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Omar Burgos

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 9/11/17

ulices chaidez women

First things first: our friends in Mexico, especially southern Mexico and the Gulf coast, are dealing with the twin destructive forces of a magnitude 8.1 earthquake and Hurricane Katia. People have lost family, friends, and homes in the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Tabasco, and Veracruz. If you can swing it, this website has a list of organizations, including the Red Cross and UNICEF, that can use your cash to help people recover from the destruction. Remember, Mexico has sent all kinds of help to Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Now Mexico needs help; and since climate change doesn’t care whether we dig Tejano or huapango or (G-d save us) “Despacito,” now is a good time for us to practice dealing with its fallout. Climate change’s fallout, not “Despacito”‘s. Although feel free to help Puerto Rico out, too.

omar burgos delNow, on with the countdown! This past weekend in Chicago I was playing the radio game “ScanQuiz!”, where you hit “Scan” on the car radio and try to name each song you hear before the radio moves on to the next station. Besides being a superfun test of mettle, ScanQuiz! is also a good way to survey who’s broadly popular with radio listeners. Shawn Mendes and Imagine Dragons are always lurking somewhere. Led Zeppelin will never die. And tubist Omar Burgos, by virtue of playing with both versions of Los Plebes del Rancho and los Plebes de Ulices Chaidez, has created one of the most dominant instrumental sounds on Chicago radio. Scan for a half hour and you’re likely to hear a sierreño song, probably played by one of Burgos’s bands; but even if the tubist is someone else, his bandleader owes his popularity to Burgos’s late employer Ariel Camacho, whose own posthumous hits still pop up like White Walkers.

porque me enamoreBurgos and Chaidez are also doing well in Mexico, where this week their year-old song “Porque Me Enamore” ascends to #2. (In El Norte, the song is #1 at RegMex radio.) You can catch them in the very special video, both “recording” in the studio and offering support to a young lady at her chemo sessions. This is standard-issue sierreño prettiness, and not the most memorable example of the style, but you can see why it’s big. Chaidez sings with misty teenage sensitivity and just the hint of an edge to his voice, and Burgos propels the arrangement with an opening flourish, flutter tongue madness, cool little pendulumic swings into his notes — just an endless variety of ideas and effects, all of which enhance rather than disrupt the song. He’s got as much personality as any instrumentalist around. Teen music with inoffensive, cross-generational appeal — kind of like Shawn Mendes!

loco enamoradoBetter yet is the sierreño bass (not tuba) trio at #11. “Loco Enamorado” represents a new bandwagon leap for Remmy Valenzuela, whom the Blog has admired for his accordion chops and for the lovely rasp in his voice’s upper register. Here he’s playing rhythm guitar on a song about how crazy in love with you he is. Spare a listen for the lead requinto player, who executes a bunch of exciting flourishes that have inspired YouTube tutorials. (Spare also his name, if you know it, because I can’t figure out who the guy is.) I’d say Valenzuela’s voice alone would make any song worth hearing, but his NO VALE LA PENA followup banda single “Mi Amante” disproves that theory.  But in “Loco Enamorado,” his voice and some mean requinto picking sell an entirely decent romantic ballad that has the temerity to move back and forth between two different keys. Pick to Click!


Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 9/11/17”

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¡Controversy! ¡Polémica! (Who’s On the Mexican Radio?)

marco-flores-dancing

Controversy! ¡Polémica! NorteñoBlog’s favorite dancer Marco Flores (aka Marco A. Flores) y su Banda Jerez (aka #1 Banda Jerez, or simply La Jerez) are back on the Mexican airwaves with “Los Viejitos” at #17, an amped up waltz that takes an insanely complex approach to both rhythmic subdividing and cultural appropriating.

los-viejitos-400x400The song, you see, plays on the traditional Danza de los Viejitos, danced for centuries by the indigenous Purépecha people in the highlands of Michoacán. Flores lives two states to the north in Zacatecas, but because he bows to Terpsichore in all her forms, he’s opened his new video with a not necessarily accurate re-enactment: five guys in flamboyant stooped-old-man costumes walk a circle, “helped” by members of La Jerez, who keep looking underneath their ponchos but seem otherwise respectful. The slow, trad fiddle music of la Danza stops abruptly, La Jerez kicks into its waltz, Flores flails his limbs, and the stooped old men spring to life, emboldened by this rad new beat. There’s a long, proud history of affectionately tweaking the Olds by replacing their slow rhythm with a new, faster rhythm — recall the Clash’s “Wrong ‘Em Boyo” or Nirvana’s “Territorial Pissings.” Flores seems to be operating on the same impulse here.

