Monday, May 25, 2009
Tejano roots : Lydia Mendoza
Lydia Mendoza - Mal Hombre (buy) (1934)
Lydia Mendoza (1916-2007) was the first female star in tejano music, a living Mexican-American legend on both sides of the border, with a life story that reads like a novel, full of carwrecks, alcooholic fathers and husbands, and segregation. Her recording career spans 6 decades, from 1928 to 1988, but her golden days were in the thirties when she started recording solo with her 12-string guitar. She was called 'La Alondra de la Frontera' (The Meadowlark Of The Border) and 'La Cancionera de los Pobres' (The Songstress Of The Poor). Thanks to Chris Strachwitz at Arhoolie Records, her beautiful recordings are now available in CD on various compilations.
For biographical information, you can check the short AMG bio, but if you want to know more about the lady, please don't miss this awesome article on fRoots site.
Born in Houston, she had to support her family by playing music in San Antonio plazas with her sisters. Recorded in 1934 by Bluebird, her song "Mal Hombre" became an instant hit but his father, a drunkard who prefered to stay at home and spend the money his daughter had earnt, prefered to be paid cash rather than in royalties, so although her records sold, Lydia stayed poor and on the road for the major part of the 30s and 40s.
After the war, things got better for her. She recorded for companies (especially Ideal) who paid her better, got to tour extensively in the US and in Mexico (but not before the sixties)where she was welcomed by huge mobs. In the seventies and eighties, thanks to her rediscovery by Arhoolie, she continued to perform and received all due honors.
Lydia Mendoza - Adios Muchachos (Canción Tango) (buy) (193?)
According to Strachwitz, "Lydia's totally unique. She's from the early era of recording and was the first and only real star of that era. She sang all types of songs and never stopped by limiting herself to any one genre as did, say, Chelo Silva, who only sang boleros in the early '50s. But that was the happening genre by then and catered to a better class, kind of like Bessie Smith versus Billie Holiday. Conjunto accordeon music came to the fore in the early 1950s with musicians like Flaco, Santiago, Trio San Antonio, that's really after Lydia's era. Lydia has recorded with accordeons, orchestras, mariachis, every kind of Mexican music backing. That said, she never fed into the tejano orchestra sound that was to become very popular."
I love her songs from the thirties when she's alone on the 12-string, but she also recorded great sides with orchestras, especially in the fifties, with a bolero flavor that links her music to other parts of Latin America.
Generally speaking and compared to Narciso Martinez (see previous post), her music is much more Spanish and Latin then the very Central European polkas and mazurkas that were often praised in old-time conjunto: The rhythms, the song structures with verses in minor and choruses in major (something that the Beatles adopted on some songs but that was alien to American roots music) make her sound like Cuban son singers like Eliades Ochoa from Buena Vista Social Club.
You'll find her best recordings on Arhoolie compilations. In The Best of Lydia Mendoza, Pedro Almodóvar fans will notice a version of "Piensa En Mi", a song featured on the "High Heels" soundtrack.
Lydia Mendoza - Aunque Me Odies (Canción) (buy) (1954)