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By Lauren Wise
Certainly, this publication has already spent some time extolling the virtues of Tucson's Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta — especially when I called them Arizona's most important band in September.
Considering probably only a few of you drove down I-10 to see the band perform in Tucson at the HoCo Fest or at the Rialto, the group's first Phoenix-area gig as a headliner is an opportunity to experience in person the group's incredibly energetic, exciting, and modern take on the mambo. This year, Mendoza and his giant band of cohorts have opened for Calexico at Heritage Square, performed at the Outside Lands festival in San Francisco, and, later this month, will open for legendary punk band X's Christmas show at the Wiltern in Los Angeles.
Considering that the group formed less than a year ago and its career arc so far, it's not unreasonable to say they might not be playing venues the size of the Rhythm Room for long. We reached Sergio via e-mail on tour in France to get a preview of the best $10 show of 2009.
New Times: How were you introduced to the mambo?
Sergio Mendoza: I was introduced to mambo by my father, at the early age of 4. It was actually some of the first music I heard. That, the Beatles, and Mexico's Los Apson Boys.
NT: How was the process of assembling such a large band? How do you manage to wrangle that many members together for shows on the road?
SM: Assembling the band was easy . . . I have played in many bands around the area, so all I had to do was call on those musicians that were fun to work with and easy to get along with. I wasn't looking so much for the best-skilled musicians, but for the ones that would commit to a project. Taking the project on the road can be challenging, but not impossible. If the guys want to go, we make it happen. Four people per room, sleeping bags, you name it. We'll do it.
NT: How has the experience of jumping into the amount of success the group has so quickly been for you? There aren't many bands that get to open for X at the Wiltern after only a year of existence.
SM: It certainly feels great. It's been many years of hard work with different projects going on and some shows for 20 to 30 people . . . Nothing wrong with those, but it is a nice reward for us to play with important acts such as X. Our first show was opening up for Calexico, and the band had only existed for one week and we got asked by [Calexico's] Joey Burns to be their support act. The best part for me is learning from these acts: seeing how they do things, how do they do soundcheck, how they treat each other. How do you lead a band with 11-plus people in it? It's hard, but those are the things we want to improve as a group, and that's what we take from those experiences.
NT: What would you tell those on the fence about attending the Rhythm Room show? What should they expect?
SM: The show at the Rhythm Room will be great. We feel very proud to represent Tucson's new generation of musicians. We have members of many different Tucson groups: The Jons, Mostly Bears, Salvador Duran, salsa groups. The Rhythm Room will be turned into a crazy musical dance party, and you can expect music from all the bands mentioned. In a way, I think of it as Tucson going on tour.