Tue, May 2

Y La Bamba


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Y La Bamba –

To declare one thematic narrative from Lucha, Y La Bamba’s seventh album, would be to chisel away a story within a story within a story into the illusion of something singular.

“Lucha is a symbol of how hard it is for me to tackle healing, live life, and be present,” Luz Elena Mendoza Ramos, lead vocalist and producer of Y La Bamba, says of the title behind the album which translates from Spanish to English as ‘fight’ and is also a nickname for Luz, which means light. The album explores multiplicity—love, queerness, Mexican American and Chicanx identity, family, intimacy, yearning, loneliness—and chronicles a period of struggle and growth for Mendoza Ramos as a person and artist.

Lucha was born out of isolation at the advent of COVID-19 lockdowns, beginning with a cover of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and following Mendoza Ramos as she moved from Portland, Oregon to Mexico City, returning to her parents’ home country while revisiting a lineage marred by violence and silence, and simultaneously reaching towards deeper relationships with loved ones and herself. The album reflects “another tier of facing vulnerability,” as Mendoza Ramos explains, and is a battle cry to fight in order to be seen and to be accepted, if not celebrated, in every form—anger and compassion, externally and internally, individually and societally. As much as la lucha is about inner work, fighting is borne from survival stemming from social structures designed to uplift dominant groups at the hands of suffering amongst the marginalized.

While peeling back layers of the past to better understand the present has been integral to this period of growth for Mendoza Ramos, time, trauma, and history can feel like interconnected, abysmal loops and music has remained a trusted space for Mendoza Ramos to process, experiment, and channel her learnings into a creative practice. In this way, Lucha has become cyclical, documenting the parallel trust Mendoza Ramos has built with herself to allow the songs to guide how they should be sung, or even sound.“I’ve been wanting to let whatever feels natural—with rhythm and musical instruments like congas and singing—to just let it be, in the way that I’m trying to invoke in myself.” Lucha reflects on, “the continuing process of learning how to exercise my producing skills,” explains Mendoza Ramos. “I have so many words, ideas to work with all the time, and the hardest part for me has been learning to trust my gut. And figuring out how I work best, and with who.”

The result is a collection as sonically sprawling and bold as its subject matter. On “La Lluvia de Guadalajara,” Y La Bamba leans into a minimal, avant-garde soundscape as Mendoza Ramos recites a spoken word poem. Later, rhythms veer into bossa nova territory on “Hues ft. Devendra Banhart,” a full-circle collaboration for Mendoza Ramos as she reminisces on the significance of finding Banhart’s work nearly two decades earlier: “He was the first young Spanish-speaking musician that wasn’t playing traditional Mexican music I heard when I was 21. There was nothing like it around that time.”

“Nunca” is a warm, wind-rich track dedicated to her mother, Maria Elena Ramos whose poetry is published alongside the Lucha lyrics booklet. “I decided to put my mom’s poem, which is a poem that she wrote to me, letting me know how she felt, exploring her heart in new ways she’s never imagined. Sharing it on the record is me paying attention that she’s expressing herself.

While each song holds personal significance to Mendoza Ramos, part of growing into her identity as an artist has been allowing space for protection and boundaries, and choosing to withhold some of that meaning from the public. Lucha is her own story of the complexity of trauma and nonlinear healing and growth processes, but she imagines it is also the continuation of her ancestors’ stories and might also be a mirror to the story of others. “Even though I’m trying to fight, I never want to demonize suffering, because that’s part of growing. And it’s hard, because we’re living in times where that [stigma] is what’s happening. So if this—me talking about my mental health and finding healing in my queerness—is a risk, I hope that I find a community that protects it and protects me, because they know I have their back. I am also trying to be my mom’s community.”

Bio written by Emilly Prado.