¡No tan rápido! says Michoacán’s secretary of indigenous people, Martín García Avilés. (Let’s just note how great it is that a Mexican state has its own secretary of indigenous people.) García Avilés calls the video an insult to native traditions nationwide. Flores and La Jerez are denigrating the Purépecha people and subjecting them to ridicule, he says, and they should take down the video. Flores expresses surprise, countering that he’s trying to rescue and exalt la Danza and bring it to the attention of younger generations. NorteñoBlog, watching a video of an actual Danza, asks warily, “Aren’t the dancing fake old men supposed to be funny? At least a little bit?” Not that I plan to start making video parodies of indigenous dances any time soon. Tumblr would have a collective aneurysm. But I’m curious to know how Flores’s video reads to other people who’ve grown up with la Danza de los Viejitos. Offensive? Funny?

Anyway, as I mentioned, the rhythms in this thing are also stellar — bar by bar, the band divides the basic pulse into either two or three, with Flores subdividing those beats into even smaller and faster bits during the choruses, his accents landing in unexpected places. Limbs flail accordingly. Pick to Click!

Continue reading “¡Controversy! ¡Polémica! (Who’s On the Mexican Radio?)”

NorteñoBlog’s Top Albums of 2016

fuerza-de-tijuana

Polkas and waltzes, yes. Accordions and brassy fanfares, check. Songs about impossible amor, violent negocios, and getting pisteando, you bet. But once you accept those rhythms, tone colors, and subjects as merely the constraints its talented artisans and occasional geniuses have given themselves to work around, Mexican regional music produced a pop scene as colorful and varied as any other. The difference between El Komander’s shaggy storytelling and La Maquinaria Norteña’s frenetic heartache pop is a contrast in visions. Give or take a tuba and a sax, they employ pretty much the same musical building blocks and arrive at wildly different results.

And both results are better than Intocable’s Highway, for NorteñoBlog’s dinero the most overrated norteño album of the year, insofar as these albums get rated at all. Intocable is a talented band, no question. They’ve refined a unique sound, and as they demonstrate over and over on Highway, they’re able to open songs with stylist feints as authoritative as their originals. (One sounds like ’60s handclap pop, one sounds like “Kashmir,” that sort of thing.)

The problem is, Intocable’s sound is as constrained as any other band’s; and once the opening feints end, the songs themselves are among Intocable’s most generic batch yet. We’re left with just more four-chord Intocable songs, melodies that allow Ricky Muñoz to stretch his throat to el cielo and noodle on his axe — sometimes for way too long — and a rhythm section lope that could have anchored any Intocable album in the past 20 years. It might be perverse to complain about sameyness in a genre that never wanders too far from accordion/brass polkas and waltzes, but great new bands like Fuerza de Tijuana and Norteño 4.5 (see below) are burrowing into that basic sound and digging up new rhythms and instrumental combinations. On Highway, Intocable offers few interesting musical ideas, and they barely try to work through their constraints. The most interesting ideas, those opening feints, only last a moment. (The great seven-minute exception, “En La Obscuridad,” ends with a Beatlesque psych coda. It’s cool, but it should tell you all you need to know about Intocable’s idea of “innovation.”) I don’t knock Intocable for giving their songs gimmicks; gimmicks, as we learn from Banda Rancho Nuevo, are good. But Intocable rarely has the musical courage to follow through on their gimmicks.

So here are 50 albums, including 13 from Mexico, that are better than Highway — less of a chore to play and full of surprises.

1. Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution (Concord) (indie, jazz-prog jaw dropper)
2. I.P.A. – I Just Did Say Something (Cuneiform) (indie, Norwegian jazz tone color fest with kickass rhythm section)
systema solar3. Systema Solar – Systema Solar (Nacional): This Colombian crew has about as much to do with norteño as Lil Jon does; but on the other hand, they sometimes play cumbias, Mexican-American radio digs cumbias, and this career overview of explosive raps and minimal dance experiments is undeniable. Plus one of the dudes says “Yeah!” exactly like Lil Jon — who incidentally scored his own Latin hit in 2016.


4. The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it (Dirty Hit/Interscope) (major, long-ass pop album equal parts hooks and pretentious bits — see my review of “The Sound”)

el komander top 205. El Komander – El Komander 2015 Top 20 (Twiins): To cap his year as North America’s most prolific and consistent singles artist, Alfredo Riós dropped this digital playlist to ring in 2016. How prolific is he? Top 20 actually contains 21 songs, and Sr. Riós has since released even more essential singles, notably the point-counterpoint “Desaparecido”/”El Mexico Americano.” His small, tuba-bottomed band remains a shambolic marvel; the musicians threaten to spill over the edges of the songs. This compilation stands with the greatest instantly incomplete mid-career summaries: think Madonna’s The Immaculate Collection or Garth Brooks’s The Hits.


