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NORTENO & TEJANO
THE MUSIC OF NORTHERN MEXICO AND MEXICAN-AMERICANS
Header image: Chris Goldberg on Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0
Mexican Americans are Americans of full or partial Mexican descent. Mexican Americans are the largest Latino ancestral population and one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the United States. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that about 25% of foreign-born immigrants are Mexican. U.S. Census Bureau reports from 2010-2019 found that there are approximately 32 million Americans of Mexican heritage, representing 61.5% of all Latino Americans. Seventy-one percent of Mexican Americans were born in the U.S., and 60% reside in California and Texas.
In the 1960s and 1970s there was an anti-assimilationist movement by young Mexican-Americans, especially students, to reclaim Mexican culture and identity. They rejected the term Mexican American as assimilationist and a means of "Whitening" and referred to themselves Chicano/a, a term that had previously been used as a slur. The movement demanded changes in education to include the history and culture of Mexicans, agitated for political opportunity, and promoted mexicanidad, or "Mexican-ness." Leaders of the movement and demonstrations by Chicanos were met with violence and murder by the police and Texas Rangers.
Most Mexican Americans are of varying degrees of Spanish and indigenous descent, with numerous communities descending from immigrant populations from a wide range of countries across the world. Others are indigenous or primarily descended from one or more of over sixty indigenous groups in Mexico. Approximately 10% of the current Mexican American population, including Tejanos and Californios, are descended from early colonial Spanish settlers, and became U.S. citizens in 1848 through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War. Mexicans living in the United States after the treaty was signed were forced to choose between keeping their Mexican citizenship or becoming an American citizen. Few chose to leave their homes in the States. The majority eventually adopted English as their first language and became Americanized.
Although most of the Mexican American population was deemed White by the Treaty, many continued to face discrimination in the form of anti-Mexican sentiment, rooted in the idea that Mexicans were "too Indian" to be citizens. [Laura Gomez, Manifest Destinies, NYU Press] Despite assurances to the contrary, the property rights of formerly Mexican citizens were often not honored by the U.S. government. ... During the Great Depression, Mexican Americans were subjected to an ethnic cleansing campaign of mass deportation, which affected an estimated 500,000 to 2 million people. In violation of immigration law, the U.S. government allowed state and local governments to unilaterally deport citizens without due process. An estimated 85% of those ethnically cleansed were United States citizens and 60% were birthright citizens.  [Wikipedia, "Mexican Americans"]
Video Presentation: Tejano 1 - Introduction to Mexican-American Music
European immigrants in Mexico fled to Texas during the chaos and war that was set in motion by the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). In Texas the dance music of the new European refugees mixed with the songs of Mexican Americans in a music that would eventually be called Tejano ("Texan") or Tex-Mex.
Narciso Martínez, who was raised in the small Texas town of La Paloma, brought a new virtuosity to accordion playing. Martínez, the "father of Tejano conjunto," started to record in the 1930s when local radio stations began to broadcast Norteño and Tejano. A conjunto is an ensemble based on the accordion and bajo sexto, as described in the following section. By the mid 1950s Tejano conjunto, influenced by Big Band music, expanded into larger ensembles — bandas and orquestas — that included various wind instruments and the standard jazz drum set.
Oscar Martínez's banda was made up of the instrumentation that established the template for the banda — two trumpets, alto and tenor saxophones, guitar, bass, and drums. This type of banda peaked in the 1970s. [Brittanica]
A third type of ensemble, grupo, originated in the 1960s. Grupos were based on electric instruments -- guitar, bass guitar, keyboards -- and drums.
Martinez' song "El Tejano Enamorado," featured on his 1965 album "El Gallo Copeton," hit the radio before Martinez knew anything about the industry or what royalties were. It became popular with musicians across the country and has been recorded by more than 40 artists. He also has his own English version, "The Texas Playboy."
[Michael Zamora, "Preserving Tejano's History," San Angelo Standard-Times, November 2011]
NORTENONorteño, also called música norteña, is a popular-music genre of Northern Mexico that developed in the late nineteenth century as a mix of regional Mexican music and the folk music of German, Polish, and Czech migrant workers and immigrants to Mexico. Norteño is closely associated with the music for polka (a Czech folk dance), waltz (a descendant of German folk dance) and corridos, ballads about love, everyday life, crime, and social problems. Norteño is one of three major genres under the umbrella term Mexican Regional Music. The other best-known categories are mariachi and Banda. The differences are summarized in this video.
The accordion and bajo sexto are Norteño's most characteristic instruments.
The type of accordion played in Norteño is the diatonic button accordion (DBA) — diatonic because it can only produce the notes of the diatonic scale. The player operates the instrument by pressing buttons that allow interior reeds to vibrate as the bellows part of the instrument is pushed and pulled. (The buttons on the right-hand panel produce the melody, those on the left-hand panel produce supporting chords.) The DBA is favored in Norteño because it is relatively lightweight, nimble in operation, and because its bellows construction allows for an emphatically rhythmic style of playing dance music.
