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Pepe Aguilar

¡Indies a Go Go! (starring Los Hijos de Hernández y más)

lalomoralaurita

lalo-moraThis week in the “norteño legend covers the Great Ranchera Songbook” department, we find Lalo Mora, formerly of the ’70s duo Lalo y Lupe and the ’80s band Los Invasores de Nuevo León. Mora’s been making solo music on labels big and small for a while now, and on his latest, Un Millón de Primaveras (Mora), he’s hired a banda to help him dig through some classics. The horn charts are decent and Mora’s grizzled voice settles into the tunes with effortless authority, but you’ve probably heard these songs done better elsewhere. NorteñoBlog directs you to Joan Sebastian‘s country-with-horns take on the title track, which he wrote; and to Vicente Fernández‘s trembling and magisterial version of “El Ultimo en la Fila,” which Sebastian also wrote. Lest you think the entire Great Ranchera Songbook sprang from Joan Sebastian’s tear-stained pen, Mora also sings “Cartas Marcadas” and some other decidedly non-Sebastian tunes. The album’s technically accomplished, but I never need to hear it again: NO VALE LA PENA.

leonardo-aguilarLeonardo Aguilar has lucked into some decidedly less accomplished banda charts on his debut album Gallo Fino (Machin) — if you wanna hear clarinets cloy hard, check out this single from a couple years ago. No matter: I like Aguilar’s album better than Lalo Mora’s. Continue reading “¡Indies a Go Go! (starring Los Hijos de Hernández y más)”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? (1/6/17)

joss-favela-768x403

It’s been six weeks or so since NorteñoBlog checked in with Mexico’s airwaves, so you might think all the songs would be different. ¡Qué sorpresa! Apparently as the year nears its end, the music industry’s release schedule slows down across the continent. Fewer than half the songs have disappeared from this normally fast-changing chart. Among the new ones:

nada-de-nada— At #9, Pepe Aguilar has invited his daughter Ángela sing backup on the lickety split banda tune “Nada de Nada,” written by José Luis Roma of the bro band Río Roma. It’s an impressive band workout, with tuba and percussion burbling along like synth polyrhythms and the horns draping sweeping melodic lines over everything. It’s also a fine meta-song about how the singer has writer’s block in the face of his lover’s anhedonia. (At least, her anhedonia towards him.) Both singers undersell the song, making it one of banda music’s rare Big Smart Cumbias. Aguilar acquits himself well for releasing one of 2016’s most overrated albums, and gets himself a second Pick to Click:

— Speaking of Picks to Click, Joss Favela is in at #16 with his previous champ “No Vuelvas a Llamarme.” It’s one of the ace songwriter’s top-shelf tunes, even if the chords borrow from Gerardo Ortiz’s “Archivos de Mi Vida” (and probably lots of other songs). The interplay between accordion and rhythm section is on point and, whaddya know, the words — about how Favela’s always too busy to take your calls — are funny. Add it to your shiny new Best Singles of 2017 lists post haste. VALE LA PENA

edwin-luna— At #8 we find the latest Very Important Video in Edwin Luna‘s crusade to become a famous actor, fill the world with brotherly love, and get real boned. Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? (1/6/17)”

Pepe Aguilar and Banda El Recodo Visit the Past, To Mixed Results

recodo horns

Over at OC Weekly, Gustavo Arellano overrates the new album by Pepe Aguilar, No Lo Había Dicho (Equinoccio), calling it “an audacious mix of vallenato, pop, banda, and ranchera that lands more often than not.” NorteñoBlog respectfully disagrees with both value judgments expressed in that sentence.

In 2016, there’s nothing “audacious” about mixing up those styles of music — especially for Aguilar, who’s been doing so longer than his contemporary Beck, who made his reputation with purportedly audacious musical mixology back in the ’90s. (Who can forget the mariachi version of “Jackass”?) Even if we limit our search for audacity to Aguilar’s field — the intersection of pop and ranchera known to radio programmers as “romantic Mexican music,” says Billboard‘s Leila Cobo — the idea of crossing over is nothing new. And since artists as diverse as Juan Gabriel, Juanes, Chiquis, Helen Ochoa, and Natalia Jiménez have all recently mashed up “traditional” styles with pop, Aguilar’s music fits right in. Genre mixing is definitely welcome, and it’s still little-heard on regional Mexican radio (the format probably played more genre mashups during the ’90s electro-banda-and-Tejano heyday), but Aguilar’s music has plenty of company in the wider world.

