Los Tigres play norteño, and so does Intocable —
Unless they play Tejano, un punto contestable.
The bandas all play banda; mariachis, mariachi.
Puro sax spews merry tears, norteño’s Pagliacci.
Cumbias are acoustic, when they’re not electric.
Singers may get richer, once they get eclectic.
Christian Nodal will tell you he plays “mariacheño,”
Y finalmente everyone starts playing sierreño.
Billboard‘s first Regional Mexican singles chart in 1994 contained a synth-heavy blend of technocumbias, technobandas, romantic grupero baladas, and one mariachi song. The chart was one of three new radio charts, along with Pop and Tropical/Salsa, that electronically surveyed Spanish-language stations across the U.S., a technology-driven update to the magazine’s never-ending effort to record which songs audiences heard most.
The “Regional Mexican” chart surveyed 70 stations whose playlists focused on — you guessed it — regional Mexican genres. That is, banda came from Mexico’s west coast, while Tejano began around the U.S./Mexico border region. Mariachi was an old, rural style specifically cultivated by Mexico’s intellectual elite to present a sophisticated and tourist-friendly cultural face. Grupera music was an abomination from the rank pits of hell, or maybe Acapulco.
These disparate genres had a lot in common. Musically, the bands and their fans shared some core folk repertoire and an affection for polka and cumbia rhythms; socially, they shared the experience of being a largely working-class minority in a foreign land. But the genres were still pretty disparate. Of the 70 radio stations in that initial survey, 27 were in Texas, the home of Tejano music, and another 27 were in California, where L.A.’s KLAX had recently gotten huge playing banda music. My research is ongoing, but I’d be very surprised if, in 1994, KLAX’s playlist had more than a couple songs in common with Houston’s KQQK “Tejano 106.”
So “Regional Mexican” was a radio format that varied dramatically from city to city, based on the audience that lived within earshot. We’ll save for another day the question of how the format became standardized across the country. (If you can’t wait, Melanie Morgan breaks it down here.) Today’s question is, who invented the term?
As near as I’ve found (and it’s almost too obvious to be true), the answer is someone at Billboard — but if they knew they were coining a term, they didn’t trumpet the fact. Continue reading “Who Invented “Regional Mexican”?”