The bajo sexto (literally, "bass sixth") is a member of the guitar family. The name refers to the low-pitched range of the bajo sexto (an octave lower than guitar), and to the six pairs (or courses) of strings.
The bajo sexto, like many string instruments built by Mexican artisans in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, was modeled on early types of Spanish guitars. The bajo sexto reached its full development in the nineteenth century and migrated northwards, where it became a popular instrument for weddings and dances. By 1930 the bajo sexto joined the accordion in the initial pairing that was to give rise to conjunto (literally, group or ensemble). Flaco Jimenez of San Antonio, Texas is a major figure in Norteño, having earned six Grammys over a sixty-year career.
Flaco Jimenez and Max Baca play "Margarita", "La Paloma," and "Cada Vez Que Cae La Tarde"
A conjunto Norteño is a Mexican folk ensemble that adds snare drum and a bass instrument to the DBA/bajo sexto pair. The instrument may be string bass, or tololoche as in this video by Norteños de Río Bravo, or electric bass guitar as in this clip by Los Tigres del Norte. (The bass guitar is played by the vocalist in the foreground). A more recent substitute bass instrument is tuba, as in this corrido by Calibre 50. Cuban tumbadoras (conga drums) and bongó are also included in some modern conjuntos, such as "Mas Fuerte que Hercules" by La Leyenda (2012).
Conjunto became popular within the transnational Mexican communities of the borderlands primarily through local radio stations in the "golden age" of the conjunto in the 1940s and early 1950s. Also, some conjuntos from Mexico — Los Alegres de Terán (active 1948-2007), Los Huricanes del Norte (1969-present), Los Rieleros del Norte (active 1984-present) — relocated to the United States.
From the rural areas of its origin Norteño achieved popularity in urban centers and eventually in many Latin American countries.
THE CORRIDOOne of the enduring legacies of Norteño is corrido, a genre that recounts stories, often of heroic outlaw figures. The corrido has a long historical record stretching back to the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920 with songs praising revolutionaries such as Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. During a period when the vast majority of the rural population was illiterate, corridos served to spread news and to idealize the Revolution. Following the Revolution, the stories told in corridos often recount episodes involving smuggling, centering on the illegal importation of tequilla during Prohibition in the U.S. A subgenre, the narcocorrido, recounts stories of drug smugglers, praising the bravery, resilience, and wile of small-time dealers as well as famous drug lords for their ability to foil U.S. authorities in the "War on Drugs." Narcocorridos were often critical of the corruption of the Mexican government and drug interdiction officials on both sides of the border. Drug traffickers are known not only for violence, but also often for building schools, roads, and hospitals, and other philanthropic acts that improve the lives of the people in the community where they operate, while the government does nothing to help raise the people out of poverty.
But the corrido is flexible in terms of subject matter. An important function of corridos is to tell of the trials and adversities of immigrants, both legal and undocumented, and the experiences of the Mexican-American working class. Corrido narratives are often critical of immigration policy and discrimination in the U.S., and encourage a sense of pride and community among Mexicans and their compatriots and descendants in the United States. Other corridos tell stories of romantic relationships.
"Los Tequilleros" ("The Tequilla Smugglers") by Los Alegres de Terán is an example of a classic corrido, consisting of three main sections: an introduction that places the story in a particular time and place and presents the main figures; the story itself; and a "farewell," a closing section that rounds out the form and summarizes the message of the story. The version by Los Alegres de Terán condenses the original into a short song in order to accommodate the format for early recordings, which could only contain a few minutes of music. (Click CC (closed captions) on the video screen for English subtitles.)
Los Alegres de Terán (literally, "the happy ones from Terán") was a conjunto featuring Eugenio Abrego on accordion and Tomas Ortiz on bajo sexto. Founded in 1948 in the town of General Terán in the state of Nuevo León in northern Mexico, Los Alegres performed together for nearly sixty years, recorded over one hundred albums, and were the masters and chief exporters of Norteño music.
Los Alegres achieved a number of “firsts." The duo became the first Norteño act to break out of the genre’s regional boundaries in northern Mexico and gain wide popularity on both sides of the border. They were the first to combine harmonizing vocal duet with the accordion and bajo sexto, rather than accompanying vocals with solo guitar. And Los Alegres were “the first to tap into the massive migrant market because they were a part of it. They modernized the themes of the traditional corrido, making the music more relevant to migrant workers who were not only moving north across the border into the US but were also flooding urban centers such as Mexico City in the mid-20th century.” [The Arhoolie Foundation and UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center] Cathy Ragland in her book, Música Norteña: Mexican Migrants Creating a Nation Between Nations. writes that “the working class community in Mexico embraced (them) because of the group’s ability to merge sophisticated vocal harmonies and arrangements with an updated corrido narrative form that, in addition to love songs, included themes of travel, alienation, and nostalgic images of rural and ranchero life.”