pepe aguilarExcept — here’s respectful disagreement part 2 — this album is so bad. Continue reading “Pepe Aguilar and Banda El Recodo Visit the Past, To Mixed Results”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 5/3/16

bien servida

Welcome to the Mexican charts, where change, as my cosmetic podiatrist likes to say, is afoot. Although it’s been several weeks since NorteñoBlog tuned in to the Mexican radio, the rate of turnover feels much quicker there than in El Norte. For example, check out the norteño and banda songs that have been hanging around the charts the longest:

U.S. Hot Latin:
#19 – “Ya Te Perdí La Fe” by Arrolladora, 26 weeks
#4 – “Solo Con Verte” by Banda MS, 25 weeks
#13 – “Broche de Oro” by Trakalosa, 24 weeks
#14 – “Tomen Nota” by Adriel Favela ft. Los Del Arroyo, 20 weeks
#19 – “DEL Negociante” by Los Plebes del Rancho de Ariel Camacho, 20 weeks

Mexican Popular:
#8 – “Tragos de Alcohol” by El Komander, 14 semanas
#13 – “Préstamela a Mí” by Calibre 50, 14 semanas
#17 – “El Borrachito” by Julión Álvarez, 14 semanas
#7 – “Espero Con Ansias” by Remmy Valenzuela, 13 semanas
#12 – “María” by Pepe Aguilar, 11 semanas

I know what you’re thinking: the Mexican list is way better, and not just because you’re sick of all the U.S. songs after five months! You’re right, but that quality judgment is probably just a coincidence. (And one that doesn’t account for NorteñoBlog’s fave wristwatch porn jam “Tomen Nota.”) You might also be thinking these two charts aren’t equivalent, because Hot Latin measures radio plus streams plus downloads, whereas the Mexican Popular chart only measures radio. Verdadero; but if you check out Billboard‘s radio-only Regional Mexican chart, the U.S. songs have charted for roughly the same amount of time, give or take a week, plus you find Adictiva’s certified 37-weeker “Después de Ti, ¿Quién?”, a real tantric filibuster. Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 5/3/16”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 4/12/16

horacio palencia

The sometime sociopaths in ¡LOS! BuiTRES! (at #19) couldn’t do it — not even singing a tune by tubthumper de amor Horacio Palencia. Neither could Banda MS, in at #18 with their second slo-mo slow dance on the chart. You might think it inevitable that Banda el Recodo would get the job done, but #4 “Inevitable” isn’t the tune.

Nope: none of this week’s Mexican chart debuts possesses the indescribable and unquantifiable blend of moxy, verve, hooks, indelible vocal timbre and/or inventive instrumental work needed to claim the coveted title of NorteñoBlog Pick to Click.

The Mexican top 20 isn’t a total wasteland. Alfredo Olivas‘s pick from two weeks ago sits atop the chart, and Remmy Valenzuela‘s terrific #3 power ballad just entered the U.S. Hot Latin chart at #49. (Speaking of which, the U.S. charts don’t have any good new songs either. Not even “Cicatriiices,” Regulo Caro‘s bouncy ode to scarred hearts, Pulp Fiction crime sprees, and unusual spelling conventions. Ayiyi.) Readers with paternalistic messiah complexes might want to check out Pepe Aguilar at #17. Readers with drinking problems should stay as far as possible from Banda Tierra Sagrada at #12. Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 4/12/16”

Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 3/8/16

pepe-aguilar

To hear Billboard‘s Leila Cobo tell it, singer-songwriter-producer Pepe Aguilar changed the industry of Regional Mexican music. Known for his giant sombreros and even bigger romantic mariachi ballads, this son of ranchera star Antonio Aguilar started his career as a rocker, he told Cobo in 2004:

Q: So what does a regional Mexican singer know about rock?

A: You should have met me when I had an earring and long hair! I recorded a rock album in 1987, before recording rancheras. Rock has been my inspiration and my best weapon. My Mexican music sounds the way it sounds because of rock. I produce and write everything I do musically based in rock.

Q: What happened with that album?

A: It flopped [laughs].

In 2012, Cobo credited Aguilar with essentially creating a new radio format. “Thanks directly to Aguilar’s contemporary readings on traditional music, radio stations that had never played mariachi opened up to the genre and, to this day, ‘romantic Mexican music’ is the programming base of dozens of stations around the country.” The closest Chicago comes to that format is Amor 106.7, where Pepe Aguilar is indeed a “core artist” but they also play bachata and Enrique. The point is, Aguilar’s traditional music has always had an element of crossover, and you can hear that in his latest banda single “María”, sitting at #9 this week on the Mexican chart.

