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En Vivo Chicago: Ulices Chaidez, Regulo Caro, Lenin Ramirez

caro and band

Norteño music is sufficient unto itself.

As a gringo who loves talking about this music, I often find myself comparing norteño to other U.S. genres — especially our chart pop, with which it shares predilections for dancing, drinking, and lovey dovey ballads. Other writers have pointed out the music’s similarites to country (hats, horses, drinking, instrumentation) or rap (attitude, marginalized artists, drinking, trapping-as-metaphor), but all such comparisons ultimately fall short, because norteño doesn’t need ’em. At Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom last Saturday, this self-sufficiency once again became clear. A packed house of four or five thousand people sang along with entire songs by Ulices Chaidez y Sus Plebes, Regulo Caro, Lenin Ramirez, and (I assume) the headliner Gerardo Ortiz, each of whom presented a unique modern take on an unapologetically Mexican tradition.

(About that last parenthetical… before we get too far I should admit that I left before Ortiz took the stage. Reader, you have to understand some things. It was after midnight, I work early Sunday mornings, I live more than an hour outside the city, the snow had started falling, and I am 40. Also know that you cannot shame me more than I have shamed myself.)

The crowd, ninety percent of whom were younger than me and had better hair, screamed when each act shouted out their families’ states of origin: “¡Arriba Jalisco! ¡Arriba Zacatecas!” Fans pulled out their cell phones to record the hits, devoting gigabytes of cloud storage to Chaidez’s “Te Regalo” and Caro’s “En Estos Dias.” I was grateful not to be the worst dressed person there. With my black Nikes (the nicest article of clothing I own, now salt stained and sticky), leather jacket, paisley shirt, and dark jeans, I was somewhere in the middle of the pack: well below the stylish vaqueros and vaqueras in their spotless hats and glistening belts, but not super conspicuous.

chaidez cellphones

Billed as a “Baile de Valentine’s Day,” the bands and between-set DJs leaned heavily on dance tunes and love songs, but maybe they always do. The Aragon has limited VIP seating — the VIPs stood impassively above the rest of us, resembling the stony-faced onlookers at the Eyes Wide Shut orgy — so most of the crowd simply stood and danced on the main floor. The place filled up during an opening set by a tight accordion quintet whose name neither I nor my neighbors caught. When they finished playing and I turned around, thousands of people had materialized to fill the hall, and it was clear that any attempt to exit would require detailed planning. As the crowd packed in tighter and tighter, brief shoving matches became more frequent and the elbows of oblivious dancing couples became more annoying. (I was also grateful not to be the only dorky dude fixed to one spot, bobbing his head.) Like a shark through the sea of people strode an intrepid five-foot-tall vendedora, holding bouquets of light-up roses above her head. I didn’t see anyone buy them, but she kept trying.

chaidez and burgos

Ulices Chaidez didn’t help her cause by tossing real roses from the stage. The Blog has been in the tank for Chaidez since his first single, and while I was disappointed with the high ballad quotient of his 2017 album El Elegido (on DEL Records — maybe with the exception of the opening grupo, all these guys are on DEL), in concert he was spectacular.
Continue reading “En Vivo Chicago: Ulices Chaidez, Regulo Caro, Lenin Ramirez”

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Los Ritmos de Remex Records

montez

When NorteñoBlog last caught up with Remex Records, the YouTube telenovela factory that fronts as a powerhouse indie label, its star Edwin Luna had just begun floating trial balloons for a coup solo career. Flaring his nostrils with serious artistic intent, Luna had recently begun separating his name from that of his banda, La Trakalosa de Monterrey, and… acting in their 20-minute music videos. Surely before long they’d separate? Amid rancor and acrimony? Two competing bandas criss-crossing the continent with increasingly side-eyed arrangements of “Mi Padrino El Diablo”?

Thankfully we’re not there yet. Singer and banda are still united and scoring bi-national hits as Edwin Luna y La Trakalosa, with a thriving production company — Editraka — that hosts fitness classes. (Their “flared nostril burpees” are killers.) But Luna is also experimenting with some solo tunes of his own. Rest assured they are terrible.

edwin-luna-amor“Es Tiempo de Amar” is his bid for a big unifying national pop ballad. The video has Mexicans of every age singing about love and brighter tomorrows, some lavish hand gestures, inspiring words on pieces of cardboard (more Love Actually than “Subterranean Homesick Blues”), and a closing quote from Madre Teresa de Calcutta. (You were expecting maybe Sor Juana?) There’s nothing norteño about it, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if Luna knew how to sing non-norteño songs with any semblance of a personality. There’s also nothing topical about it, unless you hear the line “Es tiempo de… recuperar lo perdido” as a call for the Mexican government to fix the country’s kidnapping problem, along the lines of Intocable‘s “Día 730.” But, as we’ve seen recently, governments have enough trouble reacting to even overwhelming gestures of dissent. Subtlety in this case is NO VALE LA PENA.

What’s that? Hawaiian noises? Continue reading “Los Ritmos de Remex Records”

Alta Consigna Takes Charge (Desfile de Éxitos 1/21/17)

alta-consigna

Since NorteñoBlog last checked out Billboard‘s charts four weeks ago, the Hot Latin chart remains depressingly stagnant, with only six new songs. Four of the songs in the Top 10 have been there over half a year. Worse, the  Mexican songs in the Top 25 all sound like stagnant pools of overripe romance, unless you get real zen about it; then they become meditative pools whose stillness reflects back to us our most private yearnings.

alta-consignaThat includes the song at #20, “Culpable Tu,” by the young guitar/bass/tuba quintet Alta Consigna. Released back in July, it does not appear on their new album No Te Pide Mucho (Rancho Humilde), which shares a pacing strategy with Neil Young’s 1979 classic Rust Never Sleeps: lull listeners to sleep during the first half, then wake ’em up by rocking out more ferociously than any of your peers. This comparison is not exact; the first half of Rust Never Sleeps is better than the first half of No Te Pide Mucho, but in Alta Consigna’s defense, Neil Young famously did not record a world-historical bachata-with-tuba cover of “Propuesta Indecente.” Few albums of 1979 did. This is something the critical histories of the period won’t tell you.

NorteñoBlog has dug Alta Consigna before. Back in 2015 they got a “ft.” credit on Grupo El Reto‘s “La Parranda Va Empezar,” as ferocious a cavalcade of strumming and triple tonguing as you could hope for. At the band’s best — i.e., a new re-recording of its 2015 tune “Sinaloense Es El Joven” — it capitalizes on having two bass instruments by making them do completely opposite, equally rad things. Dani Vida fires a wild variety of machine gun and other noises from his tuba, while bassist Esteban González achieves a truly menacing tone. “Culpable” might be the token romantic ballad that gets people’s attention, but the back half of Mucho is where the Picks to Click reside. The album is VALE LA PENA, at least if you play it on shuffle.

Continue reading “Alta Consigna Takes Charge (Desfile de Éxitos 1/21/17)”

Money, Innovation, and Resentment: Helena Simonett’s “Banda: Mexican Musical Life Across Borders”

simonettCurrent reading on the NorteñoBlog nightstand is Helena Simonett’s 2001 book Banda: Mexican Musical Life Across Borders. Simonett is an ethnomusicologist at Vanderbilt University; she spent much of the ’90s interviewing banda musicians and fans around L.A. and northwestern Mexico. If you think back to ’90s banda — at least to the small extent that the blog has delved into it — the predominant sounds were the synth/horn combinations of technobandas like Banda Machos and Banda Maguey. They were sort of precursors to Chicago duranguense bands, with synths replacing horns and fewer members than a typical Sinaloan brass band. The venerable acoustic Banda El Recodo was respected and toured internationally through the ’90s, but it didn’t have much of a presence as pop music. Now, along with a host of other acoustic bandas, it does, and the technobanda sound has all but disappeared. One of the blog’s ongoing goals has been to learn how the current banda sound — classic acoustic brass bands playing newly written pop tunes — took over the radio.

jimenezAs told by Simonett, this history is complex, so here’s an oversimplification. For much of its early history, banda was largely confined to the state of Sinaloa in northwestern Mexico. (How it got there is a whole other story.) Mexico’s intellectual elite, centered in Mexico City, pushed mariachi as the national music of the people — it was cultivated by radio and the national government, which required mariachi bands play the capital in elegant charro costumes. Mariachi musicians still weren’t rich, but their string-based folk music was considered more noble and sophisticated than that of the bandas, even when the ensembles were playing many of the same songs. The difference? “Sinaloan intellectuals had never considered regional banda music folk music,” writes Simonett. “It was never the focus of interest, never presented as a tourist article, and never used for national political purposes… It evolved in the shadow of the periphery.”

Simonett includes an amazing 1926 article, written just a few years after the revolution, from a newspaper in Sinaloa’s port city of Mazatlán. The article’s author praises Mexican folk music because it jibes with his romantic notion of The People. (“The national soul has not yet died.”) But the guy hates banda. He writes sarcastically of its “hullaballoo”, “It sounds better to the ears standardized by the vibrating vertigo of the locomotives and electric trains and of the machinery of the factories.” Notice how Dylan Goes Electric that argument sounds: loud music that sounds like the city can’t be the authentic voice of the people! Too vulgar! Too commercial! Although I should note, banda was no more “commercial” than mariachi at that point.

Bandas would soon try to change that. Continue reading “Money, Innovation, and Resentment: Helena Simonett’s “Banda: Mexican Musical Life Across Borders””

El Komander en la Jukebox

el-komander-habla-nexos-narcotrafico

Mi español es inactivo. “Piensa en español,” me digo a mí, “y escriba sobre El Komander.” OK. Estoy pensando sobre El Komander en español.

“En la biblioteca…”

Ay-yi-yi.

Pero es ok, porque mi bibliotecaria Gloria ha almorzado con El Komander, una esquema promocionál por un estación de la radio, y ella dice Sr. Ríos es muy amable. Y puedo escucharlo en su música. En The Singles Jukebox, donde escribimos (en ingles) sobre Sr. Ríos, Jonathan Bogart no está de acuerdo. “Pared down, emotionally uninflected,” él dice. Sí… pero como Ice Cube o mi abuelo, “pared down emotional uninflection” es central para su encanto.

Nota: esto fue mi “Amnesty Pick” por el fin del año, y en ocasiones nos volvemos mushy reflexivo.

Escribí:

Whether because 40 is gliding toward me like a drop-top Brougham or simply because my taste has improved, I’ve lately been listening to a lot of urban AC radio. This means twice in a week my son and I got to hear Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day,” which I’m glad to report is still great — even greater than it used to be — and undiminished in its ability to speak horror and pleasure in the same words, to sound utterly chill about a life that’s utterly precarious. I don’t think my boy picked up on any of that, and why should he, wrapped in his fifth grade cocoon of Cub Scouts and Pokemon? We’ve had the post-Trump talks with him: We’ll probably be OK, but some of your friends might not, and you need to look out for them and help them, even as our voices fade into helplessness. And then here comes Alfredo Ríos: like Ice Cube a lover of women and mind-altering substances, packing a cuerno, acutely aware of every authoritarian eyeball tracking his whereabouts. Like Ice Cube he does himself no political favors with this song, bragging about his shipments from Bogotá. But “El Mexico Americano” has stormed U.S. Regional Mexican radio, a good chunk of whose audience feels as precarious as young black men in South Central. The Komander band’s tuba/accordion blats and howling high harmonies deliver a “fuck you” every bit as exuberant as “Good Day,” or “Move That Dope,” or Jay-Z mewling the cop’s eternal line, “Are you carrying a weapon on you, I know a lot of you are?”

¡VALE LA PENA!

Joss Favela en la Jukebox

joss-favela-guitar
“That score saddens me.”

Donde algunas escuchan “banda,” quizás porque el trovador contrató un tubador para tocar, NorteñoBlog escucha una canción muy olvidable, y el combinación de la guitarra, el acordión, y la batería no ayuda. Pero me sigue gustando Joss Favela, porque el compositor de “Te Hubieras Ido Antes” sabe como escribir una melodia. Debería haber escrito una aquí.

Escribí:

Having survived the teen talent show Código F.A.M.A. and worked with electrocumbia dudes 3Ball MTY, the man born José Alberto Inzunza Favela has been busy chiseling his way onto a norteño-pop songwriters’ Mt. Rushmore whose other inhabitants include Espinoza Paz, Horacio Palencia, and Favela’s frequent collaborator Luciano Luna. Like most prolific songwriters, Favela’s virtue lies in his fecundity: if you like at least one of his songs, that just means he wrote 10 others you forgot as soon as you finished making out to them. “Cuando Fuimos Nada” falls into that heap: decent tune, a life lesson out of a novela, and further proof that a small norteño group can’t rescue a pop nonentity the way a banda can.

