Singer Jackie Mendez Finds Universality In Reggae

Photo Credit: Mark Morales

Born in South El Monte, Jackie Mendez was raised in the San Gabriel Valley.  As a kid, She moved around the SGV a lot with her mom. Now though, she lives in the town she grew up in again, working as a hairstylist. And sometimes she gets to travel to places like Europe, Australia, and Mexico. This is all because of her love for reggae music, and the day she decided to pick up a guitar.

Growing up in South El Monte, Mendez got heavily into reggae and ska in her teens. At the time, she noticed a lot of the bands she liked would do covers of older reggae songs. This would send her into a rabbit hole, looking for artists she had no idea existed or could even fathom of.

“I noticed bands like the Specials would do covers of old reggae songs they liked, so I got into a lot of ’60s reggae like Alton Ellis and Phyllis Dillon,” says Mendez. “All those artists inspired me, especially a woman like Phyllis Dillon. It’s just oldies. But the feel of the music made me want to do that style.” Mendez would also get really into the vintage look of the ’60s emulating the looks of people like the Supremes, Nancy Sinatra, and Bridget Bardot.

Mendez grew up in a strict religious home. However, her family loved music, too. This gave an outlet to explore her own individuality. “I always saw my dad messing with instruments when I was little,” says Mendez.  Mendez father was a musician for the church and her mother was a singer in the church choir. “It’s actually how they met,” Mendez says. Hispanic parents are strict, so for fun they would just go church. When they were young, that was the their version of going to a concert.

“I definitely got it from my family,” Mendez explains. “There’s a couple of singers in our family. They were singing for church and music has always been around. Especially with my dad, he’s always been very musical. He never did anything serious with it, but he’s always loved singing.”

One day hanging out at home, looking over at her father’s guitar, she decided she wanted to play it. She strummed a couple of chords. However, her father’s busy work schedule never allowed him to properly teach Mendez, so she learned on her own.  She would listen to songs she liked and learn how to play them by ear. “They were probably wrong. That’s why I’m not that good,” Mendez says laughing.

As she got older, she got into the crust punk scene in the San Gabriel Valley area. She frequently went to backyard DIY shows with her friends. Most of her friends were into skating, punk, and metal music at the time. Although at one point she was too, Mendez began to get into new things particularly ska and reggae — like the Specials, Dance Hall Crashers, and Save Ferris — but she would go to shows anyway because she liked going to backyard shows.

As her love for music began to grow, so did her desire to actually play it. She joined a ska-punk band and began to play bass. The band lasted from junior year of high school to a little bit after high school ended. After the demise of the first band, she joined another group with her cousin. She started out playing keys, but ended up singing. Since then, she went solo after the group disbanded.

Mendez eventually got signed to Angel City Records as a solo artist and gradually began to make her own music. So far, Mendez has released three EPs and is currently working on her first full-length record. She’s toured with acts like the Chilean superstar Mon Laferte and her label mates, the Delirians. And the more she’s toured, the more she’s realized how universal reggae music really is.

“When I went to Mexico they made feel really special. When I did covers, they would sing every word and they don’t even really speak english.”

Jackie Mendez will perform at Harvelle’s in Long Beach on March 25th. Show starts at 5pm. For full details, click here.


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