Nacha Mendez is a Latin World musician who lives and performs in Santa Fe. She started playing guitar at just 6 years old. Four years later she began singing. Her grandmother used to sing as a young girl at the markets in Mexico. The Santa Fe musician proudly uses her grandmother’s name as her own stage name and says, “My grandmother taught me the first songs.” The Ranchera songs she learned from the original Nacha Mendez were just the beginning for this acclaimed musician.
Mendez says, “In junior high and high school I started entering talent shows. I thought I love this! I’m going to keep going with this!”
As a child Mendez struggled in school and did not speak, but music and art helped her find her voice. She says, “I had a learning disability and they couldn’t figure out what was going on with me. I found art and music and that kept me in a good place in my life. I thought this is another way to communicate.” In her spare time, she still enjoys painting, sculpting and hiking.
Her high school speech teacher made a big impact on her life. Mendez says, “She got me out of my shell. It was another way for me to express myself.”
Mendez’ music has helped her become a success and navigate her world. When Mendez was in her twenties she worked at the American Foundation for the Blind in a recording studio. “I had to follow the actors narrating. I had to read along with them and because it was combined with audio it was easier to navigate and follow them as they read.” As a result of her job, Mendez’ reading improved and she became the studio’s go-to person for pronunciation of books read in Spanish.
She spent her college years working in radio and studying journalism. She worked as a production director and on-air radio host in Santa Fe and New York. Audio has helped her navigate her way around the world and that is something she finds comforting.
Mendez has performed locally and toured throughout Europe and Japan. The first time she traveled out of the country was for Robert Ashley’s opera “Now Eleanor’s Idea.” She was a lead singer in the opera and helped translate the libretto. Mendez says, “Three or four months later the tenor couldn’t make the tour so I toured with him. I had to really cram and learn two more operas. I would say it was the best time of my life. I was really getting to see the world.”
Now Mendez is giving back to young musicians with the Nacha Mendez Scholarship for New Mexican Girls of Color. The scholarship was started in 2021. Mendez says, “It was a seed that my brother had planted when I received the New Mexico Platinum Lifetime Achievement award.” Twenty scholarships have already been awarded to girls with financial need in New Mexico. The girls range in age from eight to fifteen years old. “I feel like it is helping them.” Mendez says, “It gives them a little monetary support and they can buy an instrument, or a laptop, or travel to a music camp. These are young girls who can’t afford to do these things and are recommended by their teachers.” Mendez hopes the girls will remember the validation and encouragement they receive, just like Mendez received from her own teachers.
Mendez is Apache, Mexican, and Spanish but sings a variety of music from most of the world’s Spanish-speaking countries. Mendez says she learned to appreciate music from around the world after a good friend told her to learn a new song for every country she travels to. She took that advice and followed it. Mendez says, “I can be there just by learning the music.” In 2013 the musician received the New Mexico industry award for best production for her song “Bella Isabel” in the Latin music category.
She was recently awarded a residency at Jack Straw Studios in Seattle. She will use that residency to record her new album produced by Steve Peters. The album will feature Latin World music and guest musicians from the Seattle area. It will be released in 2024.
Mendez hopes to continue making music, painting, and sculpting. She says, “I still want to do music but it's evolving and changing.” After completing an acting project for Meow Wolf she hopes to land more roles in the future. She is also passionate about encouraging young musicians through her scholarship. For more details visit https://nachamendezscholarship.com or https://nachamendez.com
Upcoming Santa Fe performances:
La Boca Sundays 6-8pm
Hotel Santa Fe Fridays 7-9pm