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Banda Tierra Sagrada

Lo Mejor de 2016: Where the Action Is

The Grammys and the Mexican government would very much like Mexico’s musical output to consist of genteel roots music. Fortunately, NorteñoBlog’s annual playlist 2016 VALE LA PENA shows that Mexican-American musicians have other ideas.

Our playlist has El Komander singing about immigration in two very different, equally urgent songs: once from the vantage point of a mother whose son is missing, and once as a proudly binational drug dealer. The playlist includes a defiant statement of national pride from Los Inquietos and Marco Flores. There are love songs from guitar bands, brass bands, accordion bands, sax bands, and synth bands.  El Bebeto and Banda Tierra Sagrada stop by to plug liquor; Fuerza de Tijuana celebrates two real-life American narcos. The guys in Los Titanes de Durango drive way too fast. La Rumorosa curses a terrible boyfriend; Intocable mourns absent amor with distorted guitar and a smoking accordion solo. At the top of the list, El Armenta offers a low-fi Lynchian nightmare of a cumbia about his girlfriend’s dog. All in all, it’s as energetic and varied as any single-genre playlist you’re likely to find.

THIS, Grammy voters, is where the action is.

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vicente-un-aztecaEven as NorteñoBlog congratulates living legend Vicente Fernández on winning his third Grammy for Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano) (But Not Including Grupero ‘Cause That Shit Suuuuuuuux), we gotta note that this particular win is lame in a very Grammy-ish way. Continue reading “Lo Mejor de 2016: Where the Action Is”

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Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 11/17/16

gerardo-ortiz-regresa-hermosa-snap-b

Welcome back to Songwriters’ Showcase, an apparently semiannual feature in which NorteñoBlog checks out the new love songs on Mexico’s radio chart, discovers that the world is a void wherein everything tastes like ashes, and attempts to salvage the post by researching the professional tunespinners who spun the tunes. The winners, as always, are you the readers.

Except they’re not all love songs this week! We start with not one but two big dumb cumbias. At #18, Claudio Alcaraz has written his own exercise in banda-fied minimalism, “El Pú,” about a friend of his who likes to get drunk and insult people. Great swaths of humanity get insulted here. Truckers, cops, Michoacanos, saints, etc. — you name ’em, they’re pú, aka “puro mandilón.” (“DEmasculated,” as my grandpappy and/or Urban Dictionary used to translate it.) In the video, Sr. Alcaraz’s friend appears as a lecherous clown who lights up the party by starting a conga line. Even so, the guy should stop insulting entire classes of people or he’ll never be elected to public office.

The other BDC, at #11, is way more bitchin’: “Que Perrón” by La Séptima Banda. Written by Joel Suarez and Luciano Luna, who is normally not this much fun, it’s an ode to the modern world’s sexually assertive mujeres. As you might expect, such mujeres make La Séptima Banda very happy, especially the dude in the middle of the song who sheepishly admits, “I’m ugly.” Whoever’s singing lead — I think it’s Efrain, but votes for Chino will also be tabulated — plays his wiggly cadence off the tuba/batería lines with a cheerful insouciance that makes me think I’ve been underrating the Séptima album all year. I’ll get back to you on that. In the meantime, a very ornate Pick to Click. (This live video lets you savor some of those internal brass rhythms.)

Also charting this week: Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 11/17/16”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 4/12/16

horacio palencia

The sometime sociopaths in ¡LOS! BuiTRES! (at #19) couldn’t do it — not even singing a tune by tubthumper de amor Horacio Palencia. Neither could Banda MS, in at #18 with their second slo-mo slow dance on the chart. You might think it inevitable that Banda el Recodo would get the job done, but #4 “Inevitable” isn’t the tune.

Nope: none of this week’s Mexican chart debuts possesses the indescribable and unquantifiable blend of moxy, verve, hooks, indelible vocal timbre and/or inventive instrumental work needed to claim the coveted title of NorteñoBlog Pick to Click.

