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NorteñoBlog’s 41 Esencial Songs Since the Year 2000

jenni-rivera-diva-de-la-banda

As a recovering rockist and certified Old, I enjoy listening to the radio station The Current, 89.3 FM, whenever I’m driving through the Twin Cities. Recently The Current held a listener poll to determine the 893 essential songs since the year 2000. This list is a hit of sweet, unfiltered white elephant art. “Seven Nation Army” is #1 — and to be fair, it’s got one of the first riffs learned by today’s budding guitarists. Arcade Fire is everywhere, and Duluth folk-rockers Trampled By Turtles are more ranked than they’ve ever been ranked before.

In response, last week the Minneapolis City Pages, led by the excellent Keith Harris, published a list of 40 non-essential songs since the year 2000. This was the termite-tapeworm-fungus-moss riposte to all that Art. As you might guess, the non-essential list is way more fun, since it contains songs about dog sex and smashing things with hammers. But still, there was something missing, and I don’t mean Trampled By Turtles.

Both these lists gave NorteñoBlog an excuse to indulge in its two favorite pastimes: bitching that nobody pays attention to regional Mexican music, and shamelessly stealing the ideas of its betters.

So, in the pioneering spirit of 7-Minute Abs: ¡NorteñoBlog’s 41 Esencial Songs Since 2000!

What does “esencial” mean in this case? I only got into Mexican music in 2005, so my list will look different than the list of someone immersed in this music for years, let alone decades. If you’ve followed the Blog at all, you know my taste leans toward novelty: cumbias, tubas, brass sections turned into backbeats, and squalid consortiums of instrumentalists all trying to outplay one another. I have Complicated Feelings about violent narco songs celebrating real criminals, but I don’t dismiss them outright, and I think they often make bands sound more exciting than they would otherwise.

In short — and this is one of the points I read in the City Pages’ subtext, and in Richard Meltzer’s The Aesthetics of Rock and Chuck Eddy’s books — the non-esencial is esencial to the whole enterprise. That’s why this list sometimes looks like a mutant termite-elephant hybrid.

Before we get started, here’s something else you won’t find on either of those other lists: an artist who’s currently sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury! Romantic balladeer Julión Álvarez, despite being basically Iran, has the distinction of being the continent’s best singer, and he recorded the most esencial melody here, but you can’t find it on the Spotify playlist at the bottom. So enjoy “Ojos Verdes” as you peruse.

And now, get a whiff of the Blog’s essence.

40. Edwin Luna y La Trakalosa de Monterrey – “Mi Padrino el Diablo” 2014
Whether flaring his nostrils or trying to jumpstart his perpetually nascent acting career, Luna over-enunciates more dramatically than anyone in banda music. Here’s a jaunty waltz where he gets down with the devil.

39. Los Angeles Azules – “El Listón de Tu Pelo” 2000
Continue reading “NorteñoBlog’s 41 Esencial Songs Since the Year 2000”

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¡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.

——————————————————————

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!”

Desfile de Éxitos 6/9/18 (starring Los Ángeles Azules, Intocable, corridos verdes, y más)

intocable smoke

The corridos verdes boomlet has coughed up a number of giggle-inducing phenomena. With his weedy voice, affected swagger, and perpetually nascent mustache, Kristopher Nava of T3R Elemento (#30 at U.S. Regional Mexican radio) is the genre’s McLovin; his different videos show him hobnobbing among indifferent high school girls and the kushy environs of club VIPs. Meanwhile, the mysterious El De La Guitarra (#26 and #40 Hot Latin, #20 at radio) performs as a diabolical smiley face, and if anyone can remember his real name, they’re not telling.

rolling oneAnd then there’s the new joint from Lenin Ramirez ft. T3R Elemento: “Rolling One,” #38 at radio. The song is fine, a rolling norteño waltz with lots of guitar solos compensating for a paper-thin melody. The video is perhaps the highest AF artifact ever filmed. As in, the people who made the video were obviously baked. The video is clearly aimed at people who are stoned. It’s possible that simply watching the video gives you a tropical contact high. (For instance, you might start quoting terrible Beach Boys songs.) Consider that it contains the following elements, inexplicable unless we consult noted cannabis afficionado Occam, last seen using his razor to slice traffic tickets into makeshift rolling papers:

