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Claudio Alcaraz

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”

On Banda Music

banda serenade

Banda music is all about hard work; that work allows for banda’s fun, its depth, and its despair. Every banda song represents an enormous coordination of talent and effort, and this coordination is plain to anyone who listens. Aside from the lead vocal and an occasional horn solo or percussion fill, there is no pretense of spontaneity in banda music. The music we hear is the result of countless hours spent in preparation. Someone had to write charts for the horn players. To cleanly execute these charts’ complicated musical passages, the players had to devote time to rehearsal, both on their own and together. Popular musicians from metal to rap spend many hours practicing, of course, but the sheer size of a banda gives all this preparation, all this work, a quality of ornate formality. A banda song is like a room full of delicate antique furniture, where one misplaced elbow sends priceless valuables crashing to smithereens; or like an elaborate negotiation through a complex system of social etiquette, a labyrinth of rules that must be internalized if it is to be understood.

The rituals we see in videos — the horn players performing cheesy coordinated dances, the heartbroken singer bringing the banda to serenade his girlfriend outside her window — underscore what a lot of work a banda demands. In the movie Say Anything, Lloyd Dobler famously played a boombox outside Diane Court’s window to woo her. It was a charming gesture, in keeping with his character, and the wooing worked: the serenader won over his audience of one, and in doing so he won over the audience for his film. The serenading banda works in the same way. Just as the mujer at the window is impressed with the effort of her hombre — for starters, how the hell did he get 16 brass players together on the spur of the moment? — so we at the computer screen are impressed with the care and concentration the ensemble squanders on their silly pop song. When the three well-rehearsed virtuosos in Rush play a side-long progressive rock suite, they’re devoted nerds pleasing themselves; they could just as easily be arguing politics or playing Dungeons and Dragons. When the 16 virtuosos in a banda lavish their skill on their singer’s romantic plea, their audience must understand their effort as a formalized gesture of romance, or else all that effort and per diem money is wasted.

The canniest bandas recognize this elaborate formal system and use it to their advantage. Often their goal is romantic; Gerardo Ortiz can only soften his “Mujer de Piedra” if his banda’s music is harder and more rigid than her heart of stone. One of them must crack, and the banda never does. But just as often, the goal is humor — a humor that acknowledges The Void. In Recoditos’ “Ando Bien Pedo,”, the players’ dexterity mocks the drunken heartache of their singer as he marches toward oblivion. The audience, having learned to feel their way around the banda’s formality, recognizes this mockery for what it is and knows to laugh at the singer. Taken further, this effect explains an inescapable fixture of current banda albums: the big dumb cumbia. Nearly every banda album attempts one. Big dumb cumbias typically use only two or three chords, and their subject matter barely strays beyond drunken revelry or dance sensations that are (not usually) sweeping the nation. Yet the banda shows their big dumb cumbias the same, or more, consideration as any other song. Someone writes a horn chart full of elaborate musical passages. The players rehearse for hours to cleanly execute those passages. A banda rarely releases its big dumb cumbia as a single, so there the song sits in the middle of the album, awaiting its audience of several thousand: a hilarious and possibly scathing testimony to how much work musicians devote to their craft and how little, in the end, it all means.

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 6/26/15

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This week’s Mexican radio roundup looks far different than it did last time, for two reasons: it’s been a month and I’m using a different chart. Inspired by the discovery that audience impressions matter more than total radio spins, NorteñoBlog has begun following the audience impression chart at radioNOTAS. So we say adios to a whopping 10 songs — half the chart — including winners from Leandro Ríos and Zacatecan dancing machine Marco A. Flores, losers from Banda Los Sebastianes and songwriter-to-the-stars Espinoza Paz, and startlingly hot motorcycle enthusiast Jovanko Ibarra.

That said, this week’s Pick to Click is cheating, in more ways than one. The new single by Chicago’s startlingly hot chicas malas Los Horóscopos de Durango, “Estoy Con Otro En La Cama,” is dramatic banda camp about cheating, and it comes from the “spins” chart, not the “audience impressions” chart. This study of hi infidelity uses “cuernos” imagery worthy of Shakespearean cuckoos, and it’s a welcome bit of smut from aforementioned songwriter Espinoza Paz, seen performing it here. (Los Horóscopos don’t have a video yet; that link above will get you to a stream that might disappear at any moment.) Paz’s stripped down version might be even better; his audience keeps laughing at key lines and it has the transgressive feel of a Toby Keith “bus song.”

