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Alicia Villarreal

¡Lo Mejor de 2018!

el-dusty

In 2018, Regional Mexican radio chilled out. Amid the ever-shifting blend of genres that comprises the format, the two “new” styles that commanded the most attention sounded remarkably blase about their surging popularity. In fact, “command” seems like the wrong word for the genres of cumbia and corridos verdes, since they were just sitting around in a smoky haze, waiting for audiences to trip over them.

As Elias Leight explained in a spring Rolling Stone feature, cumbias have been around for decades, having traveled from South America throughout the Spanish-speaking diaspora over the last 70-or-so years. Turn-of-the-millennium hits from Los Angeles Azules, a swanky Mexican big band, have never outgrown their use as commercial bumper music on U.S. radio. The band’s recent resurgence culminated in a 2018 Coachella performance, dug by none other than Justin Bieber, and a current hit rearrangement of Natalia LaFourcade’s tune “Nunca Es Suficiente.” And that’s just the acoustic stuff.

The electronic technocumbia scene, pioneered by Selena and her producer brother A.B. Quintanilla in the mid ‘90s, got new energy from former nano-satellite engineer Edmundo Gómez Moreno, aka Raymix, and his unkillable singles “Oye Mujer” and “¿Dónde Estarás?” The Blog admires the mysterious modality of these singles and admits they don’t really sound like anyone else.The Blog also never wants to listen to them. Like the band Low, for whose 2018 album Double Negative I also didn’t have much time, Raymix zeros in on precisely one mood and hits his mark. It’s a feat that demands acknowledgement rather than repeated listening.

If Raymix songs seem like they might sound better stoned, corridos verdes make that theme explicit. Praised by Snoop, played mostly by young sierreño bands who weave hypnotic patterns from acoustic guitars and either bass or tuba, these songs can get sort of samey. If you thought shoutouts to narcos were getting old, or if you were having trouble differentiating weeping meditations on drinking away lost amors, wait until you hear a bunch of young dudes sing about how high they are. These guys stick to themes. Their songs are sometimes hilarious, though, and the tubists and lead guitarists occasionally stumble across moments that’ll legitimately drop your jaw, regardless of how much THC is in your blood. As with so much else, it depends which strain you get.

Corridos about smoking weed aren’t new, either, but they do represent a shift, at least in terms of mainstream radio fare. A boyband like T3R Elemento might occasionally sing about real-life narcos and the marijuana production business, but unlike the older generation of corrideros — Gerardo Ortiz, El Komander, Noel Torres — they make no pretense that they’re singing from experience or proximity. Born and raised in the U.S., T3R Elemento sings about weed from a bilingual suburban U.S. high school point of view, a vantage their video iconography reinforces. It’s similar to what we saw with the Bay Area’s hyphy movimiento a decade ago. That movement also focused on drug and alcohol consumption, with little reference to Mexico or the drug production narratives that had long dominated corridos. Call these movements “assimilation” if you want, but they represent wilder, less predictable patterns of assimilation than political discourse or radio programmers have led us to expect.

Of course, Regional Mexican radio still plays frantic dressage polkas from Marco Flores, and plenty of maudlin slow jams from the likes of Banda MS. Old narcocorridos from Los Tigres rub shoulders with new ones from El Fantasma. Frantic emotions and spirited boasts will never die; but neither will the phenomenon of getting really baked, and then singing about it.

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Having accounted for trends, here are 11 Regional Mexican albums the Blog recommends, genre by genre — in several cases paired with their higher profile inferiors.
Continue reading “¡Lo Mejor de 2018!”

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NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2018: Enero – Abril

cornelio luis

After a month’s hiatus, we’re back! Please accept with the Blog’s apologies a Spotify playlist of the year’s best singles so far. (And here’s the bilingual version.)

NorteñoBlog’s recent lack of new content comes down to a couple factors, some excusable (extra work), some not (a new Minecraft addiction), and one germane to the Blog. If you’re near Seattle Saturday afternoon, stop by the Museum of Pop Culture, where I’ll be talking about Mexillenial gender presentation and how young dudes like Luis Coronel relate to their increasingly suburban fanbase. It’ll show up here eventually. In the meantime, let’s celebrate that Luis Coronel no longer sucks and has made one of the year’s best singles, in whose video he removes his shirt.

