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Chalino Sanchez

How Do We Hear Violent Corridos? (Desfile de Éxitos 3/12/16)

los tucanes

Thanks to Los Tucanes de Tijana, NorteñoBlog has been forced into another installment of our occasional feature HASTY CARTEL GOOGLING. This long-running quintet of corrideros is nothing if not consistent, and they’re back at #20 on the Regional Mexican airplay chart with “Panchito El F1,” a pro forma cartel ballad ripped from the headlines by their prolific songwriter Mario Quintero. The story concerns a real life honcho of the Gulf Cartel in Zacatecas. Until recently he operated under the nombres de cartel “Panchito” and “F1,” but was captured along with coworkers in May. The federales also confiscated some of the cartel’s heavy weaponry, including four grenade launchers and four AK47s. (No andan cazando venados con esa mierda, amirite?) The song is Panchito’s origin story: when ordered to kill someone else’s family, he refuses. As a penalty, his own family is kidnapped and tortured, but he gets them back. (I think; standard gabacho translation caveats apply.) The corrido also mentions a different Gulf Cartel honcho named Comandante Hamburguesa. Since this Hamburgler appears to be still at large, NorteñoBlog will leave his Hasty Cartel Googling up to you!

Does current Mexican law permit narcocorridos on the radio? This recent article suggests “Panchito El F1” is probably banned from Mexico’s airwaves because it “publicly supports criminal actions.” (I’m sure the Gulf Cartel is wondering why membership is down.) As we saw in our last round of Hasty Cartel Googling, this ban is not absolute: La Séptima Banda recently charted with the wafer-thin character study “El Hijo del Ingeniero,” based on the party habits of a real life cartel scion. But that’s a party song. “F1” has violence and weaponry and is not the sort of thing the Mexican government wants impressionable muchachos to hear. You know, all those muchachos who listen to the radio but don’t know how to work Youtube.

NorteñoBlog does not support banning violent corridos from the radio, because banning violent corridos from the radio is silly. Corrido bans are the ineffective smokescreens of an utterly failed war on drugs. Better to focus on the corruption that prevents Mexico from thoroughly prosecuting its criminals. Better to alleviate Mexico’s poverty, or to deal with drug-addicted El Norte; these are the blights that have driven Mexican people to the cartels. (A possibly optimistic statistic: “A 2012 study by the Mexcian Institute of Competitiveness (IMCO) figured if the U.S. legalized marijuana, Mexican drug cartels would lose 30 percent of their revenue.”) There are no simple solutions; but whatever the solutions might be, neoliberal outrage over suppressing free speech is a secondary issue.

So here’s the real question when it comes to songs like “F1”: What do people hear in violent corridos, and why? Continue reading “How Do We Hear Violent Corridos? (Desfile de Éxitos 3/12/16)”

100 Regional Mexican Compilations Released in 2015

calibre 50 mejor

The hyper-abundant compilation album is one of the more bewildering aspects of the Regional Mexican music industry. There are a LOT of them — witness this Allmusic list of more than 50 Conjunto Primavera comps since 1995, released on eight different record labels. Lately some music-writer friends and acquaintances have observed a dearth of compilation albums in recent years, given listeners’ ability to cherrypick their own songs on streaming sites. NorteñoBlog does not dispute this observation; I’ll only add that the compilation market in Regional Mexican is still going strong. This year saw four new Primavera comps, on two different labels. Who’s buying these things? Don’t they already own all these songs?

Without answering these questions, NorteñoBlog presents this list of 100 single- (or, in the case of Sony’s Frente a Frente series, double-) artist comps released on CD in 2015. It doesn’t include multi-artist comps like Fonovisa’s annual Radio Éxitos: Discos Del Año series. This list is incomplete; I’m pretty sure I could find more by scouring the catalogs of indie labels Select-O-Hits and D&O.

