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NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2016: Abril – Junio

chiquis-rivera-624x351

Last time out, NorteñoBlog counted six chart hits among the quarter’s best. This quarter we’re down to three, which doesn’t necessarily mean the radio has turned into a wasteland — after all, part of the thrill of radio is hearing a song you never much cared for, like Gerardo Ortiz’s “Fuiste Mia,” suddenly sound really good in the company of entirely dissimilar songs. Not that you’ll find “Fuiste Mia” below. But who knows, I may relent before the year is out.

No, all this means is that norteño and banda music have thriving independent scenes, geared more toward online video than terrestrial radio — see the tiny labels and self-releases promoted by Beto Sierra, whose YouTube clients make up a good portion of this list. In terms of their commercial outlook, bands like Máximo Grado and Los Rodriguez don’t resemble the reactionary ’80s heyday of “indie rock” so much as the early rock heyday of the ’50s and ’60s, when bands simply wanted to get paid to rock out, whether they recorded for Excello or Sun or Decca or RCA. Today’s world of online promotion means it’s easier for musicians of all genres to get heard, though not necessarily to get paid. But the barriers between majors and indies seem more porous in Mexican regional music than they do in Anglo pop and rock. Indie artists like Fidel Rueda and Los Inquietos regularly get played on mainstream radio; major and indie bands record the same corridos, and sometimes the same love songs. Everyone tours the same venues relentlessly. That’s not to say everyone is equal. Indie label acts are routinely priced out of performing on the glamorous award show circuit, and I’m guessing major label artists have first pick of surefire radio hits by Luciano Luna and Horacio Palencia. NorteñoBlog needs to research this more, but in Mexican regional music, the indie-major borderline isn’t drawn philosophically or aesthetically so much as with scrap and hustle and practicality: Who’s got the money? Who’s got the chops? How do we use our chops to get more money?

Of course, 10 years from now, when Ortiz and Julión Álvarez have catalogs full of dull 20-track prestige albums, who knows? Boredom has a way of shaking up philosophies and aesthetics.

1. Banda Renovación“Los Ninis” (Talento Lider)
Continue reading “NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2016: Abril – Junio”

¡Nuevo! — starring Chiquis Rivera

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Imagine trying to live up to the legacy of Jenni Rivera. There’s never been anyone like her. Her personality — commanding, ribald, sexy, romantic, hilarious — burned through every note of her music. Her songs became inseparable from the public persona she shared on TV; and her sharp business acumen, the will that drove her to succeed, became integral to hearing her. Her success in a male-dominated field added to her complexity. She made herself into an object of longing and fear to both women and men. To aspire to Rivera’s level of command was to welcome the terror of never getting there.

chiquis ahoraAt Billboard Angie Romero offers a track-by-track analysis of Chiquis Rivera‘s new album Ahora (Sony), along with an interview. Not having read Chiquis’s tell-all memoir, NorteñoBlog isn’t fully up to speed on all the difficulties of growing up with Jenni Rivera for a Mom. But I fully sympathize with the daunting task of needing to make music in her wake. “‘I don’t think that I sing like Celine Dion, but I’m not a horrible singer,’ Chiquis tells Billboard. ‘I was watching a video the other day of my mom when she was first starting. She grew into this monster onstage, she really dominated it, but it wasn’t always like that. People forget that.’” Exactly! Chiquis has a fine voice and there’s plenty to like about her songs, especially fast ones like the singles “La Malquerida” and “Completamente.” She gets into some swanky electro-pop like “Paloma Negra,” a duet with Julio Reyes that also serves as a backhanded tribute to Mom (Romero says Rivera previously dedicated the Mexican standard to Chiquis after they had a major falling out). Chiquis’s music stands in Rivera’s unavoidable shadow, but it frequently acknowledges that shadow, a Jenni hallmark: don’t try to separate life and art! And in her forward-thinking mix of banda and pop, Spanish and English, Chiquis points her own way out.

VALE LA PENA

¿Qué Estamos Escuchando?

One of my formative critical influences is Richard Meyers’ book The Great Science Fiction Films (Carol Publishing Group). This mysterious book, which I bought at a theme park and have never seen elsewhere, covers sci-fi/fantasy/horror movies from 1975 to 1983. Its copyright date — no kidding — is 1962. As I write this, book on my lap, it occurs to me that the book might not actually exist; or maybe Meyers saw all the movies and then went back in time to write it; or possibly I’m Richard Meyers. Big old mindfuck, in other words.

In the intro, Meyers/Langhoff writes, “Although we malign many films in the coming pages, we really love all science-fiction films…” I could say much the same thing about norteño albums, as I bet most genre fans could say about their stomping grounds. Even the worst norteño album (I’ll nominate a certain live set by LOS! BuiTRES! without bothering to look up its specifics), the emptiest wasted hour of cartel crap or romantic sludge, tells you something about the good stuff. You can learn something from anything. Or at least glean a good sentence or two. Here’s Meyers on the 1977 Christopher Lee flick End of the World: “Nuns start turning back into clawed and tentacled monsters who attack innocent bystanders for a few minutes until a serene shot of the planet fills the movie screen. A second later it explodes in a torrent of plastic, dirt and water. Director John Hayes manages to stretch this inconsequential drivel over eighty minutes.”

