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Calexico hit home in Tucson

photo courtesy of Cal productions
Tucson's Calexico has gained international fame with a sound that blends music from around the world, yet it remains a distinctly Southwestern band.
By Djamila Noelle Grossman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, November 18, 2004
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Band brings wordly wisdom back to Tucson

Calexico can carry the title "world music" without restrictions. Consisting of band members living in Tucson, Germany and Holland, they are influenced by different cultures. Its colorful fusion of styles lead the Tucson-based band all over the world, leaving footprints on fans' minds, taking elements to enhance their music.

"There are a lot of different influences from jazz, gypsy music, indie rock, rock, Mexican folk, world music... just to name a few," said Joey Burns, singer and guitarist for Calexico. "Each band member has done a lot of traveling over the years. And I think that's a big influence."

It is important for the band to pass on their versatility to the listener. The music is not supposed to be bound to a certain area or country, but connect to people regardless of their ethnic background.

"That's what's so beautiful about music, that it speaks to many different languages, so many different cultures. And that's where I think our band goes," Burns said. "Somehow in our use of a wide variety of instruments we can bring out the sense of traveling. I think it's really important that a song goes somewhere, to take a listener out of a feeling or a place and transport him."

Calexico formed in 1996, when Burns and drummer John Convertino, started to do home recordings inspired by friends; many of those were just messages on answering machines. Their debut was released on a German label under the band name Spoke. Later on they found out that another band carried that name and changed to Calexico.

"We had done so much traveling between California and Arizona and seen this ominous sign for this town called Calexico. On one side is California and Calexico and on the other side in Mexico is Mexicali. It seemed like this beautiful marriage, this Yin and Yang. And at that time we started to branch out to be inspired by not only the '80s rock or folk music from the states, but also by Afro-Cuban, Eastern European Gypsy and many more. So we kinda chose a name that represented that," Burns said.

Even though he has seen many places, Burns always likes to come back to Tucson and admires the special atmosphere of his hometown, an atmosphere created by travelers like him.

"Tucson is set up on those crossroads in a way. So it's a remarkable feeling of people moving. There's a lot of great stories passing through town, if you just take time and talk to people," he said.

Another aspect is the way old and new mingles in Tucson, which the band tries to reflect in their music.

"To me, the warehouse district downtown it such a great use of old industrial space. We connect to that with our love for old instruments. People try to say something new with those old things. I think that's why Tucson attracts a lot of artists. The environment here is incredible. It's a big small town. I always enjoy coming back to Tucson," said Burns.

Calexico is going to continue to pick up melodies in the world and incorporate them into their style. The band is all about bringing together different elements, and members have to travel in order to pass them on to their audience.

"(I'd like to) continue to do more traveling trough South America, Eastern Europe and connect with musicians in those places," said Burns. "At the same time I like being here in the states too. Connect with places and people out there, to see what's going on, to see if the country is divided or if there is a distance from one another."

Calexico are playing at City Limits, 6350 E. Tanque Verde Road on Friday. Doors open at 8 p.m, tickets are $15.

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