When we think of the border, we generally think of sweltering deserts, seedy red light districts, border checkpoints under a brutal sun. And while that’s true, there’s more. The border between the US and Mexico is an international border. I can recall the Border Patrol picking up immigrants who had just crossed the Rio Grande. Sure, plenty of times there were Mexicans and Guatemalans, but also Cubans, Central Americans, South Americans, Chinese, Iranians and Ukrainians. The entire world percolates through the southern border. People come from all over to cross that line and plenty of them stay here. They put down roots, plant little seeds of their culture, their music, their language in the first bit of American soil they set foot on. The border is a place with cities like Tucson, San Diego, El Paso. There’s a cosmopolitan border, if you know how to look for it.
Calexico understands what a worldly place the border is. They fuse sounds like steel guitars and rollicking rancheras to electronica, indie rock, and a slew of Latin styles. Take the ubiquitous cumbia. It’s a product of Colombia, but it’s wound it’s way north by countless immigrant trails, taking hold all over the Americas. In Calexico’s hands, it sounds somehow brand new and well worn, putting a 21st century spin and Tom Waits grit on it that reflects the swirling influences found on the border. It’s a sophisticated spin on regular folks music. Equally at home blaring out of tinny car speaker or in a concert hall; Calexico, more than any other band I’ve heard, epitomizes what the border is and sounds like: alluring, rough around the edges, cosmopolitan, sprawling, exotic and familiar.
The new Calexico album drops in March. I’ll be reviewing it here. Until then, here’s Cumbia de Donde to tide us over.