The Mexican top 20 isn’t a total wasteland. Alfredo Olivas‘s pick from two weeks ago sits atop the chart, and Remmy Valenzuela‘s terrific #3 power ballad just entered the U.S. Hot Latin chart at #49. (Speaking of which, the U.S. charts don’t have any good new songs either. Not even “Cicatriiices,” Regulo Caro‘s bouncy ode to scarred hearts, Pulp Fiction crime sprees, and unusual spelling conventions. Ayiyi.) Readers with paternalistic messiah complexes might want to check out Pepe Aguilar at #17. Readers with drinking problems should stay as far as possible from Banda Tierra Sagrada at #12. Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 4/12/16”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 3/8/16

pepe-aguilar

To hear Billboard‘s Leila Cobo tell it, singer-songwriter-producer Pepe Aguilar changed the industry of Regional Mexican music. Known for his giant sombreros and even bigger romantic mariachi ballads, this son of ranchera star Antonio Aguilar started his career as a rocker, he told Cobo in 2004:

Q: So what does a regional Mexican singer know about rock?

A: You should have met me when I had an earring and long hair! I recorded a rock album in 1987, before recording rancheras. Rock has been my inspiration and my best weapon. My Mexican music sounds the way it sounds because of rock. I produce and write everything I do musically based in rock.

Q: What happened with that album?

A: It flopped [laughs].

In 2012, Cobo credited Aguilar with essentially creating a new radio format. “Thanks directly to Aguilar’s contemporary readings on traditional music, radio stations that had never played mariachi opened up to the genre and, to this day, ‘romantic Mexican music’ is the programming base of dozens of stations around the country.” The closest Chicago comes to that format is Amor 106.7, where Pepe Aguilar is indeed a “core artist” but they also play bachata and Enrique. The point is, Aguilar’s traditional music has always had an element of crossover, and you can hear that in his latest banda single “María”, sitting at #9 this week on the Mexican chart.

“María” flaunts Aguilar’s crossover pedigree. With its pounding cumbia beat, its minor-key chord progression, and Aguilar’s seductive (and often multitracked) croak, it sounds like a stadium football banger filtered through a banda. It’s telling that Aguilar’s aside of choice is a grunted “hungggh!”, rather than the banda singer’s typical falsetto gritos. Add to that the high-concept video, where Aguilar stalks the nighttime city streets dressed all in black, eyes hidden behind intimidating sunglasses, using his magical touch to turn homeless women and whores into respectable ladies who dance around in bright primary colors. (One of them evangelizes some street toughs — this is the kind of retrograde video symbolism that inspires people to resurrect the term “street toughs” — who then paint a respectable wall mural. Of “María,” I guess.) Even in the most elaborate and sexist banda videos, singers rarely paint themselves as saviors. Whether lovers, cuckolds, protesters, or well-connected men about town, they belong to the scenes they depict. Aguilar here presents himself as savior and transformer, a transcendent figure — just as he sees himself within the regional Mexican scene?

Since the song sounds pretty good, we’ll let him think that if he wants. Pick to Click!

Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 3/8/16”

Lo Mejor De 2015: Marco A. Flores

marco flores grimace

“Soy Un Desmadre” — loosely translated, “I’m Bad News, Baby” — begins as a pleasant midtempo waltz by Banda Tierra Sagrada. But then, in one of the most thrilling entrances since Busta Rhymes commandeered “Scenario”, someone invites guest singer Marco A. Flores to show everyone how they do it in Zacatecas. What follows is a noise both exhilarating and terrifying. Imagine some maniacal rooster doubled over in laughter, and you may begin to understand the unique vocal timbre of Mexico’s greatest musical entertainer in 2015.

Flores sings with a gallo-rific crow unequaled in Mexican music. He makes his #1 Banda Jerez play faster than everyone else, because that’s how they do it in Zacatecas. They only manage one slow verse of the pretty ballad “Soy El Bueno” before kicking it up to a doubletime bounce. In his videos, Flores dances with abandon and encourages everyone in his band to do the same. (Sometimes they hide from him behind potted plants.) The album Soy El Bueno (Remex) races by so quickly, with so many fanfares and war whoops, it might initially seem bewildering. But every song sticks, a headlong rush of blaring creation, a refusal to look backwards that nevertheless demands to be heard over and over again.

A radical new song recorded for an éxitos album, “Amor de la Vida Alegre” juxtaposes quick horn fills with passages of Flores crowing over just drums and tuba. His dancing remains excellent and floppy. Like the Ramones, Rae Sremmurd, or early Madonna, Flores and his Banda make termite art of the most gnawing and forward thinking sort.

Read the entire list here or at PopMatters, check out a list of my other non-norteño picks on Twitter — and thanks for reading!

