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Aida Cuevas

Desfile de Hombres… AGAIN (starring Becky G, Aida Cuevas, Siggno, y más)

siggno (1)

The Billboard charts are boring this week, so please excuse the following disjointed rant…

As NorteñoBlog suggested last post, the Grammys’ approach to Mexican music is fairly ridiculous. The Grammys themselves are ridiculous — although if we forget that they’re supposed to be rewarding the best music, and instead see them as the dying public gasps of an increasingly irrelevant trade organization, with Neil Portnow facing down exciting existential dilemmas around every corner like Sarah journeying through the Labyrinth… well, I dunno if that helps.

aida cuevas grammyAND YET. For many musicians, especially the ones who don’t make much money, the Grammys are not ridiculous. Or maybe not merely ridiculous, but also useful. Take ranchera lifer Aida Cuevas, who won the Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano), against a field of men, for her independently released Arrieros Somos – Sesiones Acústicas. Cuevas used her untelevised Grammy moment to flaunt her charro outfit and to urge Mexican women to speak out against sexual harassment. I won’t pretend to enjoy this particular album of hers, but if we accept that both the Grammy awards and the Blog have slightly less aesthetic authority than one of those plastic duck bobbing contests at a carnival, my opinion doesn’t matter. Cuevas is a talented singer who releases her own music and received a podium. She made the most of her moment. The Mexican music world needs to let in more people like her.

So do the airwaves. If you study last week’s Regional Mexican airplay list, below, you’ll see Chiquis Rivera has dropped off, to be replaced by another token woman: Becky G, whose decidedly non-regional ode to older men, “Mayores,” somehow became the 40th most-played song on regional stations. (This week — not shown due to Blog laziness — she moves up to #22.)

Look, I know studying musicians’ chart positions is a ridiculous exercise. The charts rarely have anything to do with aesthetic quality, and observing the cultural hegemony of “Despacito” is only interesting for a day or so. But the charts do reflect who’s getting paid, and a complete absence of women tells you something unflattering about the values of the industry’s gatekeepers. What will it take to get actual norteño singers like Victoria “La Mala” or Laura Denisse onto the radio — or to get Diana Reyes or Los Horoscopos or Alicia Villarreal back on the radio?

While the Blog organizes a call-in campaign, let’s look at whose new songs are getting played. Radio station billboard anchor Gerardo Ortiz and whirling fount of Terpsichore Marco Flores have brought their VALE LA PENA Mexican hits to El Norte. Los Cardenales de Nuevo León and Los Huracanes del Norte head up the geriatric “beloved by Becky G” contingent with some straight-down-the-middle accordion lopes.

siggno que me amasBest of all: Somehow the Blog hasn’t yet noted “Que Me Amas,” a sweet love song from noted eyeliner-and-metal-t-shirt models Siggno. The song starts with “We Will Rock You”-style stadium stomping and distorted guitar, before switching to a midtempo accordion groove that splits the difference between backbeat and polka. You’ve heard Intocable pull this same trick, but Siggno does it better, becuase they keep switching back and forth. The accordion solo and closing drum fusillade are also jarringly good, enough to kick Siggno into coveted Pick to Click status:

And finally, the Blog would be remiss to not point out DJ Kass and his pesky viral hit “Scooby-Doo Pa! Pa!”, according to the Daily Mail the new “Harlem Shake” our nation deserves.
Continue reading “Desfile de Hombres… AGAIN (starring Becky G, Aida Cuevas, Siggno, y más)”

Yo Quiero Tu… ¿Grammy?

ramon ayala grammy

The Grammy category with the weirdest name — Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano) — is especially bizarre this year.

It is the longstanding position of NorteñoBlog that the Grammys have no idea what to do with Mexican music, especially norteño. This shouldn’t be the case. As Chris Willman reported last year, every Grammy genre, including Latin, has a “blue ribbon panel” of 15-18 industry insiders tasked with whittling long lists of vote-getting albums into the final lists of nominees. These panels are diverse groups of music professionals, which may explain why the nominees for Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano) tend to reward repeat winners’ often middling work, or tastefully dull ranchera albums nobody heard. The industry professionals who nominate Grammys want to reward music that reflects their industry’s professionalism. El Komander probably doesn’t fit the bill.

