“Somos mujeres, mujeres, somos poderosas.” We are women, we are powerful: the fierce, lucid vocals of Luz Mendoza blast against a bare and driving drumbeat. The Chicana raised in Southern Oregon draws deep from her Mexican roots with her band Y La Bamba to make music that sounds like no one else in Portland right now.
Need proof? Mujeres, the band’s fifth studio album, which drops February 8, vibrates with immediacy and a message that’s about survival and strength.
It’s been 12 years coming, with the band honing their sound and status as the darlings of both mainstream media—single “Mujeres” nabbed a spot on NPR’s Best Songs of 2018 list within weeks of its release, while the New York Times has lauded Mendoza’s “X factor” voice—and the indie music blogosphere. (Germany-based MusikBlog is a fan.)
With Mendoza at the helm of production on Mujeres, a first for her, the new album reflects her growth both as a person and a musical force, in a meticulously crafted work emerging from her quest for spirit, identity, and truth.
“Mujeres,” the new album’s title track, rich with percussion and Mendoza’s rapid-fire Spanish lyrics, pulses with protest energy. “My Death,” written one month after Trump’s election, is described by Mendoza as a song of survival. Experimenting with arrangements, Mendoza made use of what she calls her “field recordings” in many of the song transitions: tracks like “Cuatro Crazy,” “Dieciseis,” and “Santa Sal” stand out with snippets of faraway trains, birdsong, and intimate spoken word incorporated to musical effect. “Conocidos” plays with emerging sounds of Mexican-psych, where fuzzy riffs meet cumbia influences.
“This is me letting my voice run free,” says Mendoza. “Mujeres is a journey of me trying to celebrate who I am as a woman.” The album, which she dedicates to her mother, is also a volume on family, race, trauma, and survival. A daughter of immigrant parents, Mendoza says she’s used Mujeres to give her mother, herself, and her ancestors a voice. Addressing experiences of domestic violence and pain, the album is also anthemic, a celebration of womanhood and the deep work it takes to fully express oneself in a world of systemic oppression.
“I’m not interested in making people feel comfortable,” she says. “I’m interested in loving myself and being set free.”