Lo Mejor de 2015: Gerardo Ortiz and Pancho Uresti

uresti

Time to run down the year-end lists! Today, an album and two singles from the “Eh, good enough” end of the spectrum:

Who doesn’t love a Sony blockbuster? Lots of people, actually. Hoy Más Fuerte (Del/Sony), the latest album from norteño’s biggest star Gerardo Ortiz, is too long — 21 songs plus five bonus versions — and it comes up shorter on memorable tunes than Ortiz’s 2013 breakthrough Archivos de Mi Vida. And yet… you throw enough money at talented people and they’re bound to have at least one good idea. The best investments here were the session work of accordionist Marito Aguilar, who brings something amazing to every song he plays, and the horn charts, which are consistently better than they had to be. (See the giddy chromatic hilarity of the banda’s take on “El Amigo”.) If you could abide the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie thanks to Johnny Depp’s acting and some well-staged action sequences, you might make it through this album. That Ortiz is even thinking in terms of norteño blockbusters might be his greatest legacy.

Pancho Uresti, the unassuming singer for Banda Tierra Sagrada, wiled his way onto two of 2015’s most iconic singles. “Adicto a la Tristeza” (Remex) is a camp masterpiece by the prolific songwriter Erika Vidrio, in which Uresti wallows with Trakalosa’s Edwin Luna in a big old vat of tears and liquor. Collecting himself for “Debajo del Sombrero”, Uresti joins Leandro Ríos to petition an unsympathetic father and win the hand of his hija, in the process singing a string of “-ero” rhymes that’ll reverberate through Spanish 101 classrooms for years to come.

pancho urestiRemex has compiled both songs along with some other Uresti, both solo and duets, onto A Lo Grande, a decent album that’s not as spectacular as I’d unreasonably hoped.

¡Nuevo! (starring Colmillo Norteño, Cuarteto Imperial, y más)

colmillo big

NorteñoBlog has been in the tank for Remex Records since hearing La Trakalosa’s “Mi Padrino El Diablo” on the radio. The song co-opted the Faust myth with more diabolical vigor than any of the surrounding songs could manage — any, that is, except those by other Remex bands, like Banda Tierra Sagrada and Marco Flores’s #1 Banda Jerez. Sometimes these bands falter: Tierra Sagrada’s “Soy Un Desmadre” is a great single, but most of their forgettable 2014 album was a disappointment. Overall, though, the Remex crew are a lively bunch who appear on one another’s tunes and seem perpetually on the verge of cracking up.

colmilloThis week on Remex, the tuba quintet Colmillo Norteño releases their 10-song A Quien Corresponda, which features their own take on “Mi Padrino El Diablo,” along with the rapid-fire circus parade (and Pick to Click) “La Plebona” and some other good or promising stuff. Colmillo have been around for several years, their album covers growing shinier and less rural over time, and I dig their sousaphone “O.” They also appeared on Tierra Sagrada’s smash “El Bueno y El Malo,” which at last count had garnered ONE TRILLION YOUTUBE VIEWS.

Also on Remex, Trakalosa’s new single “La Revancha” may be good for practicing your cusswords, or at least your three-against-two subdivisions. Wouldn’t hurt you to click on that one, either.

Another single, by the duranguense goddess Diana Reyes, is not as good. She sings her self-released banda ballad “La Mesa Puesta” well, but the song itself lies flat.

el tronoSpeaking of duranguense, El Trono de México has a new best-of, Los Más Grandes (Skalona), which kicks off with a song entitled “Se Fue” that is NOT the Diana Reyes song “Se Fue.”

la originalLa Original Banda El Limón drops Medio Siglo (Luz/Disa), from whence comes their Mexican top 10 ballad “Mayor de Edad.” Like their clademates in Arrolladora, Original reliably churns out two or three radio hits a year, and “Mayor” has begun its slow climb to mayority in El Norte.

cuarteto imperialIn the world of cumbia albums that may or may not be compilations, but that are definitely pro-fishing, Cuarteto Imperial celebrates El Pescador (Utopia). I should caution that Cuarteto Imperial is South American, not Mexican: this busy album cover boasts “De Colombia a la Argentina ye de Argentina para el mundo!” World conquest may take them a while; when I went to watch the video for “El Alegre Pescador,” it had zero views. Now it has one. This is a great injustice you should help remedy, because “Alegre” is a lot of fun, heavy on synth and piano, and not the official Click to Pick only because I can’t tell if it’s new. Cuarteto Imperial also posted the rest of this album on Youtube. Go make some fishermen happy.