Usually the results resemble the overall Album of the Year category in 1994, when Tony Bennett’s Unplugged beat out The Three Tenors in Concert 1994, Eric Clapton’s blues tribute From the Cradle, Bonnie Raitt’s 3rd straight AOTY nom, Longing in Their Hearts, and Seal’s 2nd album. Those nominees were so lame they sparked a “revolt” and reforms, partly because they completely omitted Hole’s Live Through This.(!)

aida cuevasSo this year the Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano) category includes a couple such expected nominees: a pretty good album by a perennial nominee, Banda El Recodo’s Ayer y Hoy (Fonovisa) — like happy families, all Band El Recodo albums are alike — and the boring “unplugged” Arrieros Somos — Sesiones Acusticas (Cuevas), by ranchera legend Aida Cuevas, whose far livelier Juan Gabriel tribute album missed the cutoff date. But then, the category takes a turn for the strange.

ni diabloThe man with the continent’s best voice, Julión Álvarez, is nominated for Ni Diablo Ni Santo (Fonovisa). In a typical year, you’d shrug. But not this year! That’s because Julión Álvarez, like certain terrorists and North Korean businesses, is SANCTIONED by the U.S. Treasury, meaning his assets are blocked and Americans can’t do business with him. He’s vanished from streaming services and he can’t tour El Norte. Listening to his illegally uploaded, mostly romantic, Grammy nominated album on YouTube is now an ACT OF POLITICAL RESISTANCE, or something. (It’s OK, not his best.) #FreeJulionAlvarez!

alex campos momentosThe other solo male nominee, Alex Campos, isn’t even Mexican! He’s a Colombian singer who wins Dove Awards and Latin Grammys for Christian music. (Here he is in 2012, singing “Dios Es Pederoso” with Hillsong Global Project Español.) His album Momentos (Sony) is a Christian mariachi album. Granted, it’s way more entertaining than Christian Nodal’s surprisingly un-nominated “mariacheño” debut, but also way less representative of the genre — not to mention less good than Alicia Villarreal’s ranchera pop La Villarreal.

zapateando en el norteAnd finally, there’s Azteca Records’ multi-artist compilation Zapateando en el Norte, the most bizarre nominee of all. It’s a compilation of puro sax bands from Chihuahua and Zacatecas, a longstanding interest of the Blog’s readership. Puro sax is a wonderful norteño subgenre all its own. Bands play bouncy sax/accordion polkas and sing often bereft, emo lyrics, and their popularity is impervious to larger regional Mexican trends.

Puro sax bands also play a lot of huapangos, largely instrumental tunes that contrast triple and duple rhythms — they’re all in fast 6/8 time — and are used for Mexican folk dancing. (“Zapateados,” these dances are called more generally; you stomp your feet a lot.) Huapangos make for spritely mid-album or mid-set novelties. As the Blog discovered last summer, more and more online playlists of huapangos have been appearing, so Azteca owner Humberto Novoa had his bands cut a bunch of huapangos for this comp.

Now remember, whoever nominates Mexican albums seems pretty oblivious to factors like hipness, relevance, and commercial performance. We can argue all day about whether that’s a good thing or not; for the Grammys in general, it’s a core existential issue. Anyway, this year, Azteca’s flagship puro sax band, the twice-nominated La Maquinaria Norteña, who stand astride the puro sax genre like Saxophone Colossi, missed the eligibility date with their own album, Por Obvias Razones. So in a sense, this album occupies their spot…

… which means the fifth nominee for Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano) is a compilation of a subgenre (huapangos) of a subgenre (puro sax) of a subgenre (norteño) of an industry format (regional Mexican). (Including Tejano.)

It’d be like the Best Rap Album nomination going to a compilation of Southern rap Mama songs, or something. Which, btw, the Blog would totally endorse.

But this is where the blue ribbon panel’s haplessness pays off! Give or take the Banda El Recodo album, Zapateando en el Norte is the best thing in this category. It’s a nonstop zapateado fiesta, with sax and accordion banging out their riffs over amazingly capable rhythm sections. I’d vote for it, anyway. Although if Gerardo Ortiz had been nominated as he should have been, it’d be a different story.

Oh yeah, one more bit of Grammy hilarity. Guess which subgenre goes completely unrepresented among these Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano) nominees? As it has every year since the category’s 2012 inception?

TEJANO.

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