Tijuana just might be the Las Vegas of Mexico -- a boomtown sin city widely regarded as bereft of any culture above kitsch. Creemos que no, say the members of Nortec Collective -- an assemblage of Tijuana-based musicians, DJs, poets, painters and filmmakers. As Roberto Mendoza, a.k.a. Nortec performer Panóptica, recently told LA Citybeat, "We are prostitution and gay bars and Marine bars and a dump for San Diego. We are also one of the biggest drug centers in Mexico. But we're artists. We're all of that."
"Nortec" stands for "norteño techno," and as opposed to their earlier recordings, Tijuana Sessions Vol. 3 gives live musicians equal time amid the DJ wizardry. And in addition to the accordion-heavy norteño we Tejanos are most accustomed to, Nortec also dishes out the whomping-tuba, rattling-snare, Germanic-feeling banda and tambora of Mexico's Pacific Coast. And they really are a collective -- five guys from Tijuana, each with nicknames ("Hiperboreal," "Clorofila," "Panóptica," "Bostich" and "Fussible"), plus their gringo buddies Calexico contribute tracks here, aided by a small army of guest singers, programmers and musicians.
Overall this comes across as transgalactic Mexican music -- imagine if George Lucas had been born Jorge and the Star Wars saga were a south-of-the-border-tinged affair. The clarinet-infused Gypsy stomp of Hiperboreal's "Don Loope" and the dub-tinged mariachi of "Dandy del Sur" wouldn't sound out of place in a Sonoran version of Tattooine's cantina, so much so that you might want to add aquamarine dye to the tequila you'll want to drink with this CD to give the booze that "long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away" vibe.
Oddly, on several of the tuba-driven numbers, the music has a strange affinity with New Orleans/Louisiana funk. For example, the reggaelike "Autobanda" by Bostich puts us strongly in mind of the Rebirth Brass Band's cover of "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," while Clorofila's "Almada" has an excellent Grambling-marching-band-does-the-mambo sound. And "Funky Tamazula," also by Clorofila, marries wa-wa guitars with bold brass like New Orleans late-'90s supergroup All That.
Later the CD moves through an echo-laden and dubby psilocybin-drenched phase before closing with a raucous tribute to Herb Alpert and a jaunty, off-kilter banda number called "El Fracaso," which, ironically on such a good record, means "The Failure." Not a whiff of that here -- these folks set out to change our perception of Tijuana and entertain us, and these Sessions do just that.
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