1. A golden assault rifle bong;
2. Numerous mind-blowing shots of people escaping the bounds of the black letterbox bars (IT’S LIKE 3-D ONLY NOT);
3. Lenin Ramirez’s paisley sun-god shirt, itself a mind-altering substance;
4. Especially when he and four bikini-clad, blunt-smoking women ride horses down the beach;
5. Several shots with scratchy or digitally distressed film (IT’S LIKE FOUND FOOTAGE ONLY NOT);
6. A freakin’ tololoche on a boat;
7. A visit to Lenin Ramirez and Kristopher Nava’s industrial cannabis greenhouse;
8. Slow-mo reverse footage of bikini-clad women sucking smoke back into their mouths (IT’S LIKE SPECIAL EFFECTS ONLY NOT);
9. What appears to be a henna tattoo of a wolf;
10. Lyrical shoutouts to marijuana, 420, OG Kush, Colorado, etc., which — as anyone who’s ever been high, or been around high people, knows — is all the high can talk about.

Everything about this video screams both, “Whatever, man, it seemed like a good idea at the time,” and, “Dude, remember that time we were so wasted?” VALE LA PENA, because as I said it’s got lots of guitar solos.

virlan garciaDrowing his sorrows with a different drug, at #39 on the radio we find the new sierreño weeper from hatless 20-year-old lothario Virlán García, who asks the pitiful musical question “En Donde Esta Tu Amor?” Since his mujer left his bed unattended, he’s been searching for her up and down the premises of his stately mansion, chasing her aroma with un vaso de tequila caliente, and — if we can believe the video — hiding all his furniture under dropcloths. NOT UNLIKE HOW THE ORNATE FURNITURE OF HIS HEART HAS BECOME HIDDEN AND USELESS, under the… er… DROPCLOTHS OF MUJER-LESS ANHEDONIA. In the video’s closing scene he sits at the edge of his in-ground swimming pool, singing softly to himself, his tequila vaso apparently bottomless. For his next video, Garcia will either accidentally drown or return inside, to wander among his dusty belongings and go full Havisham. NO VALE LA PENA

NorteñoBlog is ambivalent about many subjects — the usefulness of Octavio Paz’s macho metaphors, the necessity of blogging on a regular basis, the social and musical value of excellent music videos about cockfighting. But nowhere is the Blog’s ambivalence more felt than on the topic of Intocable.
Continue reading “Desfile de Éxitos 6/9/18 (starring Los Ángeles Azules, Intocable, corridos verdes, y más)”

Los Angeles Azules’ Entrega de Amor

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Los Angeles Azules/Los Angeles de Charly – Gran Encuentro (Disa)

Amid all the polkas and waltzes, regional Mexican radio loves to throw in cumbias, though sometimes you get the sense that’s more because they’re useful tools or building materials, the caulk of the format. They often pop up as behind-the-DJ music, and because cumbia beats tend to flow easily into one another, they’re consistent grist for those hour-long DJ mixes that make me change the station after a couple songs. But certain sounds you don’t shake very easily, and the sound of Los Angeles Azules — a 13-or-15-piece Mexico City cumbia/vallenato group that was big around the turn of the millennium — can’t be forgotten once you’ve heard it.

The sound’s all there on their first big hit from 1996, “Cómo Te Voy a Olvidar,” which took cumbia’s trademark guacharaca shuffle (“the rhythm… has been compared to a horse trot,” writes Ramiro Burr) and layered it with yearning pop melodies. Mysterious accordion riffs in the dorian mode (think “Eleanor Rigby,” the part that goes “picks up the rice in a church“) trade off with even more mysterious trombone riffs that invariably come to rest on some low “blaaaaaah.” In 1999 Azules scored Billboard’s Regional Mexican Track of the Year with “El Listón De Tu Pelo.” Excellent trombone blaaaaaahs in that one, and a female singer, Mayra Torres, trading vocals with Carlos Montalvo. (“An oddity,” wrote Leila Cobo about the co-ed singing in the April 28, 2001 Billboard.) Cumbia remains a proven route for female singers to get played on regional Mexican radio; last year the dear departed El Patrón 95.5 was playing Azules’ duet with alt-rocker Ximena Sariñana enough that the song landed inside their station top 20.

