My years of living in Tucson gave me a deep love of the borderlands between southern Arizona and Mexico: the dramatic beauty of the desert landscape, the vibrancy of border culture, the complexity of its history, dark and bright. Tucson itself is a dusty modern city grown out of an old, old town, continuously settled for over 12,000 years, marked by its distinctive blend of Mexican, European, and Native American influences. Today's music comes from a much-loved Tucson band, Calexico, founded by Joey Burns and John Convertino, who have been crossing cultural borders for two decades now. Calexico encapsulates everything I love best about Tucson: the fusion of laconic cowboy and dynamic Mexican styles; the exuberant mix of Sonoran cultural traditions, aesthetics, and languages; and the ever-present dusty heat of the desert, which is almost palpable in the music.
Calexico's work has a strong mariachi influence, and they often join with Tuscon's great mariachi bands for hometown gigs. The single best concert I've ever been to in my life was one of these combined performances, at the Rialto Theatre in the spring of 2008: Calexico, two full mariachi bands, and a host of other musicians...there must have been 30-odd musicians on stage by the end, and it's a wonder they didn't blow the roof off the place with their energy, their passion, and their big, bold sound. It was beyond good, it was absolutely sublime, and I was high from it for days. (And sore, too, from hours of dancing.)
Above, the video for "Crystal Frontier," a song about border-crossing containing references to the La Llorona folktale.
Above, crossing musical borders of another kind: Calexico performs their song "Fortune Teller," backed by the Radio Symphonieorchester Wien and the audience, at ORF Radio Kulturhaus in Vienna, Austria (2012).
Below, Calexico and the Greek band Takim combine musical traditions for the Lizard Sound Sessions in Athens, Greece (2014).
Calexico's latest album, Edge of the Sun, was inspired by the music and culture of Mexico City. The song below, "Cumbia de Donde," is from the new album, performed with Guatemalan singer/songwriter Gaby Moreno a few months ago.
Lordy, this is making me miss Tucson this morning....
If you'd like little more music today, try the new video of Calexico and Neko Case performing "Tapping on the Line," which is also from Edge of the Sun; or "Alone Again," a classic Calexico song performed live in Germany in 2011.