Concert Review: Sergio Mendoza y La Orkesta

Categories: Concert Review

​I cannot claim to be an expert on -- or even a dedicated aficionado of -- Latin music. My Spanish skills, though purportedly honed by classes taken over three years in high school and another two semesters in college, are more suited to ordering food and drinks than following the dialogue spoken on a telenovela. I do not, and cannot, dance any definable steps, let alone mambo or tango. I can identify perhaps a dozen songs sung in Spanish, and one of those is Shakira's "La Tortura."

So the feeling I get from seeing Tucson-based Latin big band Sergio Mendoza y La Orkesta, which came to the Rhythm Room Thursday night, isn't caused by any deep understanding of the  super-swinging and hyper-stylized music's context. No, I had the experience I imagine the majority of the half-seated, half-dancing mixed-age crowd did, which was the same one those teenagers in Russia supposedly had when Bon Jovi came to their Levi's-deprived nation in 1989. You know, that extra-lingual reaction. Like, I didn't really know what any of the shit they were saying meant, but, damn, was it exotically cool.

The 11-piece band, which is made up of some Tucson townies and some of Mendoza's fellow Calexico cohorts, has drawn exceedingly well at the Rialto, Tucson's answer to the Marquee Theatre, so this was a smaller show for them. It wasn't quite a sell-out, but an impressive Thursday crowd, boasting an inordinately large number of men in fanciful hats, was unquestionably grooving to songs like "Mambo No. 8."

I was a little concerned about how the band, which at times included three trumpeters and two saxophonists along with two percussionists, a guitarist, a bassist and Sergio's right-hand man, Salvador Duran, who also sings and tap-dances (!) would fit on the stage. I should have known better: looking "cramped" on stage is not graceful or classy, and everything this band does is graceful or classy. So, however they did it, all 11 guys in the band looked comfortable.

Like I said, I didn't understand anything the band said, but, as the night went on I found myself doing what all the other Anglos in the crowd were doing, which is yell "wooooo" after anything Sergio said in Spanish. Like those Russian teenagers, I had a hell of a time doing it. 

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Sergio Mendoza y La Orkesta

Better Than: Shakira... whenever, wherever...

Personal Bias: Ummmm, Anti-Arpaio?

Random Fact: In Spanish class I always went by "Manuel" instead of Marteeeeen. I chose this name in honor of Señor Noriega.

Further Listening: "Sombras" gives you a pretty good feel for the music.

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