Orkesta Mendoza's latest release, Curandero, is the album we need right now. Not only is it a great summertime banger sure to be a staple at backyard barbeques from Nogales to Paris, but the album is also sure to cure your blues while quarantining.
Chock-full of upbeat Latin rhythms and topped off with light-hearted lyrics about paletas, lazy mornings, and the girl next door who becomes Instagram famous, even Morrissey would have a hard time being depressed while listening to Curandero (Spanish for "medicine man").
"I've already had a couple of cookouts showing (the album) to friends and it just sounds good," said Sergio Mendoza, Orkesta Mendoza's singer/guitarist/keyboardist/percussionist/creative force. "You can turn it up and almost forget about what's playing because it's fun and inviting."
Mendoza said the album had its genesis in the group's other releases, Mambo Mexicano! (2012) and ¡Vamos a Guarachar! (2016), along with his experiences with the other groups he's a part of, Calexico and Devotchka. The Nogales-born musician has long been mixing various Latin music styles into something new. For example the opening track, "Paleta," draws from a Brazilian style of music called Forró.
"The first song is kind of like a forró, a Brazilian style that is played by three musicians—accordion, triangle and a big drum," Mendoza said. "With 'Paleta,' I was trying to go for a Brazilian cumbia, which doesn't really exist but things were combining and worked well together."
Orkesta Mendoza captures the real vibe of Southern Arizona down Interstate 19 to Sonora, Mexico on their latest effort. Mendoza and company will be treating their fans in Europe and North America to a slice of life from the Old Pueblo.
That is, if Orkesta Mendoza is able tour Europe and North America to promote Curandero. The group was set to leave on their 2020 European tour on May 1 but had to cancel due to the pandemic. To make matters worse, the band was unable to reschedule the album's release for a later date after COVID-19 runs its course or a vaccine becomes available.
"This is really tricky. We have an album without a tour and hopefully we'll be able to tour. But by that time our album will be six to eight months old," Mendoza said. "Touring is where you make your investment back."
Mendoza said the group received a small cash advance from Glitter Beat, his European record label, to get started on the album, but the rest of the cost to finish it came straight from Mendoza's own pocket, he said.
But the album almost didn't happen.
Orkesta Mendoza had originally recorded a more serious album in 2018. After sending the demo tracks to several record labels worldwide and friends to check out, the consensus was clear: It was a good album, but sounded like a different band.
"At least three people told me that the music we had written was really serious and it didn't sound like Orkesta music," said Mendoza. "The European label said to go back into the studio and record at least two cumbias that are simple and fun."
Mendoza's friend from the group Mexican Institute of Sound, Camilo Lara, said the same thing—the lyrics were too serious.
"(Lara) was like, 'Hey man, it's really cool stuff but how about you go back into the studio and record a few songs about nothing. Just make them fun and silly,'" Mendoza said.
When he returned from touring Europe with Calexico in August 2019, he was finally in the right headspace to pursue what would ultimately be Curandero. The album was written in three days with bandmate Quetzal Guerrero. The group recorded, mixed and mastered the whole album during the last three months of 2019. He said the album was "based around boogaloo, but really, it was just an excuse to rock out. Boogaloo is the root, but rock 'n' roll, that's my love, too."
Mendoza added that he wanted the record to be a fun listen.
"The focus and inspiration was just trying to make fun music that was about nothing. Everything about this album is fun," Mendoza said. "Quetzal Guerrero wrote co-wrote most of the album with me. We wrote the songs in about three days and there was not a whole lot of editing."
Guerrero said working on Curandero was a very organic and natural project where deadlines didn't exist and they could just create with no pressure.
"I loved working with Sergio. There was never any pressure or deadlines to have to deliver something," Guerrero said. "It was very much about us having a good time jamming together, telling stories, laughing and letting the creative process flow."
Guerrero focused his lyrics on life experiences he and Mendoza have had over their near 30-year friendship. The two have known each other since they were 12 years old, and even played in a middle school band together called Gato Loco, Guerrero said.
"Because me and Sergio have such a long history together there are always these stories we crack up about, whether it be about girls or some band fiasco," Guerrero said. "There's just a lot of life stories (on the album), a lot of life experience."