Azules weren’t the first or the only Mexican band to play this music, not by a long shot. In the Oct. 6 ’01 Billboard, Burr wrote:

Vallenato is indigenous to Colombia’s Atlantic coast. Throughout that country, vallenato — like that other Colombian rhythm, cumbia — continues to be as much a part of the cultural and social fabric as blues, jazz and rock’n’roll are in the U.S. However, cumbia and vallenato* are also Colombia’s most popular and best-selling musical forms. Although folk-based, the genre received an international boost when Colombian accordionist Aniceto Molina, on Joey Records, helped popularize it in Mexico during the 1970s with his former group, La Luz Roja de San Marcos.

The music gained popularity in Mexican urban centers in the early 1980s, when other artists, such as Los Angeles Azules and Celso Pina, began emulating Molina… Thanks to Carlos Vives’ 1993 landmark CD, Clasicos de la Provincia, the vallenato movement was thrust into the mainstream as Vives’ single “La Gota Fria” cracked the Billboard charts.

You can hear the guacharaca in “La Gota Fria,” but it’s faster and fleshed out by kick drum and other rhythms, along with some Andes flute.

The core of Azules, writes Burr, is the Mejía family — three brothers who kept their white collar jobs until at least 1999, well after they became a hit band and started touring extensively. Inevitably, somebody went solo. But it wasn’t one of the brothers. Billboard‘s Leila Cobo explains, again from 2001:

The foundation of Los Angeles de Charly is the high tenor of Charly Becies, a former singer with established romantic grupo Los Angeles Azules, a band whose greatest-hits compilation also topped the Latin sales chart this season. In 1999, Becies decided to branch out on his own, because, he says, “I was just one element in the group, and I wanted to have my own identity.”

That identity centered on romantic material, and the band initially tried to register a name that reflected that kind of music. When [producer Ignacio] Rodriguez found that all their top name choices were already taken, they settled on Los Angeles de Charly — a fortuitous choice, because the Hollywood movie of Charlie’s Angels was released at about the same time. “It was essentially free publicity,” Rodriguez says.

Pretty sure Loverboy got the same bump.

Last year Disa released a bunch of these Gran Encuentro retrospectives, variations on a CD format that’s super-popular in regional Mexican music. These compilations alternate songs by two different Mexican groups, related to one another by varying degrees of tenuousness. (I’m currently soldiering through Mazz/La Mafia and wondering both “why?” and “why the fuss?”) The two tribes of Los Angeles are, as we’ve seen, pretty close. But there’s definitely a difference in sound. Charly is the more conventionally poppy angel of the two, with major keys and soaring heartfelt vocals. The Azules sometimes go there, but they’re also content to skulk around in their dorian darkness while playing pretty love songs. And everywhere — everywhere — is the guacharaca. But that’s not all there is. Both bands know to dress up their rhythms with fx and gimmicks, like the deep voiced men singing “tututu TUM bobo” along with Farfisa organ in “Mi Cantar.” It’s the kind of thing that pops out on radio, and it sounds pretty good in this context too.

VALE LA PENA

*About those genre IDs: Burr seems to use “cumbia” and “vallenato” interchangeably while alluding to some never-explained difference. In the record guide linked above, he describes Azules’ repertoire as “horn-powered boleros and vallenato-styled cumbias.” What? In this fascinating interview, Colombian music scholar and cumbia DJ Mario Galeano Toro clarifies, “[V]allenato is a close cousin of cumbia. It’s mostly major keys. In the ’90s there used to be cheesy commercial vallenato that played on all the buses in Bogotá…” He goes on, “Cumbia is composed of many different rhythms; I would say around 30. They’re all part of one big family called cumbia, but each has its own groove. The guacharaca with that ch-ch-CH rhythm is really the thing you notice first when you hear cumbia.”

But, but, but! IS NOT THE MUSIC OF LOS ANGELES AZULES IN MINOR KEYS? Or at least DORIAN keys, which sound minor except with one note out of place? But does not Ramiro Burr call their music “vallenato”? This is all wading into treacherous territory, where people’s eyes start to glaze over at all the jargon. I remember having the same problem when I started getting Decibel magazine a decade ago, wondering how to differentiate dark from black from tech from grind from doom from death from whatever other kinds of metal were out there. (“Power” was pretty easy because of all the dragons.) Now I want to learn all the cumbia and vallenata rhythms, even as I’m pretty sure you can enjoy this music without going to that much trouble.

