Update 6/26: Event promoter Escala Sonora has announced that Y La Bamba's appearance at the Citadel has been canceled due to "unforeseen circumstances."
"Music is what made me," Luz Elena Mendoza Ramos tells New Times. And with their band, Y La Bamba, which makes its Miami concert debut on July 21, music is what they will bring.
Born to Mexican parents on the West Coast, music has always been central to their life.
"I found my voice as a little kid. I loved to sing in front of people," Mendoza Ramos says. "I knew myself through singing. It came as naturally to me as eating or going to the bathroom."
Mendoza Ramos sang choir in school, taught themself guitar as a teenager, and eventually began writing songs in a distinctly '90s manner.
"I used to buy cassette tape singles where one side had the lyrics, and the other side had instrumentals. Remember those? I'd use those instrumentals to write lyrics for my songs," they say.
That rudimentary process is how the 2008 Y La Bamba debut album, Alida St., came to be. A hauntingly beautiful record, Mendoza Ramos now dismisses it as "shitty lo-fi recordings I did on my four-track. I don't play that music anymore. I've grown as a person."
When asked how specifically they've grown as a person, that's a more complicated question.
"It's a lot more info than I have time to answer, being a 41-year-old queer Mexican figuring out my ownership as a person," they say. "It's been a painfully awkward experience getting to know myself."
Still, Mendoza Ramos is happy to discuss Y La Bamba's latest album, Lucha. Released back in April, it features 11 bilingual tracks.
"Making it was introspective. It was birthed out of COVID and even before that," Mendoza Ramos adds. "I'm glad to release it. It's about resilience and talking about my queerness. I write a lot about my mom, who, as an immigrant, dealt with a lot of misogyny. People say I'm vulnerable now, but I've always been vulnerable."
Despite the serious and personal nature of the record, the writing and recording of Lucha also had a playful side.
"I like to record on tape so I can slow things down and speed them up. I love to layer play," they say. "I like to add nuances of the sounds I'm experiencing. The recording started in Portland and ended in Mexico City, so I got to sample my aunt's backyard with her roosters."
Now, Mendoza Ramos' travels are set to take them to Miami for a show at the Citadel on July 21.
"I've wanted to come to Miami for so long," they say. "I'm excited to connect with the diaspora, and I hope to build a community together so I can keep coming back."
For those set to experience Y La Bamba live for the first time, Mendoza Ramos says audiences can expect "big heart." They add, "We have seven people, two backing singers; we sing harmony. I really wanted girl-gang vocals. We have two guitars and congas. It's very vocal heavy."
To prepare for the show, the band does a lot of breathing exercises beforehand. "We meditate as a group. If I didn't do that, I'd lose my shit," Mendoza Ramos adds. "It's intense to go up there in front of a lot of people. Sometimes I get nervous."
On the stage, Mendoza Ramos tries to emulate their Spanish-language musical heroes, including Cuban singer La Lupe and Colombian-Canadian singer Lido Pimienta. Still, they aim to put plenty of themself into the music.
"This is the poetry of being a first-generation Mexican-American," Mendoza Ramos says.
Y La Bamba. 8 p.m. Friday, July 21, at the Citadel, 8300 NE Second Ave., Miami; escalasonora.com. Tickets cost $25 to $150 via seetickets.us.