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Los Inquietos Del Norte

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.

———————————————–

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”

NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2016: Enero – Marzo

el armenta

Please excuse the note of shame in NorteñoBlog’s voice, but 2016 has gotten off to a more… focused start than last year. On the list (and YouTube playlist!) that follows, you’ll find no bands devoted to cumbia, no musicians from outside la patria, and — despite my doubtless inadequate searching — only one woman. (Karla Luna snuck on at the end, with a song that might end up growing on me. And Helen Ochoa‘s album deserves a listen.) What we’ve got here is nine norteño songs and six banda tunes by dudes who are pretty open about their lusts — if not for las mujeres, then for power and fancy wristwatches. But their music is no less compelling, because within those confines live several worlds of possibility.

El Armenta‘s big dumb cumbia (#1), Remmy Valenzuela‘s power ballad (#8), and Banda Pequeños Musical‘s pan flute monstrosity (#15) are all romantic banda songs that find vastly different paths to greatness. Or near greatness. The same thing happens on the norteño side. Though everyone’s working the same genre turf, Adriel Favela‘s guitar-saturated version of a new corrido standard (#3) couldn’t sound further from the Intocable love song (#10) with the distorted electric guitar and the show-offy accordion solo, as precise and memorable as a prime Van Halen break. Regional Mexican music pitches a bigger and more inventive tent than half the U.S. political system. Speaking of which, I sort of feel like El Armenta’s video, in which grotesque rubber-faced men enact an inexplicable ritual while carrying big sticks, gives us a terrifying preview of June’s Republican convention. At least nobody dies from the sticks.

1. El Armenta“El Perro Se Soltó” (Armenta)
Of all the big dumb banda cumbias I’ve heard this year, “El Perro” is the best, with horns and clarinets blaring all over the place and a churning beat that doesn’t quit until the perro in question barks at the end. The sound’s a little clipped in the head-scratcher of a video, which only adds to the Lynchian daytime nightmare feel of the whole endeavor. Continue reading “NorteñoBlog’s Top Singles of 2016: Enero – Marzo”

Marco Flores y Los Inquietos Saluden a Su Madre

inquietos flores

You may remember that last summer the noted TV game show host Donald Trump announced he was running for president. Because he is a “straight-shooting” “outsider” who “tells it like it is,” he decided it would be a good idea to launch his campaign by insulting Mexican immigrants. (Actually, what percentage of Trump’s actions spring from conscious decision making is open to debate and armchair psychoanalysis, but that’s a different blog.) A bunch of other Republican candidates, being “confident” “Christian” “human beings” who “think for themselves,” decided they would also insult Mexican immigrants. And Syrian immigrants. And Central and South American immigrants, just as, when ebola was all the rage, they wanted us to ban travel to and from Africa. These people know how to discriminate against, but among? Not so much.

Since then NorteñoBlog has seen a healthy number of pro-Latino and, in some cases, anti-Trump songs. The latest comes from blog fave Marco Flores and hyphy-not-hyphy stalwarts Los Inquietos del Norte. With his Numero 1 Banda Jerez, Flores made NorteñoBlog’s favorite album and single of 2015; he’s a proud Zacatecan country dude who fills his songs with crass jokes and parties. When he first arrived on the scene a decade ago, Billboard lauded him for “tell[ing] it like it is.” Like Sr. Trump, he’s also a straight-shooting outsider, saying in a Triunfo magazine cover story that, unlike many of his banda-music colleagues, he doesn’t like El Norte. Flores claims he couldn’t afford to live here; he’d need to buy a car; in Mexico he can just ride his horse wherever he needs to go. The straight-shooting outsider is still an attentive modern businessman, though — dude can quickly rattle off his YouTube counts.

In contrast, Los Inquietos may have cousins in Jalisco and Michoacan, but they’ve based most of their 20-year music career in California. Besides devising new and innovative ways to chinga tu madre in song, they’re enterprising businessmen, starting their own Eagle label and bringing their own crass corridos to fans throughout the U.S. Their new duet with Flores, “Requisito Americano,” addresses this cultural difference before uniting in solidarity: If you discriminate against them, “salude a su madre.” I guess they wanna get this song on the radio.

Blast it at your nearest Iowa caucus!