In that spirit, let’s consider:

Various Artists – Radio Éxitos: El Disco Del Año 2014 (Fonovisa)disco 2014

Epiphanies, such as they are, from the Disco of last Año:

1. Luciano Luna writes a lot of hit songs. Five of these 20 bear his name in the writing credits — two solo and three cowrites. The best, “Te Hubieras Ido Antes,” belongs to the continent’s best singer, Julión Álvarez, who knows how to push and pull rote melodic phrases into floating conversations — I mean, they’re anguished, but still floating with the illusion of life. Chuy Lizárraga’s “Nomás Faltó Que Me Quisieras” is also good. Luna’s other three songs — by Recodo, Recoditos, and Calibre 50 — are among the low points of their parent albums.

2. Unfortunately, they don’t stand out too much on this comp, because most of these songs are ballads. I get that these songs were hits, but why pick Calibre 50’s thin attempt at a power ballad when they had at least three other, more interesting, faster hit songs last year? Shouldn’t a curated hits compilation be better than any random week of the chart it’s compiling?

3. As Luna’s rival mushmonger Espinoza Paz focuses on his solo career, he may be scoring fewer hit writing credits. He contributes only one song here, El Bebeto’s ballad “Lo Más Interesante,” a misnomer.

4. There’s only one woman here, and she’s great! She’s also dead. I have no idea what Jenni Rivera’s “Resulta” is doing on this CD. Well, OK, I have some idea. Rivera’s an icon who was arguably the center of her genre when she died, and it’s not like any woman or man has commandeered the field to take her place. (Gerardo Ortiz is trying.) This track from her 2011 album appeared on 2014’s posthumous live album, and a Youtube video of the studio version — the version on this CD — has garnered four million views. So yeah, “Resulta” is a 2014 single. Was it a radio éxito? No. But did any Latina women have éxitos on regional Mexican radio in 2014? Um… (Not for lack of trying.)

5. I apologize for sleeping on Jorge Valenzuela’s wonderful “El Agüitado.” Mouthpiece squeal of the year! That said:

NO VALE LA PENA

¿Dónde están las mujeres?

Since tonight’s award show Premios de la Radio is a blatant moneymaker for the media barons at Liberman Broadcasting, and since it’s voted on by fans, its nominees aren’t surprising. Surprise would be antithetical to its purpose. Turn on regional Mexican radio for a half hour and you’ll hear a couple of the honorees, and that’s the point — it’s a state of The Scene. And at least one aspect of The Scene is disturbing.

No, nothing to do with corrido violence. This year’s Artista del Año nominees include El Komander, the current poster-bro for El Movimiento Alterado; Gerardo Ortiz, who’s transitioned away from Alterado into his unofficial role as poster-bro for the whole genre; and two more romantic banda acts, La Arrolladora Banda el Limón and the continent’s best singer Julión Álvarez, along with his Norteña Banda. That’s two sorta bad boys, two bandas full of good boys, and fewer women than Iowa has ever elected to national office. Among the nominees for best canción, colaboración, and corrido, there are no songs by women. If you watch the nominees for best video, you’ll at least see women in various states of undress.

What’s worse, this is an accurate state of The Scene, at least as it exists on FM radio. In the last hour, my go-to station has played Komander’s “Soy De Rancho,” Álvarez’s “Y Así Fue,” and zero women. For its Top Songs of the Week, said station lists alt-popper Ximena Sariñana’s year-old cumbia collaboration at #20, and beyond that… well, I haven’t checked all 423 songs, but Sariñana was the only female in the top 60. Where are all the women?

At the Premios, the four nominees for Artista Femenina del Año are the late Jenni Rivera, her daughter Chiquis, Ana Bárbara, and Gerencia 360’s token artista femenina, Helen Ochoa. Rivera remains an icon and a chart-topper, albeit with posthumous live albums. Ana Bárbara’s fine banda album came out at the end of 2013, like Ortiz’s album, and its first single reached #25 on the Regional Mexican chart. Chiquis and Ochoa have slight outputs so far — just two singles for Ochoa, far as I can tell — but let’s hope they’ll get bigger. Chiquis really knows how to throw herself into a song, just like Mom. Unfortunately the Premios didn’t see fit to nominate Nena Guzman, a labelmate of Ortiz who released a solid norteño album earlier this year, or previous winners and chicas malas Los Horóscopos de Durango. For all the talk of bro-country elbowing women to the margins of country radio, in regional Mexican music these days, the margins seem razor thin.

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