Y La Bamba is an enigmatic indie folk-pop project fronted and led by singer and songwriter Luz Elena Mendoza. The group's sound weds Mexican folk styles -- from mariachi, nueva cancion, and norteño to American folk-rock and dreamy indie pop. Mendoza sings in Spanish and English.
Her parents hail from Mexico. Though born in San Francisco, she was raised in Southern Oregon and spent her childhood summers in California’s San Joaquin Valley with cousins. There Mendoza absorbed the melodies, three part-harmonies, and folktales of traditional Mexican mariachis. In 2003, she took a trip to India where she fell ill. It was there that she developed the expansive spiritual world view that would inform her future music.
She moved first to Ashland, where she worked as a solo performer. There she encountered like-minded bandmates and formed Y La Bamba. They relocated to Portland and home-recorded an album entitled Alida St., which was issued in 2008. Though credited to Y La Bamba, it was essentially a Mendoza solo effort. The Decemberists' Chris Funk produced follow-up Lupon, the band's debut for Tender Loving Empire. By the time it was released in 2010, almost the entire lineup had changed. Steve Berlin of Los Lobos produced, engineered, and played on 2012's Court the Storm. The album drew universally positive critical reviews. NPR featured the recording prominently, giving the band wide exposure. It was widely considered one of 2012's best indie albums. A six-track mini-album entitled Oh February was issued in early 2013. Y La Bamba toured extensively throughout the rest of the year and well into 2014.
Berlin introduced Mendoza to Calexico's Sergio Mendoza (no relation). The pair formed the duo Los Hijos de la Montaña and issued a self-titled Latin-inspired album on Cosmica in mid-2015. The same year, Luz Elena also undertook songwriting partnerships with Lila Downs and Edna Vasquez. Y La Bamba returned to the studio with Mendoza in the producer's chair. Working with composer Richie Greene to craft a new, stripped-down sonic palette, she played guitar throughout and utilized the talents of frequent collaborator Nick Delffs (Shaky Hands, Death Songs) on percussion. Ojos del Sol was issued in September of 2016. The album landed at number 10 on the Heatseekers chart and at 20 on the Americana/Folk Album charts. ~ Thom Jurek