There is a fault line that runs through the city of Nogales: the Mexican-American border. Sergio Mendoza has often crossed it. He was born in Nogales, Arizona, raised in Nogales, Sonora, and now lives back in Arizona. But the music he and his band make isn’t Mexican or American, it’s something else entirely – a sound that marries the regional styles blaring from speakers on one side of the border to those from the other; and a sensibility that thumbs its nose at los políticos. Border, what border?
Blending cumbia and mambo with psychedelic rock, polka, country and electronica, Orkesta Mendoza imagines what Nogales would sound like if the border didn’t exist. On their new album, ¡Vamos a Guarachar! (“Let’s Dance!”), spirits run high. Effervescent horns in “Cumbia Volcadora” make for a bold, brassy stomp. Bristling with guitar riffs, “Caramelos” swaggers and struts. And dressed in their uniform of black suits and sunglasses, the band look like nothing so much as the Blues Brothers playing at a Day of the Dead party. “¡Guarachar!” practically begs listeners to strap on their dancing shoes and set aside their cares.
Some of the Orkesta’s songs, though, are tinged with a bitter melancholy: “Cumbia Amor de Lejos” laments the distance separating the singer from his lover. Theirs is the sound of the borderland, after all – and the border ain’t going nowhere.
~ CHARLIE MCCANN
¡Vamos a Guarachar! released Oct 7th
BRINGING GIRL POWER TO THE ORCHESTRA PIT
Hillary Clinton may be about to smash the highest glass ceiling for women, but on the conductor’s podium all the plum positions remain firmly male-occupied. No woman has ever been appointed supremo of any of the world’s top 20 orchestras, and it’s only recently that Simone Young in Hamburg and Xian Zhang in Milan have risen to the summits of the second league.
Could Marin Alsop be the first to break the ultimate barrier? A 59-year-old New Yorker inspired by Leonard Bernstein, she certainly has the requisite charm, experience and determination as well as all-round technique, even if critics have sometimes doubted her ability to make a masterpiece distinctively her own. She has proved an imaginative advocate for classical music through outreach and school programmes. Her vision is clear: “music has the power to change lives,” she says, and she doesn’t let gender stereotypes get in her way.
Currently bringing orchestras in São Paulo and Baltimore to new peaks of excellence, she has a busy autumn conducting symphonies by Beethoven and Mahler. Her contracts in these cities expire at the end of the decade: will Alsop be in the running by then to lead one of the world’s best orchestras? ~ Rupert Christiansen
Beethoven, Bartók, Berlioz, Rodrigo São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, Oct 7th-9th, 13th-15th; Mahler, Beethoven Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Nov 10th-12th, 18th-20th
VAN THE MAN: HE JUST KEEPS ON SINGING
In 1967, Van Morrison told a journalist he’d recently spent time in a monastery; two weeks later he was in a studio in New York recording his biggest hit, “Brown Eyed Girl”. The two events were oddly compatible, for Van the Man really is both a recluse and a pop star. His version of fame has always involved talking to the press as little as possible. And with songs as eloquent as those on his 36th album (which he wrote, performed and produced himself), who needs interviews anyway?
Keep Me Singing is rich with Van’s lifelong preoccupations: jazz, blues and soul music all shaken up with love, memory, spirituality and above all the pleasure of words. Ever since “Brown Eyed Girl”, Morrison has been singing about singing. Even at 71, his voice sounds like fresh air. And having sealed the deal as a proper poet (Faber and Faber published a collection of his lyrics in 2014), he sings a jaunty blues here called “The Pen is Mightier than the Sword”.
Still, he’s always been more stage than page. Though “Keep Me Singing” leans towards polished ballads, it has its moments of coiled energy. “Look Beyond the Hill” swings as slinkily as “Moondance”, while “Going Down to Bangor” has a hard-hitting Celtic-blues swagger. In fact one of the treasures here is entirely instrumental: the closing “Caledonia Swing”, with Van on sax and piano. Even without words, he’s unmistakable. ~ James Manning
Keep Me Singing released Sept 30th, touring in America and Britain Oct 9th-Nov 29th
To listen to a selection of songs from these pages, search “1843mag” on Spotify