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2001

Archivos de 2001: Los Twiins Break Through

los twiins

Lovelorn bounces and classic fanfares, old hats and new jacks, and early work by one of the most influential production duos of the past two decades, any genre: these were Billboard‘s top 10 Regional Mexican songs on May 19, 2001.

1. “No Te Podias Quedar”Conjunto Primavera (#4 Hot Latin)
The pride of Ojinaga, the gas-guzzling romantics of the road, Primavera scored their fifth Hot Latin top 10 with this soppy contribution from their go-to songwriter Jesús Guillén. Sometimes songwriters just find a niche, and Guillén was put on this earth to write soaring climaxes for the cavernous throat of Tony Melendez, the continent’s best singer before Primavera’s output dropped off and Julión Álvarez came along. The song itself barely exists.

2. “Y Llegaste Tú”Banda El Recodo (#6 Hot Latin)
In 2001, after 60 years of playing brass band shows to adoring but limited audiences, Recodo was enjoying the public’s newfound vogue for banda music and their first gold album. A couple years earlier, they’d begun hiring producer brothers Adolfo and Omar Valenzuela, aka Los Twiins, aka the bankrollers of El Movimiento Alterado later in the decade. (El Komander still records for them.) The brothers had their identical fingers on the pulse of the youth, and in this song they led Recodo toward a sound that blanketed the airwaves all year, and then for years afterward — a newly written Noel Hernandez song that sounded trad yet vibrant, with a arrangement that turned contrasting instrumental sections into hooks. Plus, “We’ve learned how to really tune the banda,” said Omar, “which [in the past] maybe wasn’t really done.” Progress! Pick to Click!

los tigres paisano3. “Me Declaro Culpable”Los Tigres del Norte (#13 Hot Latin)
Sad limericks of lost love — with sax! Continue reading “Archivos de 2001: Los Twiins Break Through”

¡Nuevo! (starring Joss Favela, Remmy Valenzuela, y más)

tapatias

Songwriter José Alberto Inzunza — aka Joss Favela — has probably made more money than any of the other kids from Código F.A.M.A. Season 2, the TV talent show where he finished seventh in 2004. The winners of Season 2 went on to star in Misión S.O.S., a novela that featured the following novel plot points:

[T]he neighbors of Buenaventura have even darker futures, as they are in danger of losing their homes, their school and much more, because the evil old Severiano plans to tear down the neighborhood and build an enormous shopping mall in its place. To accomplish his plan, Severiano is willing to resort to any means, and will provoke a series of disasters to drive the inhabitants away.

The decrepit old theater is the children’s favorite spot, and this is where they meet a mysterious little man who will change their lives and the fate of Buenaventura forever. Chaneque, a friendly elf, is a magical being who is on an important mission: to save his elf-world from destruction.

Yes yes, Shakespeare plots sound ridiculous when you describe them, too, although I’m not sure El Bardo ever resorted to the ol’ “save the theater before the evil capitalist tears it down” gambit. The point is, Misión only ran for a season, so I’m guessing its actors aren’t earning much in residuals. (If that’s how things work in Méxican TV.) Joss “Seventh Place” Favela, though, became a songwriter who scored massive hits. “Te Hubieras Ido Antes,” Favela’s favorite because it “crossed genres and borders” and therefore made him lots of money, had the good fortune to be sung by the continent’s best voice, Julión Álvarez; “¿Por Qué Terminamos?” landed with Gerardo Ortiz, who also got his start singing on Código F.A.M.A., where he looked exactly the same as he does now — only shorter and more elfen.

joss favelaFavela just released his solo debut album, Hecho a Mano (Sony). He sings with a fine quartet — accordion, tuba, bajo sexto, drums — whose personnel NorteñoBlog is still trying to track down. As you’d expect from this born romantic balladeer, the melodies are strong and soaring. As you might not expect, the band and their leader sometimes have great fun crushing lovelorn sentiments into a fine dust. For example, the standout “No Vuelvas a Llamarme” is a days-of-the-week song like Craig David’s “7 Days,” but it’s also a furious rolling waltz where Favela urges his ex not to call him, because he always has something better to do. (“Believe it or not, I go to Mass on Sundays” — and if you’ve ever tried to use your phone inside a cathedral, you know the reception sucks and the wi-fi’s probably spotty.) The well-rehearsed band has their stop-start game down cold, and the rhythm section’s licks fly nonstop like the popcorn Favela enjoys at those Wednesday double features he claims to never miss. Pick to Click!