“Cambio de Papeles” – Cornelio Vega y Su Dinastia ft. Luis Coronel (Gerencia 360)
Under the tutelage of his famous papa, Cornelio Vega Jr. has emerged as a surprisingly gritty bandleader. He tosses off inventive accordion lines and sounds about a decade older than he is — just listening to him, you wouldn’t guess he’s got a mouth full of braces. In “Cambio de Papeles,” a stomping banda kiss-off, he pulls the prevoiusly personality-free Coronel up to his level — like, you actually believe these guys are jerks. Wronged jerks, but still jerks. Also worth checking out: the Coronel-less “Yo Soy,” a bouncy norteño number in whose charming video the band dresses up like teenage FES officers, trying to help their colleague win over a mujer. And then there’s “La Kushura,” in which Sr. Vega allows Jr. to hop aboard the latest high-flying musical trend: corridos verdes.

“Como Los Vaqueros” – Lenin Ramirez ft. Ulices Chaidez (DEL)
Is this super-catchy ballad with the “Stand By Me” chord changes a proud assertion of Mexicanness in a foreign land? Or a proud assertion of traditional machismo against the encroaching suburban void? Or an acknowledgement that the vaquero act has always been just that: an act? Or a really pretty and simple way to practice your reflexive verbs? ¡Sí sí sí y sí! When I heard it twice at the Aragon in February, everyone sang along, men and women, so there’s room for all God’s people inside the persona of the lovelorn vaquero. The backsplash in the video remains a thing of wonder.
Continue reading “NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2018: Enero – Abril”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? (starring Alicia Villarreal, Christian Nodal, Joss Favela, y más)

jose villarreal

As promised, Edwin Luna and his perpetually nascent acting chops appear at #10 on this week’s busy Mexican radio chart with the giggle inducing “Fíjate Que Sí.” Actually, it might only induce giggles if you watch the video, let’s see here… [Listens to the song in another tab.] JAJAJAJA! Oh, Edwin Luna. You are an international camp treasure. The man draws out his singing and even his spoken interludes until the words congeal into a sticky mass. They say he aspirates agave nectar.

me-deje-llevar-christian-nodalOther entries previously lauded by NorteñoBlog include man-myth-legend El Fantasma at #17, and whirling fount of Terpsichore Marco Flores doing his devil dance at #19. At #14 we find the latest mariacheño-or-whatever romantic ballad from Christian Nodal, still sounding older than his teenaged years. In “Me Dejé Llevar,” the title track of his overrated 2017 debut album, Nodal laments getting carried away by passion for a mujer, which seems to have made him possessive and scummy. The music doesn’t sound like possessive scumminess; it’s his patented mix of dull, syncopation-free guitars with swoony horns, strings, and accordion. The video, though, is a primo cultural artifact. First we see the macho caballero with hat, cigar, and sturdy country mansion; then we’re whisked behind the scenes into some abstract phantasmagoria of amor, where the now hatless Nodal and a nearly naked mujer enact the ritualized dance steps of love inside a neon square, floating amid darkness. THE DARKNESS OF THE CABELLERO’S OWN HEART, you suggest? The Blog won’t argue with you, except to say: NO VALE LA PENA.

Better is the song at #11. “Sentimientos” is a likeable minor key cumbia from Alicia Villarreal’s 2017 album; it’s both a cover of Villarreal’s 20-year-old Grupo Limite hit, and a duet with her fellow mexicana María José. In both their studio rendition and in this live video, Villarreal and José work up a mariacheño head of steam like Nodal never dreamed. There’s just as much string/accordion swooning, but a much kickier beat and the knowing winks that appear when you find yourself in your 40s, mooning “Ahhhh…. FEELINGS.” Pick to Click!

ese-400x400If these newfangled stylistic blends aren’t your thing and you long for some straight-down-the-middle chapado-a-la-antigua norteño, look no further than #20
Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? (starring Alicia Villarreal, Christian Nodal, Joss Favela, y más)”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 10/24/17

enigma septima

“Probablemente,” “Corrido de Juanito,” and a whole lot of banda romance continue to color the Mexican airwaves; but hang around long enough and you might hear something más interesante.

batallandole-400x400At #9 we find the corrido quartet Enigma Norteño all hopped up on some profesor chiflado shit. “Batallándole (El Gordo Flubbers)” is a corrido celebrating the Good Life, occasioned by the illicit negocios of its narrator and shoved along by one of the Blog’s favorite hitmaking machines, La Séptima Banda. In Ernesto Barajas’s lyric, the narco narrator looks back on his hardscrabble origins serving hamburgers and selling Tercel plans, and waxes philosophical — “Sometimes you win and also lose yourself; today I won for being El Mono Verde.” For reference, recall Gerardo Ortiz’s kickass corrido “El Mono Verde”. Some Hasty Cartel Googling confuses the Blog, but also indicates “El Mono Verde” isn’t the same guy as “El Mono,” who was assassinated in 2015 and is therefore no longer winning.