“María” flaunts Aguilar’s crossover pedigree. With its pounding cumbia beat, its minor-key chord progression, and Aguilar’s seductive (and often multitracked) croak, it sounds like a stadium football banger filtered through a banda. It’s telling that Aguilar’s aside of choice is a grunted “hungggh!”, rather than the banda singer’s typical falsetto gritos. Add to that the high-concept video, where Aguilar stalks the nighttime city streets dressed all in black, eyes hidden behind intimidating sunglasses, using his magical touch to turn homeless women and whores into respectable ladies who dance around in bright primary colors. (One of them evangelizes some street toughs — this is the kind of retrograde video symbolism that inspires people to resurrect the term “street toughs” — who then paint a respectable wall mural. Of “María,” I guess.) Even in the most elaborate and sexist banda videos, singers rarely paint themselves as saviors. Whether lovers, cuckolds, protesters, or well-connected men about town, they belong to the scenes they depict. Aguilar here presents himself as savior and transformer, a transcendent figure — just as he sees himself within the regional Mexican scene?

Since the song sounds pretty good, we’ll let him think that if he wants. Pick to Click!

Continue reading “Who’s On the Mexican Radio? 3/8/16”

100 Regional Mexican Compilations Released in 2015

calibre 50 mejor

The hyper-abundant compilation album is one of the more bewildering aspects of the Regional Mexican music industry. There are a LOT of them — witness this Allmusic list of more than 50 Conjunto Primavera comps since 1995, released on eight different record labels. Lately some music-writer friends and acquaintances have observed a dearth of compilation albums in recent years, given listeners’ ability to cherrypick their own songs on streaming sites. NorteñoBlog does not dispute this observation; I’ll only add that the compilation market in Regional Mexican is still going strong. This year saw four new Primavera comps, on two different labels. Who’s buying these things? Don’t they already own all these songs?

Without answering these questions, NorteñoBlog presents this list of 100 single- (or, in the case of Sony’s Frente a Frente series, double-) artist comps released on CD in 2015. It doesn’t include multi-artist comps like Fonovisa’s annual Radio Éxitos: Discos Del Año series. This list is incomplete; I’m pretty sure I could find more by scouring the catalogs of indie labels Select-O-Hits and D&O.

Some items of interest: Continue reading “100 Regional Mexican Compilations Released in 2015”

Why Do the Grammys Hate Norteño Music?

los tigres grammy

In 2002, after the Latin Grammys had existed for two years, grad student Gustavo Arellano took the award show to task in an article titled “Latin Grammys Hide the Big, Uncool Truth.” (Arellano would go on to write the invaluable “¡Ask a Mexican!” column and book, which you’ve seen linked over on my blogroll.) At issue: regional Mexican music, especially norteño and banda, accounted for more than half of Latin music sales in the U.S. — and it continues to do so today — but the Latin Grammy ceremonies had given regional Mexican artists very few performance slots. “Meanwhile, previous Latin Grammy ceremonies have featured decidedly non-Latino acts like Destiny’s Child and NSYNC to perform,” wrote Arellano. He went on:

The definers of Latin culture have decided that the most popular Latin music genre in the United States isn’t worthy of promotion because it might lead people to believe that Latinos are poor and culturally backward, not slick and “with it.”

Indeed, statistics prove that Mexican regional’s primary audience is composed of recent immigrants with little money — 53 percent of adults who prefer it did not complete high school, and most who like it make less than $25,000 a year, according to a report commissioned by Arbitron. For music executives, these demographics are anathema to their promotions and extra products departments and discourage them from considering Mexican regional music for crossover attempts like “rock en espanol” and Latin pop.

Aha! This could explain why you never see regional Mexican acts at the overall not-just-Latin Grammys, even though a song like Intocable’s “Te Amo (Para Siempre),” whose parent album was nominated in 2014 for Best Regional Mexican Music Album, would totally slay a crossover audience who likes pretty things. At Latin Grammy ceremonies over the years, a handful of norteño’s biggest stars (Intocable, Jenni Rivera, Los Tigres, Gerardo Ortíz, Calibre 50) have landed performance slots, but even there, the small percentage of regMex performances and award categories understates how much this music drives the industry.

