I challenge anyone to really describe Y La Bamba(currently on the Great Northwest Music Tour) accurately. This band is so original, so genre-bending, so strange (in a good way), they defy the usual modus operandi of lazy music writers everywhere: comparison. Comparing this Portland group to any other band is simply impossible.
So we'll have to do the best we can, with snippets of aural imagery and forays into the band's personality. So let's try: Moody, melodic, multi-cultural post-folk (that is, folk with a bit of a backbeat -which in this case feels like a melancholy heartbeat) centered on singer Luzelena Mendoza's swirl of a voice. No, "swirl" is too weak of a word. It's strong and feminine, like a Frida Kahlo painting, this voice. No, not like a painting -- like Frida herself.
The band culls influence from the deep recesses of Mexico up to the border, then crosses time zones and time signatures and even timelines to pull from Eastern European traditions, gypsy music, low sad horns ebbing and flowing behind hypnotic harmonies, before switching gears to an off-kilter minimalism, just an acoustic guitar and that voice. San Francisco street music.
All of which is to say, an Y La Bamba show is beautiful and enchanting, and intense and exciting. It will leave you breathless.
Their Tour continues Friday, February 18, at Edgefield.
Check out Y La Bamba's "Juniper," to get you going: