Calibre 50 – “Contigo”: NorteñoBlog hasn’t yet discussed what a bad song this is. I’d call it “terrible” but that would imply some level of awe or achievement that’s completely lacking in the music. And what about that music? It sounds like a second-tier Maná power ballad, only without the power. As these guys must know, an accordion isn’t a lead guitar! In some cases it’s better than a lead guitar, but its attempts to sustain single notes sound like wheezes, so the whole song feels empty, a dried out husk of attempted passion. Of course it’s a huge hit, so what do I know?
NO VALE LA PENA
Vicente Fernández – “Estos Celos” (2007): A late career hit written, arranged, and produced by Joan Sebastian, who won the Latin Grammy for Best Regional Mexican Song. The strings and midtempo chug could be ’70s Glen Campbell, as could Fernández’s rue when he sings about his jealousy. His high notes should teach Nick Jonas something about chin music.
VALE LA PENA
Ariel Camacho y Los Plebes del Rancho – “El Karma”: NorteñoBlog has waxed about this song before. Basically, it sounds like nothing else on the radio, Camacho’s endless flutters of requinto deepening a murder ballad that’s cynical but cautionary, mythic but subversive, and coming to you direct from BEYOND THE GRAVE. (As near as I can tell, Camacho tries to kill his daughter’s kidnapper and gets killed himself, so Karma doesn’t work!) This is still the best version of the umpteen floating around. Here’s how I explained it to Frank Kogan, but I may be missing some nuance in how its audience hears it:
The song ends with the line, “nobody escapes the reaper.” Other versions of this song are speedy, either triumphal or drunken, performed by norteño quintet or banda. Camacho’s version is slower, stripped down to two guitars and a tuba, the fatalistic retelling of an old old story. Camacho’s version has become the hit version on regional Mexican radio, where it sounds like nothing else — it’s surrounded by sappy love songs and cheery trafficking songs. In early 2015 Camacho dies in a car wreck and “El Karma” hits #1 on Billboard’s overall Hot Latin chart, albeit during a slow week. (It’s the first norteño song to do so in years.) Possible social critique: this death we sing about so blithely deserves our respect.
VALE LA PENA
El Komander – “Malditas Ganas”: Loose, funny, talking as much as he sings — which is good, given his misguided attempts at balladry — Alfredo Rios defines charismatic. The word “charismatic” implies an apparent lack of effort, right?
VALE LA PENA
Pancho Barraza – “Ignoraste Mis Lagrimas” (1995): The cruel oompah of tears.
NO VALE LA PENA
May 21, 2015 at 12:29 pm
Awesome blog, you really know your norteno/corridos. El Karma is one of the best corridos out recently, also El Guero is badass also. you should really consider doing a podcast, you have great opinions and that post about the grammys and Regional Mexican was spot on. good job.
May 21, 2015 at 6:04 pm
Manuel, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment! I need to return to “El Guero” — to the whole album, really. Do you agree with my idea that “El Karma” casts a serious shadow over the rest of Mexican radio? It may just be since Camacho died, but I know it was getting played last year, and I’ll bet it had the same off-putting effect even then. And do you have any idea who the songwriter El Diez is?
May 21, 2015 at 6:54 pm
El Karma is the new “Chuy y Maurico” its going to spawn countless versions and I bet you a narco pelicula is not too far off. what dID you mean “Off-putting” ? and No, I have no idea who “El Diez” is, honestly I know very few songwriters, except for Giovanni Cabrera.
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May 22, 2015 at 10:49 am
By “off-putting” I meant Camacho’s version of “El Karma” sounds less triumphant and good-natured than the surrounding songs on the radio, especially the other corridos, and less triumphant and good-natured than the other versions of “El Karma.” I have no idea what Camacho’s intentions were when he recorded the song. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was just tailoring a hot corrido to the stripped-down sound of his band. But I wonder whether the radio audience hears Camacho’s “El Karma” as a relief from other corridos, or even as a rebuke to those more triumphant and good-natured takes on violence? (I’m part of the radio audience but I know very little about the rest of the audience.) Camacho seems more serious and less flippant than other corridistas. But I could be mishearing the other corridistas.
Thanks for the valuable comparison to “Chuy y Mauricio.” Here’s a story about the real dudes and their families, mostly for my future reference but also for anyone following along at home: http://www.narcoviolencia.com.mx/2015/03/la-historia-de-chuy-y-mauricio-y-su.html
May 23, 2015 at 6:09 am
in my opinion Ariel Camacho’s version of “El Karma” is the best one. why? because the lyrics fit the voice and style of Ariel, the way he sings it is almost like he is giving his own Eulogy. the lyrics weren’t made for a 15 member band or a rapid fire accordionist, the subject matter is not about partying or how much of a vicious gunman he is, it is about jealousy, love for his daughters and an untimely death because of outside forces. Ariel had the type of talent that made you feel emotion, he gave heart and passion to many songs.
May 24, 2015 at 11:16 am
Yeah, it’s such a lonely song. You get the sense that, aside from his daughters, the narrator didn’t really have any other people in his life. The crime syndicate is just work, to get him out of whatever “agua caliente” he was in back home. Like you, I don’t buy the song when a banda does it, but that’s only after I’ve learned what the words are about. Even the Noel Torres and Voz de Mando version, the first version I heard, seems too lighthearted now; I misread it as “badass” when I reviewed Torres’s album. (Also, related to our Gerardo Ortiz discussion, I’m listening to Torres’s “El Karma” on headphones right now, and wow, talk about boomy drums. But Torres plays accordion way differently than whoever plays for Ortiz.)