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Every Grammy article must contain a disclaimer explaining how little its author cares about the Grammys. In that spirit… oh, I can’t front, I kind of enjoy them. Or at least aspects of them. True, the Grammys are stodgy and 90 percent of their nominations make no sense. By leaning heavily toward chart hits in the main categories and NPR-friendly middlebrow stuff in the lower echelons, they reward money over vitality. Archival work has led me to seek out Grammy nominees from previous years, but the Grammys have never inspired me to check out current music, not the way Oscar and Emmy nominees have made me check out movies and TV shows. Maybe because music is my field, I’ve already formed an opinion of most of the nominees, vicariously if I haven’t heard them, and Grammy’s endorsement in no way guarantees quality. That said, the performances sometimes rule. At their best, they feel like gate-crashing a party at a rich dude’s house. I remember my friends’ and my excitement when Metallica played “Enter Sandman” back in the early ’90s; recent revelations include Miguel and “Swagger Like Us.” In fact, let’s pause for a moment to recall a time when “Swagger Like Us” was everywhere.

Critics hit the awards from two different directions — I just did it above. The Grammys either reward popular crap at the expense of, you know, Art; or they blatantly reflect the tastes of older people with money and Good Taste at the expense of, you know, popular crap. Partly this is a class issue. Membership in NARAS, which votes for the Grammys, costs around $100 a year; LARAS, overseers of the Latin Grammys, charge you $85 a year; and both organizations limit voting to active participants in the industry. This doesn’t mean everyone who votes is old and wealthy, but it does mean that “[o]lder people already settled in their fields tend to be the ones who join professional organizations like NARAS… so they’re not always in tune with the times,” says Thomas O’Neil in his book The Grammys. Besides that, many musicians want to reward music that reflects well on their line of work — music that showcases the virtues of artistic ambition, tasteful musicality, positive messages, and respect to elders. Critics and mass audiences don’t care so much about such stuff. That’s why Hole’s great, scabrous album Live Through This went platinum, scored radio hits, and won El Norte’s biggest national critics’ poll, but earned only one Grammy nomination, and that for a video.

This year’s NARAS Grammy field is especially stodgy. On February 8, the nominees for Best Regional Mexican Music Album (including Tejano) will be:

Pepe Aguilar – Lastima Que Sean Ajenas (Sony Music Latin)

Vicente Fernández – Mano A Mano – Tangos A La Manera De Vicente Fernández (Sony Music Latin)

Ixya Herrera featuring Elias Torres – Voz Y Guitarra (Rampart Latino Records)

Mariachi Divas De Cindy Shea – 15 Aniversario (East Side Records/Shea Records)

Mariachi Los Arrieros Del Valle – Alegría Del Mariachi (Mariachi Los Arrieros Del Valle)

What do we see there? A whole lotta mariachi, including two tributes to man-myth-legend Vicente Fernández, one by the man-myth-legend himself and one by Pepe Aguilar. A lovely album of duets for voz y guitarra by the traditional ranchera singer Ixya Herrera. And ZERO norteño! In an eligibility period that included Gerardo Ortiz’s career-defining Archivos de Mi Vida! (He would’ve slain the Grammy audience with his beautiful “Eres Una Niña” — I could even imagine one of those “Grammy moments” duets with King Romeo or someone.) These nominations do have one advantage over most regional Mexican radio playlists — 40% of the nominees are female. But as far as representing where both popularity and innovation live in regional Mexican — and yes, the two often go hand in hand, as when “Eres Una Niña” mixes up the banda with the bachata — this list reads more like a museum piece. Or like an installation at a Disneyland resort, where the fine Mariachi Divas serve as the house band. In no way is it a snapshot of the best music of the year, if by “best” we mean “relevant” or “exciting” or “did something new” or “affected people’s everyday lives.”

To be fair, in recent years Grammy has come up with better lists — I mentioned Intocable last year, and ribald banda-pop characters Banda Los Recoditos have been nominated a couple times. One year the award even went to corridista El Chapo de Sinaloa, whose commitment to positive messages might be more… flexible than most Grammy voters’. But this year’s list demonstrates that NARAS, at least, is still shaky on where the action is.

In 2013, Arellano renewed his critique of LARAS and the Latin Grammys with an even better article (and title), “Why the Latin Grammys Remain America’s Biggest Anti-Mexican Sham”:

[Mexican performers] count as only three of the 15 scheduled performers for the evening… accounting for a pathetic 20 percent of all performances in a country where people of Mexican descent make up more than 60 percent of the total Latino pozole pot. There are only five awards categories devoted to Mexican regional music — shit, more than five distinct musical genres exist in Mexico City alone, from sonidero to rock urbano — while seven are given to Brazil, a beautiful, sonically rich country that nevertheless sells sells as much music combined in the States as Vicente Fernández can sell in one night from a street corner in Huntington Park.

