make up the hip, electronic music project from Mexico City. Their cutting-edge beats also fuse rhythms like Peruvian chicha music. (Also plays at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the International Day Stage and 9 p.m. Thursday at Lucille.)

10 p.m. Julio Piña (Flamingo Cantina). These Chilean party instigators create hip-shaking cumbias sure to keep you dancing all night. (Julio Piña will also perform at 10 p.m. Wednesday at Russian House.)

11 p.m. Jenny and the Mexicats (Continental Club). An English female trumpet player walked into a flamenco club in Spain and met two Mexican musicians that changed her musical journey. They added a Spanish cajón player to the mix, and became rising stars playing bilingual genre-blending grooves that mesh everything from flamenco to rockabilly.

12:05 a.m. Kat Dahlia (Swan Dive). The buzz has been swirling around Miami-bred Cuban-American singer-songwriter Kat Dahlia. The up-and-comer released her debut album in 2015, and it’s inspired by pop, Latin, hip-hop and reggae. (Also performs at noon on Saturday at the Radio Day Stage.)

1 a.m. Locos Por Juana (Half Step). The Grammy-nominated Miami band has been shaking up the Latin music world for more than a decade with their hybrid sound and energetic live shows. Don’t miss the chance to see these party masters. (Also perform at midnight Saturday at Flamingo Cantina.)

Saturday

6 p.m. Systema Solar (SXSW Outdoor Stage at Lady Bird Lake). They’ve risen from the Colombian music underground and stormed the Latin alternative scene with their explosive shows that are an audio visual experience. Systema Solar blends Afro Carribbean and Colombian folk with everything from hip-hop, techno, house, cumbia and electronica. (Also perform at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Radio Day Stage and 1 a.m. Thursday at Flamingo Cantina.)

8 p.m. Laguna Pai (Flamingo Cantina). The Peruvian reggae rockers weave socially conscious lyrics in their music focusing on issues like environmental conservation and equity.

9 p.m. Florencia Núñez (Stephen F’s Bar). Keep your eyes on this Uruguayan singer-songwriter whose impressive first album has been showered with accolades. She’s an exciting new voice in Latin indie music tying together influences from pop, jazz and folk.

10 p.m. Zona Tango (Elephant Room). You’ve never heard tango music like this before. Argentine multi-instrumentalist and composer Pedro Menendez’ ecclectic musical project creates a modern tango sound by fusing it with jazz, electronic and psychedelic rhythms.

11 p.m. Consulado Popular (Flamingo Cantina). Punk rock meets Colombian cumbia. (Also play at 1 a.m. Thursday at Speakeasy.)

12:50 a.m. Buyepongo (Speakeasy). Singer and percussionist Edgar “Meshlee” Modesto once described the Los Angeles band’s sound as music that’ll get you moving and thinking. Buyepongo released its album “Todo Mundo” earlier this year, which is full of pan-Latin rhythms that’ll nourish your soul.