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Marito Aguilar

Joni Sandez on sierreño, “Las Mañanitas,” and “secrets nobody wants to say”

joni sandez

“The producer listening is probably gonna hate me — like, ‘No, don’t say that!'”

el tiempoJoni Sandez is joking, but he’s eager to talk about parts of the norteño recording process usually kept under wraps. He knows from experience. A lifelong resident of southern California, Jonathan Sandez, 26, grew up playing guitar and bass. At 14 he joined the long-running L.A.-based Grupo El Tiempo, playing bass and singing backup amid a synthesized sound rooted in the ’80s and early ’90s. “Modern Tejano, grupero, norteño music,” he explains. “They had accordion, but the accordion was actually in the keyboard.”

Going solo as a bandleader, Sandez has pursued a more acoustic direction. He plays concerts, festivals, and private parties with norteño groups, up to five shows a night. One New Years Eve he played for 12 hours and was still able to sing at the end. He’s justifiably proud of this.

Like many young musicians, his recent music has been mostly sierreño — two guitars and a bass. His latest single is straight out of the Great Ranchera Songbook: “Las Mañanitas,” a fond birthday wish sung by everyone from Vicente Fernandez to Javier Solís to Los Tigres. With his bassist’s ear, Sandez has added some smooth walking chromaticism to the bottom end, a sound you won’t find in most oom-pah-pah I-IV-V versions.

During our 45-minute phone conversation (edited for length), Sandez told the Blog about making the switch to sierreño, the differences between tuba- and bass-bottomed music, and some lesser known tricks of the trade — “those hidden little secrets that nobody wants to say.” Follow “jonisandez” on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, and check out his website.

NorteñoBlog: Why did you start recording sierreño music?
Joni Sandez: It went back to my roots. The style of guitar was what I used to do, which was requinto. You know, all those tremolo-sounding riffs and terceras — two notes at a time, three half steps apart — and sextas, six steps apart. It was what I was playing back then, and most of the shows that we go to, they wanna hear that 12-string guitar. When you hear sierreño, you’ll hear the terceras — you won’t hear just one note, [he sings, outlining a triad] “dun dun dun dun dun”, you’ll hear [outinling the same triad] “drun drun drun drun drun.” It’s really subtle, too. A lot of people of people who aren’t familiar with the music won’t know about that. That makes it sierreña, you know?

Is that you playing requinto on your recordings?
Yes. Once in a while I’ll have somebody come through. It’s more having a little bit of variety — everybody has their own style of playing, and if it’s always me on the tracks, it becomes a little bit too played out. All the bass is me, but on the requinto I’ll try to have somebody come in and put in a couple of fill-ins for the track.

How did you decide to record “Las Mañanitas”?
There weren’t really a lot of modern artists, in general, and not even one sierreño artist [has recorded it]. It’s such a classic. [My version is] very different, in terms of the rhythm — the rhythm is not the traditional sierreño, it’s a descending little pattern. I really like it a lot.

Why do you think sierreño has gotten so popular in the last three or four years?
In the scene, when you have an accordion player, usually the accordion player charges a lot of money to play with you. I think a lot of people started recording sierreño tracks because it’s a lot cheaper. It’s one of those things that probably nobody wants to talk about, one of those hidden little secrets that nobody wants to say. When you record a sierreño track it’s a lot quicker, a lot faster, because you already have a guitar there. If you wanna have a norteño, then you have drums, and you wanna have an accordion, and you wanna have a bajo quinto, which is a little more expensive than a natural guitar. In sierreño you need a bass and a 12-string guitar, that’s basically it. And a six-string guitar. If you want, you can even play sierreño with six strings, which is kind of how it all got started.

Do you prefer having a sierreño band with a bassist or with a tubist?
Continue reading “Joni Sandez on sierreño, “Las Mañanitas,” and “secrets nobody wants to say””

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Lo Mejor de 2015: Gerardo Ortiz and Pancho Uresti

uresti

Time to run down the year-end lists! Today, an album and two singles from the “Eh, good enough” end of the spectrum:

Who doesn’t love a Sony blockbuster? Lots of people, actually. Hoy Más Fuerte (Del/Sony), the latest album from norteño’s biggest star Gerardo Ortiz, is too long — 21 songs plus five bonus versions — and it comes up shorter on memorable tunes than Ortiz’s 2013 breakthrough Archivos de Mi Vida. And yet… you throw enough money at talented people and they’re bound to have at least one good idea. The best investments here were the session work of accordionist Marito Aguilar, who brings something amazing to every song he plays, and the horn charts, which are consistently better than they had to be. (See the giddy chromatic hilarity of the banda’s take on “El Amigo”.) If you could abide the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie thanks to Johnny Depp’s acting and some well-staged action sequences, you might make it through this album. That Ortiz is even thinking in terms of norteño blockbusters might be his greatest legacy.

Pancho Uresti, the unassuming singer for Banda Tierra Sagrada, wiled his way onto two of 2015’s most iconic singles. “Adicto a la Tristeza” (Remex) is a camp masterpiece by the prolific songwriter Erika Vidrio, in which Uresti wallows with Trakalosa’s Edwin Luna in a big old vat of tears and liquor. Collecting himself for “Debajo del Sombrero”, Uresti joins Leandro Ríos to petition an unsympathetic father and win the hand of his hija, in the process singing a string of “-ero” rhymes that’ll reverberate through Spanish 101 classrooms for years to come.

pancho urestiRemex has compiled both songs along with some other Uresti, both solo and duets, onto A Lo Grande, a decent album that’s not as spectacular as I’d unreasonably hoped.

Who Plays on the New Gerardo Ortiz Album?

The mystery is solved! Allmusic appears to have acquired a physical copy of Hoy Mas Fuerte the same time NorteñoBlog did, and we’ve learned that Ortiz drew his small band from the usual stable of Del Records session pros: Pablo Molina on tuba, Aaron Gonzalez on bass, Lorenzo Fraire Reyes on bajo sexto, and Luis Navarro on drums. But Allmusic did omit some crucial players, notably the guy who most owns the sound of Fuerte: accordionist Marito Aguilar. Fuerte isn’t necessarily VALE LA PENA, but it’s worth hearing at least once for Aguilar, whose fingers are all over the place and constantly coming up with new ideas. He’s played with Ortiz on previous albums; he’s played on good albums by Regulo Caro and Adriel Favela; and he’s been one of the few reasons to pay any attention to Luis Coronel.

If you get excited by fly-on-the-recording-studio-wall videos and scenes of professional musicians overdubbing and “punching in,” you are to be pitied above all others you should totally watch this video of a session for Ortiz’s 2012 album, El Primer Ministro.

NorteñoBlog’s other discovery: “¿Por Qué Terminamos?”, the only Fuerte song I walk around humming, the one that sounds like a Luciano Luna ballad, IS IN FACT a Luciano Luna ballad. (Luciano Luna and Joss Favela, to be exact.)

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