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 1/19/16

iniciativa

Thanks to an extremely geeky background playing in concert bands, where mixed meters and overlapping rhythms kept my mind off the pain of my sputtering lips, NorteñoBlog will always dig bands doing proggy rhythm stuff in non-prog settings. This week’s 15th most played norteño/banda song on Mexican radio comes from the young tuba quintet La Iniciativa de Angostura Sinaloa, or simply “La Iniciativa” to their madres. “El Loquito del Rancho” (PCol) is a quick waltz, but singer Ariel Inzunza’s inventive melody throws in all these quintuplets, giving the first half of each line a crowded five-against-three feel. (You can play along at home! Tap your chest “ONE two three/ ONE two three” over and over again, and then start saying “onetwothreefourfive/ ONE two” so that the “one”s in your voice line up with the “one”s in your tapping. Got that? Now balance a ball on your nose!) Add to that a great chorus hook and a tubist (Rigoberto Cruz) who keeps messing with everyone, plus some hot accordion work from leader and co-singer Martín López, and you’ve got yourself a Pick to Click.

López is a triple threat who used to play tuba in Calibre 50; he and drummer Agusto Guido left that superstar band about two years ago to form La Iniciativa and possibly the PCol label, which seems to promote no other acts. NorteñoBlog slept on their 2015 album Ya Estás Olvidada. Among other things, it includes a beefed-up cover of the late Ariel Camacho’s “Hablemos” that doesn’t cut the original, but does demonstrate that they are caballeros of good taste. Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 1/19/16”

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”

Indie Animales (starring Los Inquietos, El Chapo de Sinaloa, y más)

peyoyo

We all know insufferable (and occasionally kickin’) Brooklyn indie bands love naming themselves after animals. But did you know that kickin’ (and occasionally insufferable) indie norteño bands also dig animal metaphors? And were you aware that writing intros is not NorteñoBlog’s strong suit? Read on!

los inquietosLos Inquietos del Norte started one of norteño’s most successful artist-directed indie labels, Eagle Music, in 2002. Along with their fellow Bay-area natives Los Amos de Nuevo Leon, Los Inquietos helped create the sound of hyphy norteño, the party punk version of bro-norteño, all lickety split tempos, simple accordion slashes, and lyrics about wild debauchery. Inquietos quickly went their own way: though their songs still sounded hyphy, they dropped the hyphy name and started adding wobbly violin-based ballads to their repertoire. They also grew their record label. Along the way they’ve cut distribution deals with mom-and-pops and majors. I’m not sure how their new album De Noche Enfiestado is being promoted, but I did hear its wobbly violin-based lead single “No Dudes De Mi” on midwestern corporate radio the other day, so somebody’s pushing it.

In addition to their Eagle mascot, Inquietos are into perro y gallo metaphors. NorteñoBlog has discussed their wobbly, weirdly operatic single “Como Perro Amarrado,” which is sort of like Jamey Johnson’s “Dog In the Yard” without the rue. Like, serious lack of rue. The Meza brothers’ vibrato is where rue goes to die. Their profane and violent “La Cerre el Hozico al Perro” has more energy, and I’m partial to “Los Tres Gallasos,” if only for the accordion. Rosalio Meza has some fast licks at his disposal, but he’s not afraid to simply hang out on one repeated note, frowning his instrument’s approval at the lyrics. There’s a cultivated carelessness in this bunch.

Continue reading “Indie Animales (starring Los Inquietos, El Chapo de Sinaloa, y más)”

¡Nuevo! (starring Mariachi Divas, Duelo, y más)

valeymargarita410

mariachi divasNorteñoBlog has never been confused about the popularity of Mariachi Divas de Cindy Shea among Grammy voters. They’re a talented group of women playing a style traditionally dominated by men — though not, let’s face it, as traditionally dominated as norteño or banda — making them a safe and progressive choice for voters with only a passing knowledge of the genre. That whiff of the “progressive” extends to their music, which boasts sophisticated arrangements that sometimes change tempos or cover non-mariachi songs. In other words, they’re progressive in the somewhat tortured sense of most genre progressives: “elevating” a style that doesn’t need elevating and appealing to people who don’t normally enjoy the style. Their Disney gig hasn’t hurt their profile, either. (“We particularly enjoy the Divas’ rendition of ‘It’s a Small World,'” says a travel site.) Their new album La Cima Del Cielo (East Side) sparkles and shines with the cheer of a sweaty theme park employee dressed up like a princess. They cover Linda Ronstadt’s “Lago Azul.”

