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Vicente Fernández

Flaming Gallos and Dancing Jesuses (Desfile de Éxitos 6/10/17)

el gallero

KOMANDERLoyal readers understand that any new single by Alfredo Ríos “El Komander” makes NorteñoBlog crow with excitement. El Komander is one of the best, most prolific singles artists on the continent and his new radio hit “El Gallero” (#13 airplay) is another feather in his cap. And just so we’re clear: this song is some straight up, undiluted, no-question-what-he’s-singing-about cockfighting bullshit. I’ve combed the text for mitigating factors and found none. It’s not a metaphor. It’s not simply a video featuring the sport, like Alacranes Musical‘s strutting dance classic “Zapateado Encabronado #3”, which the Blog could not in good conscience endorse back in 2014. No, “El Gallero” pecks away at the same magnificently plumed tradition as Vicente Fernandez‘s “La Muerte de un Gallero” — only, where Fernandez told an O Henry-ish short story set in the competitive cockfighting world, Komander’s song is pure identity politics and local pride.

We’ve seen this sort of dynamic before, specifically with narcocorridos: “In one of those ironies that’s defined parent-child musical tastes since forever, [my librarian] Fatima’s dad is a big Chalino Sanchez fan but thinks these new corrideros are a bunch of idiots. Those old school corrideros knew how to tell a real story.” Whereas, the argument goes, new jack corrideros like El Komander simply revel in the decadent trappings of the game.

Where else have we seen this play out? Oh, right — country music. Recall Marty Robbins’ “The Strawberry Roan,” a short bronc busting story I’m on record loving. In a few compact stanzas, Robbins uses obscure terms of rodeic art to immerse listeners in the seedy bronc busting underworld, and his story of Man meeting his equine match turns into an awe-stricken proverb about life’s eternally unexplored vistas:

“I know there are ponies that I cannot ride;
There’s some of them left, they haven’t all died.”

Four decades later Garth Brooks recorded “Rodeo,” which also rattled off obscure terms of art but, like “El Gallero,” was pure identity politics and local (well, professional) pride. You could argue that Brooks helped inspire today’s bro-country movement of good old boys obsessing over how Country they are, and becoming aesthetically impoverished in the process, but what we’re really talking about is different songwriting tools. At their cores, the parallel cases of “Strawberry Roan” vs. “Rodeo” and “La Muerte” vs. “El Gallero” represent differences in perspective. (I mean, “Rodeo” is my least favorite Garth Brooks song, but just on a musical level.) Brooks and Komander both have excellent storytelling songs in their repertoires, but sometimes you just want to sing a damn anthem.

But, right, cockfighting. Sigh. NorteñoBlog cannot in good conscience endorse this middling El Komander single whose video seems to depict a rooster killed in battle. What I CAN endorse is getting onto U.S. radio with a line that translates “My cock is always on fire.” Your move, Kings of Leon.

dinastia mendozaFar as I can tell, “El Gallero” hasn’t raised the hackles of the SPCA or any other group of moralizers. The same cannot be said for the song at #46 on the big chart, “El Pasito Perrón” by the gregarious dance band Grupo Dianastia Mendoza. Continue reading “Flaming Gallos and Dancing Jesuses (Desfile de Éxitos 6/10/17)”

Lo Mejor de 2016: Where the Action Is

The Grammys and the Mexican government would very much like Mexico’s musical output to consist of genteel roots music. Fortunately, NorteñoBlog’s annual playlist 2016 VALE LA PENA shows that Mexican-American musicians have other ideas.

Our playlist has El Komander singing about immigration in two very different, equally urgent songs: once from the vantage point of a mother whose son is missing, and once as a proudly binational drug dealer. The playlist includes a defiant statement of national pride from Los Inquietos and Marco Flores. There are love songs from guitar bands, brass bands, accordion bands, sax bands, and synth bands.  El Bebeto and Banda Tierra Sagrada stop by to plug liquor; Fuerza de Tijuana celebrates two real-life American narcos. The guys in Los Titanes de Durango drive way too fast. La Rumorosa curses a terrible boyfriend; Intocable mourns absent amor with distorted guitar and a smoking accordion solo. At the top of the list, El Armenta offers a low-fi Lynchian nightmare of a cumbia about his girlfriend’s dog. All in all, it’s as energetic and varied as any single-genre playlist you’re likely to find.

THIS, Grammy voters, is where the action is.