There’s not a single Mexican artist this year nominated for Record of the Year or Album of the Year. And while two are nominated for Song of the Year… and Best New Artist… they’re dreck — and neither of them come from regional Mexican music. I’m not even going to bother looking at past nominees in these biggest of categories; any Latin music awards that never bothered to declare the late Jenni Rivera a winner EVER is about as much a Latino cultural authority as Rick Bayless.

He concluded:

The Latin Grammys are obviously an awards ceremony meant to celebrate Latin music in the United States, not Latin America, and specifically the Latin music that its organizers — centered mostly in Florida and New York — favor, far from the maddening Mexican crowds that buy the albums that keeps their labels afloat.

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You know what else has had trouble getting Grammy respect? Hard rock and metal. The award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance didn’t come along until 1989, when Jethro Tull infamously beat Metallica and the category split into two the following year. Guns ‘n’ Roses never won a Grammy, and their debut album — one of the biggest and, in retrospect, most critically lauded albums of the ’80s — wasn’t nominated for anything. You can read into this slight that early G’n’R, like much hard rock in general, didn’t check off the proper Grammy boxes: they weren’t aiming for art (though plenty of exceptions exist — see Metallica’s heavy Grammy shelf), they weren’t tasteful, and they didn’t traffic in positive messages or elderlove. Raving about G’n’R, critic Chuck Eddy wrote, “I’m not saying I’d want ’em to eat dinner at my house (I’d sooner invite [Grammy winner] Suzanne Vega — she’d probably eat less!).”

Because I’m a straight white American male in my 30s, I’ve compared norteño to hair metal before. Both showcase instrumental chops, speed, and wild drumming, and both have unsavory messages about illicit drugs and working-class life. (U.S. privilege being what it is, the norteño characters mostly produce the drugs and the metal characters consume them.) Lots of corridistas seem like intimidating dinner guests, though my librarian’s friend knows El Komander and says he’s very sweet. As Arellano’s earlier article suggested, some cultural gatekeepers are either ashamed of norteño music or look down their noses at it, because they think it reflects poorly on their industry as a whole — same as metal.

And it’s not just the members of recording academies. In a 2014 “Latin Music Roundtable,” the Wondering Sound website convened five hip music writers to expound on the state of the scene. I’ve pretty much accepted that Julianne Escobedo Shepherd has had better taste than me for, like, three years now, so I can’t be too critical. But man, it took them a long time to get around to norteño music. And when they did, Carlos Reyes, who founded the hipster Latin music site Club Fonograma, said something interesting:

Residing in such a politically-boiling state like Arizona, I do get exposed to Regional Mexican music just by walking on the streets. [NorteñoBlog notes: Me too! Up here in suburban Chicago!] Just like Julianne hears bachata in her neighborhood in NY, I hear trucks blasting rancheras and corridos in my predominantly Mexican neighborhood in Phoenix. And I can’t help but wonder why people feel the need to externalize what they’re listening to. Every culture seems to have its reason. I once asked my dad (who plays the accordion and is a corrido enthusiast) why he turned the volume up particularly for this genre of music. He told me that it was to acquire some visibility: “Arizona still treats us like we don’t even exist.”…

So why is it that I feel guilt when enjoying a narco-corrido? Take, for example, the biggest narco-corrido hit in the last few years: Gerardo Ortiz’s “Damaso.” [NorteñoBlog notes: Great song!] Everything from the syncopated horns, the rhythm-shifting assault, to the blossoming of the melodies make it one hell of a track. And yet despite recognizing its pristine construction, I couldn’t push myself to celebrate it as one of last year’s best. The college-educated hipster kid isn’t supposed to like narco-corridos. Yes, I’m cheating and redeeming myself here. The change of heart came when realizing I was being a hypocrite for being so outspoken about being a Breaking Bad fanatic, and keeping a masterpiece of a song like “Damaso” on my shameful vault of guilty pleasures.

Is that attitude widespread among Latino music fans? It certainly was among white middle-class music fans when I was a kid. We knew listening to rap, country, and metal might reflect poorly on us, until we either found like-minded kids or decided to rebel, and then we had to have them all the time. This may be why I’ve grown to love banda and norteño so much lately. They feel like wide-open spaces where musicians can play with their least respectable — i.e., most vital — impulses, and it’ll usually come up sounding like a million bucks. And by the way? Chinga tu Grammy.

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

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