When English trumpet player and singer Jenny Ball ended up at a flamenco club in Spain about 10 years ago, she never imagined that a chance encounter with two Mexican musicians who worked there would set her on an unpredictable but fruitful musical journey.
Ball, who was 18 and living in London at the time, was touring in Spain as part of an orchestra when she met bass guitar player Luis Díaz “Icho” and flamenco guitarist Alfonso Acosta “Pantera.” All of them began dreaming about making music together.
“At that age you’re like, ‘I want to see the world. I want to do things,’” Ball says. In 2008, she packed her bags, moved to Spain and launched a band without speaking any Spanish.
Today, Jenny and the Mexicats are rising Latin alternative artists who have turned heads in Europe and Mexico for their bilingual genre-blending grooves that mesh everything from flamenco to rockabilly for a sound as unique as their unlikely union. Jenny and the Mexicats will make their Austin debut at SXSW.
“Within the band we have so many musical influences, so it really doesn’t sound like anything else,” says Ball, who has experience performing jazz and classical music. She’s been playing trumpet since she was 7, and says that’s how she got her musical ear. “I actually wanted to learn how to play the trombone when I was a little girl, but my arm’s weren’t long enough,” she jokes.
It’s a rare treat to see a female trumpet player also front a band, and Ball says she feels a sense of “girl power” whenever she sees other female trumpet players take the stage. As a vocalist, though, she says it’s not always easy using the same gulp of air to play the trumpet line and then sing a verse. “It’s quite physical, but your body learns,” she says.
Adding some flamenco flair to the musical mix is Spanish cajón player David González Bernardos, who the band recruited instead of a drummer. González Bernardos also inspired the “cat” part of the band’s name since people from Madrid are nicknamed “gatos.”
Bringing González Bernardos onboard meant that, at first, Díaz and Acosta often translated between him and Ball since González Bernardos doesn’t speak English. But over time, Ball learned to speak, sing and write songs in Spanish.
Since they’ve been together Jenny and the Mexicats have made several multi-national moves, which has helped broaden their fanbase and formed a tight bond among them. They relocated from Spain to England, back to Spain and then to Mexico, where they’re now based.
“We’re still the same original people in the band, and we’ve managed to keep growing, moving and learning cultures together,” Ball says. “We’re making music and adapting.”
In 2012, they launched a self-titled debut album, which went gold with the popular song “Verde más allá.” They released their sophomore album “Ome” in 2014, which featured several collaborations with artists including Mexican tropical orchestra, La Sonora Santanera.
Jenny and the Mexicats have started touring throughout Latin America, and “we’re starting to knock on the door of the U.S. of A.,” Ball says. They hope their multicultural sound resonates with diverse American audiences, just like it has around the world. “It’s been a goal to play SXSW, and we’re excited about it.”
Showcase: 11 p.m. Friday, March 18, at Continental Club.
More Latin alternative artists at SXSW
Master Blaster Sound System’s cultural mashups result in cumbia electronica that pushes musical boundaries. Don’t miss the chance to catch these Austin party instigators live. (1 a.m. Thursday, March 17, Lucky Lounge)
Carrie Rodriguez’ twang-laden songs have captured the hearts of Americana music fans for years, but for the Austinite’s latest album, “Lola,” the talented fiddle player and singer connects with her Latin roots and creates a modern twist to Tex-Mex music. (8 p.m. Thursday, March 17, The Majestic)
Listen to just a few notes of Chicano Batman’s soulful throwback sounds and it’s easy to imagine it being the soundtrack to a laid-back, retro Chicano film. And with the name Chicano Batman, you can’t expect anything less than cool from this Los Angeles-based bilingual quartet. (10 p.m. Saturday, March 19, Maggie Mae’s)
Singer-songwriter Mitre’s haunting blend of bilingual songs are inspired by everything from spaghetti westerns to traditional Mexican music. We’re hoping that since Austin’s David Garza is featured on Mitre’s song “Aguacero” that he’ll join him for this SXSW appearance. (8 p.m. Friday, March 18, Departure Lounge)
New York rapper Nitty Scott MC has been on the rise lately with her socially conscious music that explores themes from her Afro Latina identity to mental health and spirituality. The half-Puerto Rican, half-African American artist has collaborated with rappers such as Kendrick Lamar and Action Bronson. (11:10 p.m. Saturday, March 19, Speakeasy)
Originally a punk rock band, Houston’s Los Skarnales didn’t lose their edge when they branched out to play a blend of Latin ska, reggae, rockabilly and cumbia. (Midnight Thursday, March 17, Lucky Lounge and midnight Friday, March 18, at Flamingo Cantina)