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vicente-un-aztecaEven as NorteñoBlog congratulates living legend Vicente Fernández on winning his third Grammy for Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano) (But Not Including Grupero ‘Cause That Shit Suuuuuuuux), we gotta note that this particular win is lame in a very Grammy-ish way. Continue reading “Lo Mejor de 2016: Where the Action Is”

¡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)”

¡Nuevo! (starring Chacaloza, Vicente Fernández, y más)

chacaloza big

La-Energia-Norteña-El-Rompecabezas-Album-2015-450x450It is the longstanding position of NorteñoBlog that the puro sax styles of Chihuahua and Zacatecas would improve with the addition of more terrible “sax” puns in the titles. Nestled in the middle of Billboard‘s Latin Albums chart is the newest album from La Energia Norteña, El Rompecabezas (Azteca) (alternate title: Dolor de Cabeza Saxual), a dance saxtet from Dallas, Texas. Puzzlingly, La Energia doesn’t have ties to one of the usual sax hotbeds; rather, they’re originally from the central Mexican state of San Luis Potosí, also home to singer Ana Bárbara and Mount Wirikuta. (The latter is sacred to a group of indigenous Mexican people and currently under threat of rape by a Canadian silver mining company.) El Rompecabezas is energetic and poppy and I had to double check the first two songs to make sure they weren’t exactly the same. One of them was “Malditos Sentimientos” (alternate title: “Sentimientos, Saxo, y MALDICIóN”). Continue reading “¡Nuevo! (starring Chacaloza, Vicente Fernández, y más)”

Ask a Norteño Fan: Manuel Martinez-Luna

manuel martinez-luna

Today we extend a warm NorteñoBlog welcome to Manuel Martinez-Luna. Manuel is a 31-year-old New York native, having cut a swath from Yonkers to Queens. You know him as the blog’s top commenter, which has led to an exciting new job (tambora roll…) writing for NorteñoBlog! (First article coming soon.) (No, there’s no money in it.) In his spare time, Manuel works as a compilations coordinator for The Orchard, a digital distribution arm of Sony Music, creating Regional Mexican compilations under the brand name Club Corridos. (Nice logo.) In alphabetical order, his favorites artists are Los Alegres del Barranco, the Beatles, Vicente Fernández, Ratt, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

We recently talked by phone for almost an hour about growing up in Yonkers, how Manuel came to love norteño music, how Hispanic and white people view narcocorridos, and his karaoke triumphs and fails. Here’s the edited transcript:

NorteñoBlog: What was the first popular music you ever remember loving? How did you hear it? What did you love about it?

Manuel Martinez-Luna: I would say it was hip hop. I got more aware of the artists and particular songs in middle school. Jay-Z and, when I used to live in Yonkers, the Lox — I still listen to them. For the most part it was the beats, the instruments they used, but also the lyrics — some songs might have been a little bit more street-oriented or violent, but a lot of the the things they said I could definitely relate to. The struggle, growing up in the inner city, was not that uncommon from the type of life I had — and not just me, but a lot of people can relate to not having enough money to get school clothes for the new year, or whatever it may be. Your plumbing doesn’t work during the winter, so you have to heat up your bath water in a big pot and then pour it over yourself to take a shower. Like the landlord, sometimes you ask him, “Come by and fix my damn pipes!” You know, they take a while, and you can’t show up to school smelly.

NB: What kind of music did your parents listen to? Did you find yourself liking what they liked, rebelling against their taste, or what?

MML: All Mexican music, primarily rancheros — you know, Vicente Fernandez, Antonio Aguilar — stuff like that. My dad would listen to corridos, but mostly more old school stuff — Los Alegres de Terán, Los Huracanes del Norte, like those guys? My mom would listen to very obscure female groups, I can’t remember their name right now. I think their name was Las Jilgueras something… [NB note: Las Jilguerillas?]

Honestly, when I was younger, I just didn’t get it — I thought it was kind of hokey and too old school or whatever. I would hear it in the background all the time, Saturday mornings my mom and dad would put on their music and we would go about our business, but at that time I just didn’t get it. You know, I wasn’t into it.

That changed around 2006, 2007, Continue reading “Ask a Norteño Fan: Manuel Martinez-Luna”

Diario de Radio 5/18/15

pancho barraza

Calibre 50 – “Contigo”: NorteñoBlog hasn’t yet discussed what a bad song this is. I’d call it “terrible” but that would imply some level of awe or achievement that’s completely lacking in the music. And what about that music? It sounds like a second-tier Maná power ballad, only without the power. As these guys must know, an accordion isn’t a lead guitar! In some cases it’s better than a lead guitar, but its attempts to sustain single notes sound like wheezes, so the whole song feels empty, a dried out husk of attempted passion. Of course it’s a huge hit, so what do I know?
NO VALE LA PENA

Vicente Fernández – “Estos Celos” (2007): A late career hit written, arranged, and produced by Joan Sebastian, who won the Latin Grammy for Best Regional Mexican Song. The strings and midtempo chug could be ’70s Glen Campbell, as could Fernández’s rue when he sings about his jealousy. His high notes should teach Nick Jonas something about chin music.
VALE LA PENA