All songs from Lucha were written and produced by Luz Elena Mendoza Ramos.
“Hues” was written by Ryan Neil Oxford and Luz Elena Mendoza Ramos.
All tracks recorded and engineered by Coco Hernán Godas and Ryan Neil Oxford at Color Therapy Studios in Portland, Oregon and Studio Par in Mexico City, Mexico.
Mixed by Coco Hernán Godas and Ryan Neil Oxford.
Mastered by Adam Gonsalves at Telegraph Mastering in Portland, Oregon.
Horn Arrangements by Billy Aukstik and Frederick Deboe.
Wind Arrangements by Richie Greene.
Art Direction & Design by Avautumn Sky Reeves.
Photography by Christal Angelique Pashaian.

QUITAPENAS, one word – all caps, four syllables – all claps, gives you a taste of their rhythmic contagion. This tropical Afro-Latin combo was born under the warm California sun. They borrow aesthetics from the radical 60s, 70s and 80s. Each song echoes a remix of history and invites one to engage in the liberating evenings of Angola, Peru, Colombia, Brazil and beyond. The name means “to remove worries.” Everybody has a “pena” and the mission of QUITAPENAS is simple: to make you dance and leave you without a worry.

QUITAPENAS was founded in 2011. The band was formed around their shared love of dance rhythms from the Tropical Afro Latin diaspora. They assembled a group of like minded friends to share the vision that went on to be QUITAPENAS. The group is made up of first generation son’s of immigrant parents from Guatemala and Mexico.

Daniel Gomez is the guitarist, singer, composer, and co-founder of QUITAPENAS. He began playing guitar at age 12. He attended UC Riverside where he studied Anthropology and Ethnomusicology. He is also currently a research engineer doing environmental emissions research at the University of Riverside and has 4 children of his own.

Hector Chavez plays bass and saxophone in QUITAPENAS. He began playing music at the age of 8 in the San Bernardino City public school music program. He remained involved in concert band, marching band, and jazz band. He studied music technology and audio recording at California State University, Dominguez Hills where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in digital media arts and a minor in music.

Mark Villela is a multi instrumentalist playing percussion for QUITAPENAS. He incorporates traditional Latin instruments such as the guacho, guiro, and maracas. He grew up playing percussion and tambourine while involved in his church group. He graduated from UC Riverside majoring in Latin American Studies and Psychology. He is currently an engineer leading research in fuel and emission particle studies for UCR.

Ivan McCormick is a percussionist and keyboard player in QUITAPENAS. He began his musical career at the age of 12 playing drum set in a group with friends and family. Since then, he has learned multiple instruments including piano, accordion, marimba de chonta, flute, guitar and clarinet. He has also worked on composing for tv and film as well as live dance/circus performances including “Vagabundo” by Triciclo Rojo danza art troupe. This show has been performed in many cities throughout Europe, North and South America in recent years including world renowned Bellas Artes Theater in Mexico City, MX. 

David Quintero is a percussionist and keyboard player in QUITAPENAS. He grew up in Oakland, California performing in bands playing genres from Quebradita to Banda and Cumbia to Son Jarocho. Quintero is a multi-instrumentalist and well versed in various folk styles from Mexico like Mariachi, Son Huasteco and Son Jarocho. He is also a very good Salsa dancer.

Eduardo Valencia is a percussionist, composer and founding member of QUITAPENAS. He began his musical exploration on the drum set at age 15. During college he performed with several jazz musicians and was a member of several world music ensembles. In 2010 he made his transition to hand percussion as a drummer for folkloric drum and dance ensembles. In 2015 and 2017, Eduardo participated in a State Department program called OneBeat and OneBeat Russia where he collaborated with 24 musicians from over 17 countries. In 2018 he participated in the state department program American Music Abroad as a member of LA based band, Buyepongo. The group performed in China, Azerbaijan and Equatorial Guinea in Africa. Currently, he teaches Afro Colombian drumming in several California prisons as a teaching artist with the Alliance for California Traditional Arts. For the last ten years he has served as Assistant Manager, Producer and DJ at KUCR 88.3 Fm at the University of California, Riverside.