antionio aguilarThe late man-myth-legend Antonio Aguilar has a new compilation, Antonio Aguilar Eterno (Seamusic). Aguilar recorded 150 albums of ranchera music and acted in a bunch of movies. Billboard sez, “Much of his repertoire consisted of “Corridos,” the sung stories so beloved in Mexican music. He turned several “corridos,” into classics, including “Gabino Barrera,” “Caballo Prieto Azabache” and “Albur de Amor.””

ramon ayalaI like the cover of this Ramon Ayala reissue:

¡Nuevo! (starring Trakalosa and Alfredo Olivas)

trakalosa uresti

We’ll start with esta semana’s pick to click, and it’s a weeper. It turns out Edwin Luna, lead singer of La Trakalosa de Monterrey, is very convincing portraying un “Adicto a la Tristeza.” It helps that his voice chimes like a throaty bell. Luna’s labelmate and guest singer, Pancho Uresti from Banda Tierra Sagrada, is somewhat less convincing because his voice is scratchy. When the woman in the video spurns his advances, he’ll feel nothing and should be able to pick up pretty easily with someone else. I myself am addicted to the urgency of their chorus melody, and a quarter-million Youtube viewers in the past two days seem to agree.

Other newish singles include Hijos de Barrón’s “Mis Quimeras” (LNG/Hyphy), featuring cool bass work and a syncopated groove;

“Así Es el Juego,” an underwhelming cover of Colmillo Norteño‘s profane kiss-off (in a couple senses), by Luis y Julián Jr. ft. Naty Chávez. It’s available in both obscene and family-friendly versions!;

and I’m not sure if this counts, but Graciela Beltrán throws herself into a new ballad, “Qué Tal Se Siente,” and it’s good to hear her voice.

The big new album this week is Alfredo Olivas’s El Privilegio (Sahuaro/Sony), which originally seemed to have come out late last year but maybe it was leaked. Olivas is an alumnus of several labels, including Fonovisa and the aforementioned Hyphy, here making his Sony debut. He’s also written songs for big names, so maybe Sony sees in his boyish grin the next Gerardo Ortiz?

The quintet Los Ramones de Nuevo Leon’s Con La Rienda Suelta (Grupo RMS) exists, as does a new retrospective from hyphy floggers (and Hyphy alums) Los Amos de Nuevo Leon, 20 Éxitos (Mar).

And I’m confused about Hyphy alums Los Rodriguez de Sinaloa — didn’t they just put out an album? Well, there’s another one out there called Entre El Rancho y La Ciudad (Independent), which so far seems more energetic than Sr. Olivas’s album.

What’s that? — you’re worried Hyphy music is under represented? — very well, the trio Los Kompitaz released 12 Corridos y Canciones at the end of 2014.

Accordionist, singer, businessman, and crier of single tears Fidel Rueda releases Música del Pueblo on his own Rueda label. His latest single “No Te Vayas” has stuttering accordion and horn lines that sound like they’re fighting to squeeze through his tear ducts.

Feeling romantic and/or cash-starved, Fonovisa has released it’s annual Bandas Románticas de América comp, which last year sucked. As companion pieces, they’ve compiled 20 Kilates Románticos for a bunch of groups, including Recodo, Primavera, Bryndis, Bukis — you know, groups who have never been compiled before.

Desfile De Éxitos 1/24/15

fidel rueda

If it’s possible, the Hot Latin top 10 is getting even more stagnant. A month ago, nine of the top 10 songs were the same as they are now, and four of them were by Romeo Santos. As of two weeks ago, Gerardo Ortiz’s “Eres Una Niña” had replaced one of Romeo’s. No such excitement this week: all 10 songs are the same as they were two weeks ago. The #1 song has been on the chart for 43 weeks. The most recent of King Romeo’s three top 10 hits has been on the chart 44 weeks, and the longest an astounding 77 weeks. “Bailando” has always been at war with “Propuesta Indecente.”

As the farmer said to his dead cow while watching the sorghum grow, not much happening anywhere this week. On Hot Latin we say “adiós” to Yandel’s “Plakito”; on Regional Mexican, Banda Carnaval’s “El Que Se Enamora Pierde” loses the game of musical chairs. They’re replaced by Farruko’s “Lejos De Aqui” and Fidel Rueda’s “No Te Vayas,” respectively. (In case I haven’t mentioned it, the current picks to click are Victor Manuelle’s electro-salsa “Que Suenen Los Tambores,” #13, and Natalia Jiménez’s electro-mariachi “Quédate Con Ella,” #17. They’re slightly outside our scope, but good songs are good songs.)