dueloNo stranger to the “progressive” tag, the norteño-pop band Duelo is back, reliably charting high with their Intocablish new album Veneno (La Bonita). The title single levels insults at a heartless, icy, poisonous, murderous, dream-killing (SHALL WE GO ON?) mujer with unchecked midtempo momentum. Good riff, though I wish they sounded remotely venomous.

margarita la diosaA tad more interesting is Margarita “La Diosa de la Cumbia,” who, along with the dude from Bacilos, sang the theme song for La Fea Más Bella, the novela remake that’d go on to become Ugly Betty in its U.S. incarnation. (This title sequence seems to take up an entire episode.) Her new album Sin Fronteras (Warner) is part cumbia, part feel-good pop/rock with nods to modern salsa, not unlike Bacilos. The single “Te Di Todo” could introduce a novela remake of Beverly Hills 90210.

los cuates se acabaronBreaking Bad‘s favorite corridistas (and NorteñoBlog research project) Los Cuates de Sinaloa are back to their original trio format, guitar-guitar-bass, on Se Acabaron las Caricias (Los Cuates de Sinaloa), which unfortunately doesn’t seem to have any videos yet. It’s well worth streaming, though. Second song “Que Bonita Chica” sounds especially great, with effortless bounce and unadorned groove. Likely VALE LA PENA.

los inquietosFormer hyphy/not-hyphy scenesters Los Inquietos Del Norte are back with another super-serious country song, “Como Perro Amarrado” (Eagle). Though less twee than Tierra Cali’s song of the same name, it’s nowhere near as good as Jamey Johnson’s song of the same sentiment, which somehow made emasculation sound badass. Los Inquietos just sound defeated, though if Sr. Meza ever tires of singing norteño, some fine operatic roles await him — sad clowns and all that.

¡Nuevo! (ft. Patrulla 81, Rosendo Robles)

patrulla 81

Two tiny and somewhat exciting finds this week:

The first, Patrulla 81’s A Tamborazo, aka Puro Tamborazo Duranguense No Chin%$^@%$…, is unrepentant duranguense with a couple ballads thrown in — because when you’re dancing like you’ve got chewing gum stuck to the bottom of your shoe, sometimes you need to take a break. A decade ago, when duranguense was surging and plagues of scorpions stalked Chicago’s streets, I didn’t much keep up with Patrulla. Like genre leaders Grupo Montéz, they always seemed polite and overthought, without the cool synth tuba lines and tambora blasts of their peers in Alacranes Musical. I’m not sure what’s happened to them, but they sound leaner and tougher now, with fewer cheesy synth leads, more assertive vocals, and lots of tambora. Truth in advertising! This probably means my memory’s lousy and I should revisit their older stuff. A Tamborazo came out December 17 on the BMC label, which doesn’t seem to be the same BMC Records that operates a website.

Even better is a self-released single by Rosendo Robles, “Alterado de Corazon,” a banda waltz of furious excitement and possibly sharp brass sections. Possibly tuned sharp, I should say, although the jagged horn rhythms certainly feel like whirling blades of death, the kind of things you’d contort your shoulders trying to avoid in the upper reaches of a video game. Robles is a graduate of the TV talent show Tengo Talento, Mucho Talento (TTMT), and since he apparently burns with white hot charisma I’m not sure why he’s releasing his own music, except Brave New Music Economy etc.
VALE LA PENA

Also out recently:

Juan Gabriel – Mis 40 En Bellas Artes Partes 1 & 2 (Fonovisa)

Various – Lo Mejor de lo Mejor 2014 (Sony), a general “Latin” compilation of interest for its Gerardo Ortiz tokenism — he’s the only regional Mexican performer included, further moving into that Jenni Rivera role. (They’ve both judged on TTMT, too.)

Los Cadetes De Linares & Los Invasores De Nuevo Leon – Mano a Mano (BMC), one of those split CDs that appear frequently in this genre, here confirming that the BMC label does actually exist.

Los Inquietos Del Norte – “No Dudes De Mi”, lachrymose violin balladry from a band that can be much more hyphy, even if they refuse the term. (There’ll be a hyphy thinkpiece up here soon, promise.)

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