It feels to me that 2017 has been a year of division and anxiety. There is a list of hurts as far as the eye can see across our beautiful nation, so many conflicting identities seemingly held together in name only. Living into this tension is draining, and I rely on the camaraderie of music. Sometimes I look for songs that serve as fuel, propelling me to do all the good I can with what I have. But sometimes I just want—just need—a little solace, a way to acknowledge the world as it is and still offer hope for a better tomorrow.
Enter the syncretistic magic of Y La Bamba, the Portland, Oregon-based band headed by the incomparable Luz Elena Mendoza. The child of Michoacan parents who raised their daughter between the forests of Southern Oregon and the deserts of Southern California, Mendoza is no stranger to a life of intersecting identities. She brings both mariachi and bluegrass traditions together to create her own sound filled, now with longing, now with dancing, always with love like a force of nature.
In “Winter Skin” from 2010’s Lupon, I hear her image of a fragile bridge suggested by the slow-step of a minor-key waltz. Mendoza’s voice cries out in a plea for a broken lullaby, and is answered by the eerie hum of a theremin. Strings, accordion, brass, and the chorus of bandmates all do their part to help warm her wind-chilled winter night.
Let’s build a couple fragile of bridges together
Let’s run across it and reach the sky
Let’s run across and meet the next hazel sunrise
It’s a sign of failure written all over these lonely skies
and our fortune has created time
Time of existing in a beginning
so today the sun refused to shine
Sing me to sleep
Oh my darling, your eyes
refused to catch my tear
Sing me to sleep
Winter is here.