At its core, this ode to drug trafficking competition is really a celebration of companionship, best expressed when Enigma and La Séptima stop trading lines to sing together, “En las helaaaaadas con camaraaaaaadas.” Well, OK, a celebration of companionship made possible through a morally suspect business. It’s basically the first half of Boogie Nights before 1980 comes along and everything goes to hell, or Flubber y El Profesor Chiflado before Robin Williams starts snorting the Flubber and becomes a monster to his wife and children. But until then, the combined bands bounce with the force of 20 bowling balls. PICK TO CLICK

If there’s one confusing hierarchical enterprise, dependent upon filthy lucre and violent acts of revenge, that I don’t really care to understand, it’s the cartel world. If there’s a second, it’s The Voice. My basic understanding is that The Voice, like its Mexican counterpart La Voz… México, is a four-step process:
Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 10/24/17”

More Women and Mariachi, Less “Despacito” on Mexican Radio

aliciavillarealNorteñoBlog’s summer doldrums continue on the U.S. Hot Latin chart, where there’s only one regional Mexican song in the top 25 — [Casey Kasem voice:] at #23, here’s Gerardo Ortiz with the worst song from his new album! [/Casey Kasem voice] — and only 11 in the entire top 50. This is a historical anomaly. We’ve seen plenty of periods with more norteño and banda songs stuffed into the top 25: witness this chart from 2016, with 13 such singles, and who can forget the mid-’90s Tejano boom? Plenty of people can, but that’s not the point. The point is, why now?

Old dude’s hypothesis: it’s the internet’s fault. [Casey Kasem shakes fist at sky: “Millennials! You’re not reaching for the stars!”] The Hot Latin chart bakes in three different methods of song consumption, weighted according to a top secret algorithm. Regional Mexican music still gets plenty of airplay, leading to a fair number of hat acts among the diverse entries on the Latin Airplay chart. It’s the other two factors — digital sales and online streaming — where norteño and banda acts are struggling to keep pace.

bastaNorteñoBlog’s theory, unsupported by data because I don’t have it, is that the unprecedented popularity of “Despacito” is benefitting songs that sound like “Despacito,” and those songs’ streaming numbers are overwhelming the songs that don’t sound like “Despacito.” With three billion views, “Despacito” is now the most-watched video in YouTube history, and that’s just the version without Bieber. Videos and songs that follow it on streaming services are like sitcoms that followed Friends in the ’90s — automatic ratings contenders. CNCO, “Mi Gente,” “Felices Los 4” are all getting chart boosts because they’re dembow-ish bangers, often with international crossover appeal, that get recommended by YouTube or appear with “Despacito” on Spotify playlists. No matter how many norteño fans stream Calibre 50’s lite beer jingle “Las Ultras” or the latest Banda MS ballad, regional Mexican songs simply can’t keep up.

Prediction: This too shall pass. Eventually, the popularity of “Despacito” will fade. (Judging by the two-year chart run of “Propuesta Indecente,” that could take a while.) Once that happens, we’ll see more regional Mexican songs back on the big U.S. chart. If not, NorteñoBlog promises to have an existential crisis.

¡Jajaja! Just kidding. Not when there’s still cool shit happening on the Mexican radio. This week the Mexican radio chart sees two overlapping boomlets: three songs led by women (I know that doesn’t seem like much, but trust me, around here it’s refreshing) and three mariachi songs.

Alicia Villarreal - Haz Lo Que QuierasCovering both bases are Alicia Villarreal, formerly of Grupo Límite and solo cumbia radness, and Ángela Aguilar singing a duet with her dad Pepe. Villarreal is singing an original high-drama number called “Haz Lo Que Quieras,” produced like much of her work by her husband, former Kumbia King Cruz Martínez.