NO VALE LA PENA

Culiacán Characters

chanito-gilberto

Gilberton, Chanito, El Pirata — they’ve all found a following on social media. Corrido artists frequently appear with them on video, and some have inspired songs and corridos. They aren’t narcos or even musicians, but they are characters.

In the infamous City of Culiacán, where narcos, musicians and beautiful women usually attract the most attention online, people like Gilberton, an elderly gay man known as a cranky foul-mouthed neighborhood fixture ready give his opinion on various subjects laced with a large amount of curse words, has even inspired a cumbia by Los Alegres del Barranco.

Two youngsters named Chanito and El Pirata have also found online fame. Continue reading “Culiacán Characters”

Fiesta Segundo Aniversario: LOS PICKS TO CLICK

el-komander-fiesta

Welcome to year three!

If you’re looking for a handy review of good-to-excellent singles released over the past year, you could do worse than NorteñoBlog’s Picks to Click. They’re all listed and linked below, from Calibre 50’s big dumb cumbia “La Gripa” through El Bebeto’s new “Como Olvidarte.” Along the way you’ll find album tracks, old songs, big hits, and indie videos with a couple thousand views that look like they cost even fewer dollars to make.

Artists appearing twice include waltzing indie rockers Fuerza de Tijuana, the continent’s hardest working singles artist El Komander, La Séptima Banda, Calibre 50 spinoffs La Iniciativa, the aforementioned actually-a-grown-man El Bebeto, and walking cry for help Banda Los Recoditos. Also picked twice were Los Titanes de Durango, who Bandamax reports have split into two groups, the U.S.-based Los de Durango and the Mexico-based Los Titanes de Durango, because singer Sergio Sánchez’s work visa was denied. No word on whether that’s because Sánchez’s dad refuses to stop dressing up like El Chapo.

If there’s a trend here, it’s the surge of Sierreño music. Ariel Camacho’s 2015 death made everyone realize how well tubas, guitars, and true crime short stories go together, so now pretty boys like Adriel Favela and Bebeto are biting the style, and indie bands like Los Grandes del Pardito are receiving more attention.

Let’s get to clicking!

calibre historias10/23/15: “La Gripa” by Calibre 50
Is this big dumb cumbia repetitive? Yes. Does it repeat itself? Yes. Does Calibre 50 keep singing the same thing over and over? Yes. Just when you think they’ve repeated the chorus phrase all the times they’re going to repeat it, do they repeat it several more times? Yes. BUT! Tubist Alex Gaxiola gets in some wicked syncopated jabs, and the whole rhythm section adds up to a sound much thicker than expected. Continue reading “Fiesta Segundo Aniversario: LOS PICKS TO CLICK”

Calibre 50 En la Jukebox

prestamela

En 2014 todos menos uno de los críticos en la Singles Jukebox les gustó la canción “Qué Tiene de Malo,” pero no esto tiempo. “Préstamela a Mí” de Calibre 50 inspiró amor, aversión, y indiferencia. No por nada es la canción un #1 sencillo en ambos México y El Norte. Escucho una letra ofensiva, sí, pero tambien una letra que exagera la infamia para hacer un punto. ¿Qué es el punto? No sé… tal vez “los hombres son pendejos.” Usted lo sabía.

Escribí:

While his rhythm section lurches like a Frankenstein monster wielding breath spray, Eden Muñoz goes full Eddie Cornelius on how to treat your angry mujer like a lady. Have you considered kissing her feet and feeding her ice cream? Muñoz is a smart enough writer that I’m convinced he’s kidding, in the Randy Newman sense, and that “Préstamela a Mí” is pointing and laughing at the many paternalistic manos surrounding Calibre on the radio. I mean, just this week you’ve got Gerardo Ortiz offering “Millones de Besos” instead of, you know, talking; Chuy Lizarraga kicking himself for succumbing to the kisses of a devious mujer; and the loathsome Banda MS wondering why all those kisses weren’t enough to make her stay. I can only imagine the stifling fog of their breath-sprayed BS, and I’d like to think Calibre points and laughs a way through it.

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