Archivos de 2000

rogelio martinez

Chart geeks know the story of “Macarena”‘s long climb to number one on Billboard‘s Hot 100 — this song was giving people’s cuerpos alegria for a record-breaking 33 weeks (the chafing!) before it hit the top spot, and it had to undergo remix to get there. But things move even slower on the genre charts. Chris Young’s ode to the “Voices” in his head was on the Hot Country Songs chart for almost a year, 51 weeks, before it hit #1 in 2011. And among all the Latin charts, the longest climb to #1 — 43 weeks — took place in 2000-01 on Regional Mexican Songs, with a banda cover of Shania Twain.

When Chicago’s WOJO changed its format to regional Mexican on September 25, 2000, Rogelio Martínez’s “Y Sigues Siendo Tu” was moving up at #5, but it still had more than three months to go before it’d reach the top. (It peaked at #8 on the overall Hot Latin chart, and I’m pretty sure I remember hearing it on Latin pop radio at the time, rare for banda songs.) Musically it’s really good, though you should always keep in mind that I’m a rockist gringo whose musical wheelhouse revolves around hair metal. There are some momentum-killing horn blares in the verses, but the momentum is still undeniable, and the banda achieves it by simulating a slow backbeat with the horns. The tuba is the kick drum, the soft trumpet stabs are the snare, and though they’re helped out by a subtle drum kit, the horns do most of the rhythmic work. This remains an excellent technique for bandas who want to play power ballads, as when Banda Rancho Viejo plays an Espinoza Paz song. The composite brass rhythm basically comes out sounding like “We Will Rock You.”

Springing from Wednesday’s post, these were Billboard‘s top regional Mexican songs in the issue dated Sept. 23, 2000. Besides Martínez/Twain, the pick to click is probably Límite’s “Por Encima De Todo,” a minor key Tejano cumbia with a good accordion solo and sharp singing from Alicia Villarreal.

1. “En Cada Gota de Mi Sangre” – Conjunto Primavera (#12 Hot Latin)
2. “Yo Se Que Te Acordaras” – Banda El Recodo (#13 Hot Latin)
3. “De Paisano A Paisano” – Los Tigres Del Norte (#15 Hot Latin)
4. “Eras Todo Para Mi” – Los Temerarios (#16 Hot Latin)
5. “Y Sigues Siendo Tu” – Rogelio Martinez (#10 Hot Latin)
6. “Secreto De Amor” – Joan Sebastian (#4 Hot Latin)
7. “Pa’ Que Son Pasiones” – Tiranos Del Norte (#20 Hot Latin)
8. “Por Encima De Todo” – Límite (#22 Hot Latin)
9. “Te Soñé” – El Coyote y Su Banda Tierra Santa (#23 Hot Latin) (These two words they swear to you!)
10. “A Ella” – El Poder Del Norte (#25 Hot Latin)
11. “No Puedo Olvidar Tu Voz” – El Coyote y Su Banda Tierra Santa (#27 Hot Latin)
12. “Sin Ti No Se Vivir” – Los Angeles Azules (#29 Hot Latin)
13. “Tu Y Las Nubes” – Lupillo Rivera (#30 Hot Latin)
14. “El Liston de Tu Pelo” – Los Angeles Azules
15. “Mentirosa” – Los Rieleros Del Norte (#33 Hot Latin)

… and, in at #40 on Hot Latin, it’s “Los Dos Zacatecanos” by Banda Machos.

¿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

Archivos de 1999

angeles-azules-el-liston-de-tu-pelo_1

These were the top Regional Mexican songs of December 18, 1999, as reported by Billboard. Some things to note:

Los Angeles Azules continue to intrigue.

Several of these bands — El Recodo, Primavera, Los Tigres — released music in 2014. All of them sound pretty much the same today as they did 15 years ago.

The attempt to pinpoint when banda pop became today’s banda pop continues. I’m still looking for a swanky swinging midtempo backbeat ballad with doo-wop chord changes played by an entirely brass band. In the meantime, Recodo’s “Te Ofrezco Un Corazón” could’ve been released yesterday, but it’s more what Billboard would call “mainstream banda,” as in this excerpt from the March 3, 2001 issue:

The group’s somewhat avantgarde approach to music can be attributed to Don Cruz, the man who made vocals a staple of the band and who back in 1985 even dared to use a keyboard (not a banda instrument) on one of the group’s live albums.

A typical El Recodo album mixes genres. Y Llegaste Tu, for example, includes merengues and ballads, but the title track is more mainstream banda (in contrast to “Deja,” which is a ballad, says Moreno).