Continue reading “¡Nuevo! (starring Joss Favela, Remmy Valenzuela, y más)”

A Guide to Regional Mexican Radio in Houston

With the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo coming up March 1-20, including Go Tejano Day on March 13, I figured I should try to understand the complicated Regional Mexican radio scene in the 6th biggest U.S. radio market.

Look, I made a chart! Stations are listed across the top — frequency, station nickname, rating for the 4th quarter of 2015 — with the most recent call sign associated with that frequency just below, in the 2016 row. The chart begins with 1986 at the bottom; as you travel up through the years, you can see when new call signs take over specific frequencies.

Houston s RegMex Radio - Daily schedule (4)-page-001

OCTOBER 5, 1989: GERARDO ORTIZ IS BORN (That’s just for reference, and because this .jpg was hard to format.)

Houston s RegMex Radio - Daily schedule (4)-page-002

When NorteñoBlog surveyed Chicago´s Regional Mexican radio scene last year, it was a straightforward project — I traced the timelines of the three major stations in our market. Not so in Houston. As you can see from the above chart, Houston’s Mexican music fans have enjoyed an abundance of choices over the past three decades. They’ve also endured a confusing tangle of buyouts, simulcasts, and call signs changing frequencies, along with the national boom and bust of a vital regional style: Tejano.

Today non-Texans might have trouble understanding Tejano’s importance to the Lone Star State. After all, Chicago didn’t get our first all-Mexican station until 1997 — the same year KXTJ became Houston’s first station with a norteño focus — by which time Tejano was quickly losing spins to norteño on U.S. radio. In the previous decade, Tejano hadn’t merely been an important regional style; it had been central to Hispanic radio listeners across El Norte, and central to the identities of millions of Texas Latinos. The tragedy of Selena’s death in 1995 was a harbinger and probably a cause for a wider sense of loss — the loss of Tejano identity resonating with a broader populace. As we’ve seen from the outcry when the Houston Rodeo schedules norteño bands on its popular “Go Tejano Day,” Tejano music is more than a nationwide fad that dried up. It’s not duranguense. Tejano identity is a powerful and distinct thing, with music as one of its main expressions, and for a brief period of about a decade that musical identity was crucial to America’s understanding of Latinos.

And then all of a sudden it was replaced by a bunch of damn corridos and tubas. You can understand why Tejano fans’ nostalgia would take on a new intensity.

But that oversimplifies the matter. Let’s look at some of the chart’s high points. As you do, keep in mind that I’ve never been to Houston and I probably got some things wrong, so I’ll welcome your comments and corrections. Continue reading “A Guide to Regional Mexican Radio in Houston”

Los Angeles Azules’ Entrega de Amor

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Los Angeles Azules/Los Angeles de Charly – Gran Encuentro (Disa)

Amid all the polkas and waltzes, regional Mexican radio loves to throw in cumbias, though sometimes you get the sense that’s more because they’re useful tools or building materials, the caulk of the format. They often pop up as behind-the-DJ music, and because cumbia beats tend to flow easily into one another, they’re consistent grist for those hour-long DJ mixes that make me change the station after a couple songs. But certain sounds you don’t shake very easily, and the sound of Los Angeles Azules — a 13-or-15-piece Mexico City cumbia/vallenato group that was big around the turn of the millennium — can’t be forgotten once you’ve heard it.

The sound’s all there on their first big hit from 1996, “Cómo Te Voy a Olvidar,” which took cumbia’s trademark guacharaca shuffle (“the rhythm… has been compared to a horse trot,” writes Ramiro Burr) and layered it with yearning pop melodies. Mysterious accordion riffs in the dorian mode (think “Eleanor Rigby,” the part that goes “picks up the rice in a church“) trade off with even more mysterious trombone riffs that invariably come to rest on some low “blaaaaaah.” In 1999 Azules scored Billboard’s Regional Mexican Track of the Year with “El Listón De Tu Pelo.” Excellent trombone blaaaaaahs in that one, and a female singer, Mayra Torres, trading vocals with Carlos Montalvo. (“An oddity,” wrote Leila Cobo about the co-ed singing in the April 28, 2001 Billboard.) Cumbia remains a proven route for female singers to get played on regional Mexican radio; last year the dear departed El Patrón 95.5 was playing Azules’ duet with alt-rocker Ximena Sariñana enough that the song landed inside their station top 20.

Azules weren’t the first or the only Mexican band to play this music, not by a long shot. In the Oct. 6 ’01 Billboard, Burr wrote:

Vallenato is indigenous to Colombia’s Atlantic coast. Throughout that country, vallenato — like that other Colombian rhythm, cumbia — continues to be as much a part of the cultural and social fabric as blues, jazz and rock’n’roll are in the U.S. However, cumbia and vallenato* are also Colombia’s most popular and best-selling musical forms. Although folk-based, the genre received an international boost when Colombian accordionist Aniceto Molina, on Joey Records, helped popularize it in Mexico during the 1970s with his former group, La Luz Roja de San Marcos.

The music gained popularity in Mexican urban centers in the early 1980s, when other artists, such as Los Angeles Azules and Celso Pina, began emulating Molina… Thanks to Carlos Vives’ 1993 landmark CD, Clasicos de la Provincia, the vallenato movement was thrust into the mainstream as Vives’ single “La Gota Fria” cracked the Billboard charts.

You can hear the guacharaca in “La Gota Fria,” but it’s faster and fleshed out by kick drum and other rhythms, along with some Andes flute.

The core of Azules, writes Burr, is the Mejía family — three brothers who kept their white collar jobs until at least 1999, well after they became a hit band and started touring extensively. Inevitably, somebody went solo. But it wasn’t one of the brothers. Billboard‘s Leila Cobo explains, again from 2001:

The foundation of Los Angeles de Charly is the high tenor of Charly Becies, a former singer with established romantic grupo Los Angeles Azules, a band whose greatest-hits compilation also topped the Latin sales chart this season. In 1999, Becies decided to branch out on his own, because, he says, “I was just one element in the group, and I wanted to have my own identity.”

That identity centered on romantic material, and the band initially tried to register a name that reflected that kind of music. When [producer Ignacio] Rodriguez found that all their top name choices were already taken, they settled on Los Angeles de Charly — a fortuitous choice, because the Hollywood movie of Charlie’s Angels was released at about the same time. “It was essentially free publicity,” Rodriguez says.

Pretty sure Loverboy got the same bump.

Last year Disa released a bunch of these Gran Encuentro retrospectives, variations on a CD format that’s super-popular in regional Mexican music. These compilations alternate songs by two different Mexican groups, related to one another by varying degrees of tenuousness. (I’m currently soldiering through Mazz/La Mafia and wondering both “why?” and “why the fuss?”) The two tribes of Los Angeles are, as we’ve seen, pretty close. But there’s definitely a difference in sound. Charly is the more conventionally poppy angel of the two, with major keys and soaring heartfelt vocals. The Azules sometimes go there, but they’re also content to skulk around in their dorian darkness while playing pretty love songs. And everywhere — everywhere — is the guacharaca. But that’s not all there is. Both bands know to dress up their rhythms with fx and gimmicks, like the deep voiced men singing “tututu TUM bobo” along with Farfisa organ in “Mi Cantar.” It’s the kind of thing that pops out on radio, and it sounds pretty good in this context too.

VALE LA PENA

*About those genre IDs: Burr seems to use “cumbia” and “vallenato” interchangeably while alluding to some never-explained difference. In the record guide linked above, he describes Azules’ repertoire as “horn-powered boleros and vallenato-styled cumbias.” What? In this fascinating interview, Colombian music scholar and cumbia DJ Mario Galeano Toro clarifies, “[V]allenato is a close cousin of cumbia. It’s mostly major keys. In the ’90s there used to be cheesy commercial vallenato that played on all the buses in Bogotá…” He goes on, “Cumbia is composed of many different rhythms; I would say around 30. They’re all part of one big family called cumbia, but each has its own groove. The guacharaca with that ch-ch-CH rhythm is really the thing you notice first when you hear cumbia.”

But, but, but! IS NOT THE MUSIC OF LOS ANGELES AZULES IN MINOR KEYS? Or at least DORIAN keys, which sound minor except with one note out of place? But does not Ramiro Burr call their music “vallenato”? This is all wading into treacherous territory, where people’s eyes start to glaze over at all the jargon. I remember having the same problem when I started getting Decibel magazine a decade ago, wondering how to differentiate dark from black from tech from grind from doom from death from whatever other kinds of metal were out there. (“Power” was pretty easy because of all the dragons.) Now I want to learn all the cumbia and vallenata rhythms, even as I’m pretty sure you can enjoy this music without going to that much trouble.

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