Ariel Camacho y Los Plebes del Rancho – “El Karma”: NorteñoBlog has waxed about this song before. Basically, it sounds like nothing else on the radio, Camacho’s endless flutters of requinto deepening a murder ballad that’s cynical but cautionary, mythic but subversive, and coming to you direct from BEYOND THE GRAVE. (As near as I can tell, Camacho tries to kill his daughter’s kidnapper and gets killed himself, so Karma doesn’t work!) This is still the best version of the umpteen floating around. Here’s how I explained it to Frank Kogan, but I may be missing some nuance in how its audience hears it:

The song ends with the line, “nobody escapes the reaper.” Other versions of this song are speedy, either triumphal or drunken, performed by norteño quintet or banda. Camacho’s version is slower, stripped down to two guitars and a tuba, the fatalistic retelling of an old old story. Camacho’s version has become the hit version on regional Mexican radio, where it sounds like nothing else — it’s surrounded by sappy love songs and cheery trafficking songs. In early 2015 Camacho dies in a car wreck and “El Karma” hits #1 on Billboard’s overall Hot Latin chart, albeit during a slow week. (It’s the first norteño song to do so in years.) Possible social critique: this death we sing about so blithely deserves our respect.

VALE LA PENA

El Komander – “Malditas Ganas”: Loose, funny, talking as much as he sings — which is good, given his misguided attempts at balladry — Alfredo Rios defines charismatic. The word “charismatic” implies an apparent lack of effort, right?
VALE LA PENA

Pancho Barraza – “Ignoraste Mis Lagrimas” (1995): The cruel oompah of tears.
NO VALE LA PENA

¿Qué Estamos Escuchando? (Grammys, Remmy Valenzuela, Natalia Jiménez)

Vicente Fernandez at Latin Grammy Awards Backstage

NorteñoBlog would like to issue a correction: In the post entitled “Why Do the Grammys Hate Norteño Music?”, I mistakenly referred to Vicente Fernández’s Mano a Mano: Tangos a la Manera de Vicente Fernández as a “tribute album.” It’s not. Rather, the album is what it says it is: ranchera singer Fernández singing tangos in his own style, with lead bandoneon from Raul Vizzi. It’s a likable little album that peaked at #3 on Billboard‘s Regional Mexican Albums chart and #11 on Hot Latin Albums. Sunday it won the Grammy for Best Regional Mexican Music Album (including Tejano). Congratulations!

Of course, Mano a Mano represents the current state of regional Mexican music (including Tejano) somewhat less well than Beck’s Album of the Year-winning Morning Phase represents popular music overall. Never mind how Beck stacks up against Beyoncé — at least his album appeared on TV soundtracks and radio, shaping both music conversations and “the sound of 2014.” (Maybe there should be a Grammy category for “Best Soundtrack to a TV Character Having Epiphanies About Life.”) Compared to the list of overall Album of the Year winners, Fernández’s album is closer to Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters — an undeniably well-performed and polite museum piece that everyone can now safely ignore.

Not to be ignored is accordion hero Remmy Valenzuela, singing “Mi Princesa” to a young woman whose tipo just cheated on her at the Orpheum Theater. Remmy saw it all from the stage. We covered the song at The Singles Jukebox, where I wrote:

A dextrous accordion hero puts down his axe to sing a banda ballad with more authority than he’s ever sung before, enunciating to las estrellas. Noel Torres would farm this kind of thing out to the likes of Luciano Luna, norteño’s own Diane Warren figure, but Valenzuela wrote “Princesa” himself and he’s smart about it, intuiting how the brass will clobber the high points in his melody. (I don’t care how fleet his fingers are, this thing would sound thin with just his quartet.) Has any guitar hero ever done so well with a guitar-free power ballad?
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More cheating in Natalia Jiménez’s “Quédate Con Ella,” which the Jukebox liked more. Abby Waysdorf heard schlager; John Seroff and I both heard ABBA, which some days is the same thing. I wrote:

Jiménez shoots for Mexican mariachi and, with the help of Venezuelan producer Motiff, winds up singing a marvelously square ABBA song. “Square,” that is, in its perky chorus beat and tune; devoid of anything resembling R&B, “Quédate” stands out on a Hot Latin chart full of bachata and reggaeton. And “square” in Jiménez’s insistence that the Other Woman play house in every sense of the phrase — iron her ex’s clothes, make his toast, etc. What’s not square is her singing: Jiménez inhabits the song with giggly triumph, just as “Jajaja” into “LOL” is a triumph of Google Translate. She’s having more fun breaking up than she did when they were together. She’s Chiquitita with Fernando’s swagger.
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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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