Also noteworthy: Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 6/26/15”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 5/3/15

claudio

Last week NorteñoBlog recommended “Cerveza” by the cruel drunks in Banda Cuisillos. It turns out “Cerveza” has garnered one of the 20 biggest radio audiences in México but, due to some chart formulas I don’t quite understand at the website monitorLATINO, hasn’t yet hit the radio top 20, which measures total spins rather than estimated audience. (This could just mean it’s more popular in urban radio markets, where more people will hear its fewer spins…???)

ANYWAY, my point here is not to reveal how little I know about Mexican radio stats, but rather to direct you to two more such songs. The first is “Te Extraño Poquito” by Claudio Alcaraz y Su Banda Once Varas. It’s got breathless banda bombast and Alcaraz moving through increasingly desperate stages of post-breakup grief until, in the video, he goes Lloyd Dobbler on his ex and shows up outside her window with the entire banda. Neither ex nor neighbors call the police; rather, ex turns out the light, so everyone just gives up and goes home. Continuará…

Popular but less-spun song two is the charming “Amanece Y No Estas” by Diego Verdaguer, who splits the difference between mariachi and Jason Mraz-style hippy dippiness. No ukelele though, promise.

But today’s Pick to Click is yet another top 20 single from NorteñoBlog’s album of the year so far, Marco A. Flores’s Soy El Bueno. “Dudo” is more of Flores’s trademark Sinaloan banda played at Zacatecas speed. He uses pop chord changes but avoids sentimentality, mostly because he’s got a voice like a tornado siren playing a wax paper comb. The song lasts all of 2:48. I swear this record’s like the Ramones or someone.

Other newbies include ballads by Saul “El Jaguar” and Luz Maria, and something by Los Titanes de Durango featuring 14-year-old Jaziel Avilez. Being a sucker for such novelty and having once enjoyed Los Titanes, who despite their name play plain old norteño and not duranguense, I so wanted to like this song, but “Padre Ejemplar” goes on way too long. 40 seconds longer than “Dudo,” to be exact. Talk about self indulgence!

These are the Top 20 “Popular” songs in Mexico, as measured by monitorLATINO. Don’t confuse “Popular” with the “General” list, which contains many of the same songs but also “Uptown Funk!”, “Sugar,” “Love Me Like You Do,” and an Alejandro Sanz ballad about scratchy-voiced zombies.

1. “Después de Ti ¿Quién?” – La Adictiva Banda San Jose
2. “Contigo” – Calibre 50
3. “El Amor de Su Vida” – Julión Álvarez
4. “Confesion” – La Arrolladora Banda El Limón
5. “A Lo Mejor” – Banda MS
6. “Perdi La Pose” – Espinoza Paz
7. “Me Toco Perder” – Banda Los Recoditos
8. “No Fue Necesario” – El Bebeto
9. “Tranquilito” – El Chapo de Sinaloa
10. “Indeleble” – Banda Los Sebastianes

11. “Dudo” – Marco A. Flores y No.1 Banda Jerez
12. “Que te Quede Claro” – Saul El Jaguar
13. “Si Tuviera Que Decirlo” – Pedro Fernandez
14. “Padre Ejemplar” – Los Titanes de Durango ft. Jaziel Avilez
15. “La Reina” – La Iniciativa
16. “Ponte Las Pilas” – America Sierra
17. “Y Esa Soy Yo” – Luz Maria
18. “Que Tal Si Eres Tu” – Los Tigres Del Norte
19. “Un Ranchero En La Ciudad” – Leandro Rios ft. Pancho Uresti
20. “Escuchame” – Fidel Rueda

¡Adios!
“Adicto a la Tristeza” – Banda La Trakalosa ft. Pancho Uresti
“Que Aún Te Amo” – Pesado
“Me Importas” – Los Primos MX
“Malditas Ganas” – Alfredo Rios El Komander
“Todo Tuyo” – Banda El Recodo

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