Some items of interest: Continue reading “100 Regional Mexican Compilations Released in 2015”

Pronounced “Jai-Fi”: The Rise and Fall of Hyphy Norteño

amos 2008

After first appearing at the 2014 EMP Pop Conference in Seattle, this article ran last spring at Maura Magazine; I reprint it here with their kind permission.

————————————–
amos 1996Here’s the story of a band from Modesto,
A small city east of San Francisco.
Led by the brothers Guajardo,
They’re known to the world as Los Amos.

amos 2001They got started back in the mid-’90s
Playing los narcocorridos,
And over the course of a decade,
Los Amos altered their appearance

amos 2006From flashy-shirted, big-hatted cowboys
To black-suited, no-hatted tough guys,
Los Amos’ transformation was dramatic,
And their music changed right along with them.

This transition was shaped by two forces:
The demands of their well-structured business,
But also their repeated incantations
Of one magic word from the Bay…

HYPHY HYPHY HYPHY HYPHY HYPHY HYPHY HYPHY HYPHY HYPHY HYPHY HYPHY

But before we get hyphy, we need to answer this question: Why were some guys in Modesto, California, playing corridos—Mexican story songs about the drug trade—for a living in the first place? The answer lies with two names, corridistas you’ve probably heard of, immigrants to los Estados Unidos, legends in their field.
Continue reading “Pronounced “Jai-Fi”: The Rise and Fall of Hyphy Norteño”

“El Karma” in Pitchfork: Interviews and Extras

ariel camacho

If you’ve read my recent Pitchfork article about Ariel Camacho’s song “El Karma” and you thirst for more, NorteñoBlog is on the case! Besides the helpful label execs quoted in the article, three more people took time out from their busy lives to answer my questions off the clock. I’m grateful for their generosity, and for helping to shape my context of Camacho’s music.

Here’s a full interview with Juan Carlos, who talks about Movimiento Alterado, El Chapo’s second escape, and what certain corridos and rap songs mean in his life.

Here’s a full interview with Manuel, who discusses how he learned to love corridos, prevalent misconceptions about norteño music, and his karaoke best practices. He writes for NorteñoBlog, too!

cover1big1The journalist Sam Quinones wrote the definitive account of Chalino Sánchez’s legacy in the U.S.; it’s in his first book, True Tales From Another Mexico. Quinones has been busy speaking about his new acclaimed book Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, but he took the time to craft a detailed and thoughtful response to my questions. Many thanks, sir.

As Mexican Americans play an increasingly large role in the U.S., Mexican music will continue inching closer to the mainstream, if it isn’t there already. To know this music, it’s vital that musical interlopers (like me) learn the stories of those who really know it.

El Karma Comes Back To You Hard

camacho18656z

Alternate headline: NorteñoBlog Steps On Pitchfork

That’s right, my first article at the illustrious music website Pitchfork.com is also Pitchfork’s first article about Regional Mexican music. It’s all about Ariel Camacho’s song “El Karma,” which longtime NB readers know I like a bit. Here’s the opening:

So far in 2015, six different songs have topped Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart. Five of them involved slick, established stars like Enrique Iglesias singing about love or dancing, but the sixth hit was different. It was a corrido, part of Mexico’s century-old ballad tradition about everyday heroes facing impossible odds; according to Salon’s Alexander Zaitchik, corridos are like “contemporary news reports—a Mexican version of Chuck D’s description of rap as black America’s CNN.” With the rise of Mexican drug cartels over the last few decades, corridos have largely given way to narcocorridos, story songs lauding the exploits of illicit kingpins and their employees. But before last March, no narcocorrido had ever hit #1 on the Hot Latin chart.

Then came “El Karma”…

Read all about it at the ‘Fork! You’ll notice the NB has changed our header to mark the occasion: Hats off to Omar Burgos, Los Plebes’ astounding tuba player.

Shot Through El Corazón: Sinaloa Muscles In On Latin Pop

I wrote this a couple years ago for Maura Magazine; I reprint it here with their kind permission.

