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mariachi

Alejandro Fernández and Chayín Rubio ride the mariacheño pony

caballeroOf all the 2020 events NorteñoBlog didn’t see coming, the one most likely to affect future generations, change the way untold millions live their everyday lives, and divide modern history into “before” and “after” epochs happened back in early January. That’s when certain U.S. specialists first noticed a particularly infectious agent, previously thought to be contained, dominating one of their charts with unprecedented scope and reach. I’m talking, of course, about Alejandro Fernández earning his first number one hit on Billboard‘s Regional Mexican Airplay chart with the insidiously beautiful song “Caballero.”

Fernández was overdue. His dad is Vicente Fernández and his career has flourished for more than two decades, with multiple #1 hits on the more comprehensive Hot Latin chart, so you’d think the ranchera pop singer would have gotten his RegMex chart-topper sooner. He came closest in 1999 with “Loco,” a slow burn of understated insanity (Jonathan Bogart compares the string chart to Psycho) blocked from #1 by Conjunto Primavera‘s comparatively rinky-dink “Necesito Decirte.”

The timing of “Loco” was interesting:
Continue reading “Alejandro Fernández and Chayín Rubio ride the mariacheño pony”

Money, Innovation, and Resentment: Helena Simonett’s “Banda: Mexican Musical Life Across Borders”

simonettCurrent reading on the NorteñoBlog nightstand is Helena Simonett’s 2001 book Banda: Mexican Musical Life Across Borders. Simonett is an ethnomusicologist at Vanderbilt University; she spent much of the ’90s interviewing banda musicians and fans around L.A. and northwestern Mexico. If you think back to ’90s banda — at least to the small extent that the blog has delved into it — the predominant sounds were the synth/horn combinations of technobandas like Banda Machos and Banda Maguey. They were sort of precursors to Chicago duranguense bands, with synths replacing horns and fewer members than a typical Sinaloan brass band. The venerable acoustic Banda El Recodo was respected and toured internationally through the ’90s, but it didn’t have much of a presence as pop music. Now, along with a host of other acoustic bandas, it does, and the technobanda sound has all but disappeared. One of the blog’s ongoing goals has been to learn how the current banda sound — classic acoustic brass bands playing newly written pop tunes — took over the radio.

jimenezAs told by Simonett, this history is complex, so here’s an oversimplification. For much of its early history, banda was largely confined to the state of Sinaloa in northwestern Mexico. (How it got there is a whole other story.) Mexico’s intellectual elite, centered in Mexico City, pushed mariachi as the national music of the people — it was cultivated by radio and the national government, which required mariachi bands play the capital in elegant charro costumes. Mariachi musicians still weren’t rich, but their string-based folk music was considered more noble and sophisticated than that of the bandas, even when the ensembles were playing many of the same songs. The difference? “Sinaloan intellectuals had never considered regional banda music folk music,” writes Simonett. “It was never the focus of interest, never presented as a tourist article, and never used for national political purposes… It evolved in the shadow of the periphery.”

Simonett includes an amazing 1926 article, written just a few years after the revolution, from a newspaper in Sinaloa’s port city of Mazatlán. The article’s author praises Mexican folk music because it jibes with his romantic notion of The People. (“The national soul has not yet died.”) But the guy hates banda. He writes sarcastically of its “hullaballoo”, “It sounds better to the ears standardized by the vibrating vertigo of the locomotives and electric trains and of the machinery of the factories.” Notice how Dylan Goes Electric that argument sounds: loud music that sounds like the city can’t be the authentic voice of the people! Too vulgar! Too commercial! Although I should note, banda was no more “commercial” than mariachi at that point.

Bandas would soon try to change that. Continue reading “Money, Innovation, and Resentment: Helena Simonett’s “Banda: Mexican Musical Life Across Borders””

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