While a certain US presidential candidate is intent on building walls with Latin America, this Tucson, Arizona based band Orkesta Mendoza are equally enthused by breaking down musical barriers and perfectly at ease in a variety of genres. The Orkesta are in fact an off-shoot of Calexico, with two members of that band as well as the voice of the Mexican Institute of Sound, Camilo Lara, and some of the former band’s open-minded approach has rubbed off here on an album that is at once highly entertaining and extremely varied in nature. A real highlight is the 1950 big-band style mambo, ‘Mambo a la Rosano’, that is taken down a notch in tempo, to begin with, before hitting the listener full-on with a joyous uptempo feel. So compelling a number is this that devoting an entire project to this sub-genre might prove to be a worthwhile effort on a future recording. The mixing of seemingly polar opposites instrumentation is a feature of this album that on the catchy, ‘Cumbia Amor de Lejos’, that brings together accordion and steel drum on a piece which is part cumbia and part reggae and this works a treat. Electronica meets roots on, ‘No volvere’, and this is embellished by some soft-sounding vocals.
Mention here must be made of Salvador Duran who is the lead vocalist on the pared-down ballad, ‘Misterio’ that, with the addition of strings, has something of a film soundtrack quality. That this band has listened far and wide is no better illustrated than on the wildly eclectic, ‘Cumbia Volcadora’, that has echoes of reggae soaked dub in the vocals, and is the kind of hybrid music that a collaborative venture between Balkan brass and Manu Chao might conjure up. Clarinet and piano vamps contribute to the excellent uptempo groove that is, ‘Contra La Marea’. while elsewhere cheesy keyboards and collective chants sum up the fun nature of the enterprise. Only the rock-tinged, ‘Caramelos’ fails to impress. Due to recent problems in the state of Wahaca in Mexico, Orkesta Mendoza performed on 4 November at Hootenanny in Brixton.