“We’re a typical banda sinaloense [a band from Sinaloa, Mexico, featuring brass instruments and percussion] that’s evolved,” says Alfonso. “We’ve tried to put on a more modern show and at the same time preserve a sound older followers can identify with. We want to offer a first-rate show that’s very Mexican.”

1. “Te Ofrezco Un Corazón”Banda El Recodo
2. “Te Quiero Mucho” – Los Rieleros Del Norte
3. “El Liston De Tu Pelo” – Los Angeles Azules
4. “No Le Ruegues” – Conjunto Primavera
5. “Con Quien Estarás” – Banda Arkangel R-15
6. “Mi Gusto Es” – Ezequiel Peña
7. “Sonador Eterno” – Intocable
8. “Dos Gotas De Agua” – Banda Maguey
9. “Perdoname” – Pepe Aguilar
10. “Paraiso Terrenal” – Priscila Y Sus Balas De Plata
11. “No Compro Amores” – Banda Machos
12. “Alma Rebelde” – Limite
13. “Eternamente” – Vicente Fernández
14. “Con La Soga Al Cuello” – Los Tigres Del Norte
15. “Basura” – Los Mismos

Archivos de 1998

banda maguey

These were the top Regional Mexican songs of July 25, 1998, as reported by Billboard. Some things to note:

If I ever again start talking about banda and norteño groups using pop chord changes like it’s a recent thing, please shoot me. Maybe just in the leg. I’ll take the hint.

On the other hand (he whispers, writhing in pain), something happened between 1998 and now. Listen to the songs by Graciela Beltrán (#5) and Banda Maguey (#3). Beltrán is straight up pop with mariachi horns; the predominant sounds are guitars strumming and playing dry little MOR licks. (The song’s parent album was arranged by Joan Sebastian (#12), who Allmusic thinks is a woman, but I’ll cut ’em slack because STE’s a better critic than I am.) Banda Maguey’s song has something like a banda horn arrangement chugging alongside synths and a rhythm section. These are first and foremost pop songs, the way we think of pop songs in the U.S.; the ensembles get some of their POP by incorporating elements of traditional Mexican styles.

Today’s banda pop flips the equation: the ensembles are first and foremost acoustic, Cornelio Reyna-style big bands, only instead of playing the traditional ranchera repertoire they play pop songs by new songwriters, using up-to-date lyrical imagery. The commutative property of banda pop tells us we still get banda pop, but the results sound, improbably, more immediate and less dated. Whoever’s responsible for the past decade or so of banda hipness — maybe thank Alfonso Lizárraga, the arranger for Banda El Recodo? (further research) — realized something important. Banda arrangements can contain as many hooks, can deliver pop songs as sparkly and indelible, as rock bands, synths, or turntables and microphones. The Sinaloan brass band is a terrific vehicle for delivering pop tunes, and maybe because it’s so well established, it paradoxically doesn’t sound like it belongs back in some different era. Kind of like a blues-rock quartet.

1. “Desde Que Te Amo” – Los Tucanes De Tijuana
2. “Tu Oportunidad” – Grupo Limite
3. “Quiero Volver” – Banda Maguey
4. “Botella Envenenada” – Los Temerarios
5. “Robame Un Beso” – Graciela Beltrán

6. “Yo Nací Para Amarte” – Alejandro Fernández
This swarthy ballad was #1 on the Hot Latin chart this week, and was therefore written about here by Jonathan Bogart.

7. “Por Mujeres Como Tu” – Pepe Aguilar
8. “Amor Maldito” – Intocable
9. “Eres Mi Droga” – Intocable

10. “Me Haces Falta Tu” – Los Angeles Azules
El Patrón 95.5 still plays this song on a semi-regular basis. I think I’ve heard the antiphony between accordion and trombones, deliberate to the point of creepiness, as part of cumbia mixes or even as interstitial music, coming out of breaks. Once you hear it you don’t forget it.

11. “Sentimientos” – Grupo Limite
12. “Gracias” – Joan Sebastian
13. “A Mi Que Me Quedo” – Los Invasores De Nuevo León
14. “Te Seguire” – Los Palominos

15. “Me Voy A Quitar De En Medio” – Vicente Fernández
Traditional mariachi from a master — listen to the way he slides into the ends of his phrases. The video’s simplicity is startling. Fernández rides his horse to the misión and sits there singing his song while a woman opens the doors. Then he stops singing and rides away, and she closes the doors.

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