In his great Pitchfork piece “I Know You Got Soul,” Chris Molanphy explains what’s behind this stasis:

In October 2012, [Billboard] announced an overhaul to its R&B/Hip-Hop, Country, and Latin Songs charts, all incorporating digital sales and streaming for the first time. The modernization of these genre charts was long overdue, but Billboard threw out the baby with the bathwater. Or, you might say, drowned the baby in too much bathwater: Now, digital sales from any source, any buyer (read: pop fans) would be factored into each chart. Worse, in order to achieve sales and radio parity, Billboard also incorporated airplay across all radio formats into the genre charts; so airplay from Top 40 or adult-contemporary stations of, say, an R&B song would now count for the R&B chart, of a country song would count for the country chart, and so forth. In essence, Billboard would now use the exact same data set for these genre charts that it uses for the Hot 100, and simply trim the charts back to whatever songs the magazine determined fit that genre — each chart became a mini–Hot 100.

This certainly explains the longevity of “Bailando,” whose Top 40 spins bolster its Hot Latin dominance. And indeed, “Bailando” is only the latest in a line of #1 hogs:

On Latin Songs, the steady turnover of hits atop the chart slowed down instantly, as a crossover hit that paired reggaetón stars Wisin y Yandel with Chris Brown and T-Pain vaulted to No. 1 and settled in for a months-long run.

I can’t explain the slow turnover among Regional Mexican Songs, though; or why the Mexican charts seem to turn over quicker.

These are the top 25 Hot Latin Songs and top 20 Regional Mexican Songs, courtesy Billboard, as published Jan. 24.

1. “Bailando” – Enrique ft. Descemer Bueno, Gente de Zona, & the word “contigo”
2. “Ay Vamos” – J Balvin
3. “Propuesta Indecente” – Romeo Santos (I just wanna point out this song is 77 WEEKS OLD.)
4. “Travesuras” – Nicky Jam
5. “Eres Mia” – Romeo Santos
6. “6 AM” – J Balvin ft. Farruko
7. “Eres Una Niña” – Gerardo Ortíz (#1 RegMex)
8. “Y Asi Fue” – Julión Álvarez (#4 RegMex) (Is this man the best banda singer around right now? Or should we forget the qualifier?)
9. “Odio” – Romeo Santos ft. Drake
10. “No Me Pidas Perdon” – Banda MS (#10 Reg Mex)

11. “Qué Tiene De Malo” – Calibre 50 ft. El Komander (#12 RegMex)
12. “Hablame de Ti” – Banda MS (snoooooozzzzzz)
13. “Que Suenen Los Tambores” – Victor Manuelle
14. “Javier El de Los Llanos” – Calibre 50 (#3 RegMex)
15. “Levantando Polvadera” – Voz De Mando (#2 RegMex)
16. “Mi Princesa” – Remmy Valenzuela (#6 RegMex)
17. “Quédate Con Ella” – Natalia Jiménez (Sleek! Horns + electrobeats!)
18. “Hasta Que Salga el Sol” – Banda Los Recoditos (#8 RegMex)
19. “Mi Vecinita” – Plan B
20. “Tus Besos” – Juan Luis Guerra 440

21. “Lejos De Aqui” – Farruko
22. “Soltero Disponible” – Regulo Caro (#7 RegMex)
23. “El Karma” – Ariel Camacho y Los Plebes Del Rancho (#11 RegMex)
24. “Soledad” – Don Omar
25. “La Bala” – Los Tigres Del Norte (#5 RegMex)

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9. “Eres Tú” – Proyecto X

13. “Zapatillas Ferragamo” – Meño Lugo
14. “Entonces Que Somos” – Banda El Recodo (A nada Luciano Luna ballad off Recodo’s 2013 album, now turned into a dramatic short film.)
15. “Soy Un Desmadre” – Banda Tierra Sagrada ft. Marco Flores y La #1 Banda Jerez
16. “Dime” – Julión Álvarez
17. “Lo Hiciste Otra Vez” – La Arrolladora Banda El Limón (Oh dear, this is not good. Not just sap — meandering sap.)
18. “La Indicada” – Kevin Ortíz
19. “No Te Vayas” – Fidel Rueda
20. “Al Estilo Mafia” – Saul El Jaguar ft. La Bandononona Clave Nueva de Max Peraza

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