The music of Portland based band Y La Bamba is that of beautiful, intoxicating contrasts. Both parts calming and alarming, meditative and flippant, their songs weave the delicate web of a line between the joy and sorrow of being alive. I was fortunate enough to see them play in Pullman (alongside Buffalo Death Beam and Horse Feathers) this past week and could not have asked for a cozier winter night. Though the entire evening was satiating, the familial nature of Y La Bamba’s performance is really what struck me; how through the tone and composition of their songs we as an audience were asked not only to receive but also to give.
After their set I managed a few minutes with frontwoman Luz Mendoza. As we sat talking on the front steps of the converted church venue I was mercilessly reminded of just how intricately composed of opposites humanity seems to be. We’re a little bit of everything all at once.
Like many artists, Luz both does and doesn’t need structure. “Initially there’s an overwhelming desire to just get it all out,” she says, “but eventually you always need structure, you always need perspective. We’re playing music because we need it to keep ourselves in check.” When asked about working with Portland’s art and media collective Tender Loving Empire, Luz responds enthusiastically with “I love those guys so much! It’s been a very fruitful and growing experience.”
Having started in Ashland, Oregon the band experienced a new beginning in Portland, where everything came together naturally. “It’s like being exposed to your kindred. These are the people you need to create with.” That’s obvious; the seven piece band’s togetherness in spirit and song is so enveloping it leaves you in a bit of a delicious daze.
Singing in Spanish
As a learned speaker and writer of the Spanish language I no doubt felt it necessary to ask Luz about the artistic and emotive quality differences between singing in English and doing so in Spanish. What does it mean for her to sing in that other-worldly, fiercely rhythmic language? With a coy smile and a hint of apprehension in her voice Luz tells me “Spanish is a different vulnerability, it’s such another crazy monster”. Indeed something dissimilar seems to come over her as she sings us foreign stories of haunts and hopes.
The Story of Song
The blessing of the band entire is their ability to play music of a deeply personal nature that is still holistically and captivatingly communal. Though the stories told through their songs are rooted in their experiences, their lives, we can still find ourselves in them. “Music is your home, philosophy, sanctuary.” Luz says, “A way of remembering we’re not just flesh and bone, we have a voice; we have a heart.”
Indeed the gift of Y La Bamba’s music is that it does help us remember such a truth.
Above photo by Adam Ward of Stereopathic Music.
Download: “November” by Y La Bamba