———————————

“He’s really good,” said my librarian Fatima, handing me the new Noel Torres CD. She’d seen him live in Chicago a few months back. I’d never heard of the guy — when it comes to library CDs, I have no standards and few expectations. La Estructura, featuring Torres’s perfectly trimmed hair and penetrating scowl, immediately moved to the top of my stack.

Noel_Torres_-_La_Estructura

Fatima knew what she was talking about. When you hear La Estructura, the most appropriate response is awe, followed by abject humility and despair because you will never create anything as good or alive or technically accomplished, as upending of your expectations. “I can’t even fathom what his band is doing,” went my first attempt at an explanation. Torres is a young man from the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa. He sings, plays the accordion, writes most of his songs, and leads a four-piece norteño band as well as an occasional brass band. His unadorned singing gets the job done; at all other tasks he is a motherfucker. Tossing off blazing accordion riffs with the “top this!” spirit of ‘80s hair metal, he leads his band through variations on polkas and waltzes. But while much Sinaloan norteño music simply bounces along, arid and sparse, the Torres band fills every instant with rambunctious noise. Tuba and bajo quinto fall all over each other, the drummer bashes like he’s playing on a John Zorn record, and somehow all this craziness congeals into steady pulses and familiar forms. My second attempt at explanation was one word: “brutal.”
Continue reading “Shot Through El Corazón: Sinaloa Muscles In On Latin Pop”

Ask a Norteño Fan: Manuel Martinez-Luna

manuel martinez-luna

Today we extend a warm NorteñoBlog welcome to Manuel Martinez-Luna. Manuel is a 31-year-old New York native, having cut a swath from Yonkers to Queens. You know him as the blog’s top commenter, which has led to an exciting new job (tambora roll…) writing for NorteñoBlog! (First article coming soon.) (No, there’s no money in it.) In his spare time, Manuel works as a compilations coordinator for The Orchard, a digital distribution arm of Sony Music, creating Regional Mexican compilations under the brand name Club Corridos. (Nice logo.) In alphabetical order, his favorites artists are Los Alegres del Barranco, the Beatles, Vicente Fernández, Ratt, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

We recently talked by phone for almost an hour about growing up in Yonkers, how Manuel came to love norteño music, how Hispanic and white people view narcocorridos, and his karaoke triumphs and fails. Here’s the edited transcript:

NorteñoBlog: What was the first popular music you ever remember loving? How did you hear it? What did you love about it?

Manuel Martinez-Luna: I would say it was hip hop. I got more aware of the artists and particular songs in middle school. Jay-Z and, when I used to live in Yonkers, the Lox — I still listen to them. For the most part it was the beats, the instruments they used, but also the lyrics — some songs might have been a little bit more street-oriented or violent, but a lot of the the things they said I could definitely relate to. The struggle, growing up in the inner city, was not that uncommon from the type of life I had — and not just me, but a lot of people can relate to not having enough money to get school clothes for the new year, or whatever it may be. Your plumbing doesn’t work during the winter, so you have to heat up your bath water in a big pot and then pour it over yourself to take a shower. Like the landlord, sometimes you ask him, “Come by and fix my damn pipes!” You know, they take a while, and you can’t show up to school smelly.

NB: What kind of music did your parents listen to? Did you find yourself liking what they liked, rebelling against their taste, or what?

MML: All Mexican music, primarily rancheros — you know, Vicente Fernandez, Antonio Aguilar — stuff like that. My dad would listen to corridos, but mostly more old school stuff — Los Alegres de Terán, Los Huracanes del Norte, like those guys? My mom would listen to very obscure female groups, I can’t remember their name right now. I think their name was Las Jilgueras something… [NB note: Las Jilguerillas?]

Honestly, when I was younger, I just didn’t get it — I thought it was kind of hokey and too old school or whatever. I would hear it in the background all the time, Saturday mornings my mom and dad would put on their music and we would go about our business, but at that time I just didn’t get it. You know, I wasn’t into it.

That changed around 2006, 2007, Continue reading “Ask a Norteño Fan: Manuel Martinez-Luna”

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