tu sangre en mi cuerpoBracing stuff; but since I tend to take my schmaltz stirred rather than shaken, I prefer the Aguilars’ “Tu Sangre En Mi Cuerpo,” a frankly cloying remake of… someone’s parent-kid duet that I will someday request at my daughter’s wedding reception. [Casey Kasem voice: “Their relationship quickly became strained.”] (Note: the song’s authors are Jose Luis Ortega Castro, Thelma Ines De La Caridad Castaneda Pino, and Yessica Sandoval Pineda; just not sure who did the original version.) Like Vicente Fernandez’s “Estos Celos,” this tune hits all my smooth mariachi buttons: soaring voices and strings milking high notes for maximum emotion while the chugging beat makes them sound like they’re tossing off everything — notes, burdens, hats, whatever. It’s the sound of a breeze blowing wispy clouds across a flat blue sky. Pepe’s career is long and distinguished, but Angela has been a real revelation this year, with a warm and inviting voice that reminds me of Gloria Estefan’s. Their last duet, the big smart cumbia “Nada de Nada”, earned the Blog’s affection, and this one carries on the legacy. Pick to Click!

Continue reading “More Women and Mariachi, Less “Despacito” on Mexican Radio”

Archivos de 2004 (starring Grupo Climax, Alicia Villarreal, y más)

Grupo_Climax

Sometimes when you’re feeling whimsical/bored/done with dishes, you just decide to research the chart statistics of Grupo Climax. Or I do — I may be atypical. One thing leads to another, za za za, and so here are Billboard‘s top 10 Regional Mexican airplay songs from July 17, 2004, the week Climax’s only notable hit enjoyed its highest chart placement. Hot Latin chart placement is in parentheses.

Note that in 2004, the Hot Latin charts were still strictly based on airplay: “A panel of 99 stations (40 Latin Pop, 16 Tropical, 51 Regional Mexican) are electronically monitored 24 hrs. a day, 7 days a week.” (Today they also incorporate sales and streams, but there remain breakout charts like Regional Mexican that measure only airplay.) This accounting method placed five RegMex songs inside the Hot Latin top 10, a percentage we never see today; but it also meant the Hot Latin top 25 contained 10 regional Mexican songs, pretty typical by today’s standards.

1. “Qué de Raro Tiene” – Los Temerarios (#2 Hot Latin)
Trembly-eyebrowed synth-pop grupero brothers go nostalgic with an album of ranchera covers, including this Vicente Fernández cover that would top the Hot Latin chart. Gustavo Angel unleashes his throat and sounds right at home in this style. (Be sure to check out their AllMusic bio for a fascinating look at how the brothers started their own label and challenged Fonovisa, only to eventually be swallowed by the giant.)

2. “Dos Locos” – Los Horóscopos de Durango (#5 Hot Latin)
“The Durango Gang Busts Out of Chicago,” read the Billboard headline on June 12, shortly after this song had topped the Regional Mexican chart. Los Horóscopos had been a working banda for 30 years before their enterprising leader Armando Terrazas decided to put his daughters, the multi-instrumentalists Vicky and Marisol, up front. This sad polka cover of Monchy & Alexandra was cut from the same bachata cloth as their cover of Aventura’s “Obsesion,” and it hits one of duranguense’s sweet spots — floaty heartache over nonstop oompahs. (The other sweet spot is clattery barely-constrained synth-tuba chaos, but that didn’t chart as much.) Continue reading “Archivos de 2004 (starring Grupo Climax, Alicia Villarreal, y más)”

¡Nuevo! (starring Maquinaria Norteña, Los Horóscopos, y más)

puro sax maquinaria

maquinaria nortenaIt is the longstanding position of NorteñoBlog that the puro sax styles of Chihuahua and Zacatecas would improve with the addition of more terrible “sax” puns in the titles. This week the máquinas de saxo in La Maquinaria Norteña drop their eighth (I think) album, Ya Dime Adiós (Azteca/Fonovisa) (alternate title: Break Up Saxo), from whence comes their top 10 airplay hit “Para Qué Amarte.” Maquinaria hail from both Chihuahua AND Zacatecas, doubling their potential fan base, and they’re solid and reliable polkaderos with a really good logo. On first listen, though, this album isn’t saxing it up for me like the next one:

dimeloThe puro Zacatecans in La Inquietud Norteña venture into minor key territory for the title single to their latest album, Dimelo (AGLive) (alt title: Vamos a Hablar Sobre el Saxo). Singer Hugo Avellaneda wails high and clear, sax and accordion skate across the song with as little apparent effort as spinning Olympians, and whoever’s playing the polka bass gets his R&B licks in. Pick to Click!

Continue reading “¡Nuevo! (starring Maquinaria Norteña, Los Horóscopos, y más)”

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