6. Greg Ward – Touch My Beloved’s Thought (Greenleaf) (indie, Mingus tribute of nonstop invention)
7. Anaal Nathrakh – The Whole of the Law (Metal Blade) (indie, beautifully layered Satan metal)
8. Brandy Clark – Big Day In a Small Town (Warner Bros.) (major, country singer-storyteller)
9. Anna Webber’s Simple Trio — Binary (Skirl) (indie, sharp elbowed Canadian jazz)
10. YG – Still Brazy (Deluxe) (Def Jam) (major, West Coast rap)

bandononona11. Banda Rancho Viejo de Julio Aramburo La Bandononona – La Bandononona en Mi Rancho (Disa): Continue reading “NorteñoBlog’s Top Albums of 2016”

Desfile de Éxitos 12/24/16

omar_ruiz_el_quesito

Since NorteñoBlog last checked Billboard‘s Latin charts, the magazine has decided to give us all a gift: the website is now posting 20 more spots on its Regional Mexican airplay chart. There you will find such curiosities as:

Marco Antonio Solis crooning about a lying mujer while swathed in a toga of strings and synths (#29);

— a previous Pick to Click from Fuerza de Tijuana, about a former honcho in the Medellín Cartel (#31);

— more chipper puro sax bands than you can shake a slimy mouthpiece at (#23, #30, and #32) — all of them ruled by the saxophone colossus at #18, La Maquinaria Norteña;

— and even more clones of Ariel Camacho. Am I alone in thinking The Clones of Ariel Camacho would make a great Univision variety show? TWENTY SUPER SERIOUS YOUNG REQUINTO PLAYERS SING OF DEATH AND LOST LOVE, Omar Burgos furiously triple-tongues his tuba whenever someone gets voted off, and everyone forgets the names of their second guitarists. Could work. In any case, Nano Machado, Los de la Noria, Los Plebes, and Ulices Chaidez are all representing Sierreño music in the bottom 20, and Chaidez has two additional songs in the overall Hot Latin top 50. This fountain of youth isn’t drying up any time soon.

Also brightening up the bottom 20 is another dude who fooled around with Sierreño earlier in 2016: Adriel Favela, whose “Tomen Nota,” a duet with Los Del Arroyo, was a credible candidate for Wristwatch Porn Video of the Year. Continue reading “Desfile de Éxitos 12/24/16”

Desfile de Éxitos 7/9/16

lopez castro

What’s this? The Singles Jukebox wrote about J Balvin’s “Bobo” and the next day it went to #1 on the Hot Latin chart? Those are some mighty impressive powers of persuasion/prognostication/poincidence we’ve got. Too bad it’s such a generic song. (My dumb joke review, which nonetheless taught me a useful idiom: “David Brooks no le llega ni a la suela de los zapatos.”) But with three songs in the top 30, Balvin continues to dominate this chart. His new one, “Safari,” features Pharrell murmuring the hook in Spanish and fewer chords than even “Bobo,” but its smooth and hypnotic cumbia beat almost snuck it up to Pick to Click status. Especially since it’s a slow week for banda and norteño debuts. The praise, it is so faint.

¡Pero! If you scan the lower reaches of the Hot Latin top 25 and top 50, you’ll see another act improbably continuing to dominate after several months: Los Plebes Del Rancho de Ariel Camacho, the Sierreño trio that’s fronted by teenager José Manuel Lopez Castro, named for its previous deceased frontman Ariel Camacho, and secretly led by the flabbergasting chops and rhythmic imagination of tubist Omar Burgos. And they continue to dominate even after “DEL Negociante” — their most distinctive song, a corrido ode to their label boss — has fallen off the charts. Los Plebes land four songs inside the top 50 this week, more even than Sr. Bobo. They’re primarily an online phenomenon, their popularity driven by streams and downloads more than radio play. Like their music, their videos mix antiquity with novelty — young lovers with iPhones standing among really old Mexican buildings, for instance, or the band hanging out in Lopez Castro’s high school practice room, dressed in their caballero suits. (Not unlike the choir kids who hide inside the local high school practice rooms, wearing their Megadeth t-shirts.) Listening again to their album Recuerden Mi Estilo, which includes all these songs, I’m struck less by its sameiness and more by the endless intricate rhythms unfolding between the requinto and the tuba. So Pick to Click status this week goes to “El Mentado,” a padrino-y-negocios tune where Burgos screams, revs, and otherwise abuses his axe while never leaving the rhythmic sway.

Continue reading “Desfile de Éxitos 7/9/16”

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