[The Arhoolie Foundation and UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center]
The regional success of Los Alegres coincided with the growth of the Mexican record industry in Mexico City. The duo – with its blend of country and romantic styles showcased in polished arrangements – drew the attention of producers in the capital [city], who historically had looked down on the working-class music of the border regions. Musical trends in the capital were driven at the time by wider cultural forces in a country rapidly developing within a proud, post-revolutionary climate. Record executives sought out acts that reflected a modern, nationalistic, urban ethos. Los Alegres, who had already modernized the rustic, rural sound of norteño music, fit the bill.
In the country’s highly centralized capital, the duo became beneficiaries of the industry’s powerful promotional machine, which vastly enhanced their international profile. They joined the famous “caravanas artísticas”—a caravan of stars composed of a rotating bill of major acts that hit the road as a touring attraction. The lowly country musicians found themselves rubbing shoulders and sharing stages with first-rate luminaries. [Compare the performances in this excerpt from a movie starring Lola Beltrán, Juan Gallardo, and other internationally famous Mexican singers/actors of the period].
Traveling with the caravans throughout the late 1950s and early ’60s, Los Alegres appeared at premiere venues, from the capital’s Teatro Blanquita to The Millon Dollar Theatre in Los Angeles. They also made cross-genre inroads, invited as guests at the first international polka festival held in Chicago in the early 1960s, where they shared the ethnic bill with other immigrant musicians from Eastern Europe, Germany, and elsewhere. They scored a long line of hits.
The most famous Norteño group still working today is Los Tigres del Norte ("The Tigers of the North"), whose songs represent the working-class Mexican-American population and speak of the experiences of Mexican immigrants. Los Tigres have done more than any other Mexican or Mexican-American artists to internationalize and modernize Norteño. The members of Los Tigres were born in Mexico but are now all naturalized American citizens. Over the past fifty-plus years the band has produced more than 50 albums and sold more than 35 million albums. Their honors so far include seven Grammy Awards, seven Latin Grammy Awards, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Los Tigres consistently sell out stadium shows in Mexico and the U.S., commanding high-price tickets, with shows lasting for hours past the official close. (Their longest running concert lasted twelve hours, ending at 9:00 AM.)
David Montgomery, writing for the Washington Post in his report on the band's performance at the 2013 immigration rally in Washington D.C. writes that "Their lyrics are like news bulletins from the lives of immigrants." One such corrido, "La Jalua del Oro" ("The Golden Cage") is described in the article as "the drama of a heartsick, undocumented immigrant. He feels trapped in his home, afraid of deportation, pining for Mexico, needing his American job, while his children forget their Spanish and don’t care about their roots." This video is of a performance of "La Jalua del Oro" during a show that Los Tigres gave at Folsom Prison in 2018. An English translation of the lyrics can be found here. "Somos Más Americanos" ("We Are More American"), released in 2001, is one of the band's most famous songs and an example of the political bent that corridos often take. Representative of the narcocorrido genre is "Muerte Anunciada" ("A Death Was Announced") about the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar.
Sam Quinones, in True Tales from Another Mexico, claims that Chalino Sanchez "democratized" the corrido by writing about common men he met in prison, street toughs, and low-level drug dealers in corridos like "Beto Lopez." The rail-thin, 5'8" Mexican from the drug-producing state of Sinaloa spoke no English and had only two or three years of education. When he was 11 his sister was raped and left naked on the doorstep of the family's home. Four years later he publicly shot the rapist to death and fled the city. En route to the U.S., he worked on farms and was for a time jailed in Tijuana on low-level drug charges, where he met his cousin, a guitarist. Chalino began singing corridos about the fellow prisoners, accompanied by his cousin. In 1984 he reached Los Angeles, married, and started to write corridos on commission from local Mexicans. In a few years he began to record the songs and sell them as cassette tape recordings, by hundreds at a time, at the local swap meets that were a staple of an Mexican-American unofficial economy in the L.A. area. In 1989 Chalino had found permanent band mates, and signed with a tiny local independent label. Although radio stations would not touch his material, his sales rocketed to the thousands.
At the time, Mexican pop music "put a premium on puff and polish ... [Stars were expected to] lose any vestige of the rancho, of poverty. Male singers looked like playboys and tried sounding like opera stars." The Mexican and Mexican-American music industry, centered in big cities, was too distant to understand the people of the villages, hills, and ranches of the countryside. But by 1990 Chalino, with his raw, unpolished style, began drawing huge crowds to Mexican clubs in L.A. His audiences were working-class Mexican-Americans and immigrants. Chalino made it cool for a young generation to reclaim a Mexicanidad, a sense of traditional Mexican culture reflecting rural roots instead of the bourgeois idols and images promoted by the recording industry. He helped revive rancheras, the traditional love songs of rural Mexico, such as his ranchera "Nieves de Enero" ("Snows of January") (English translation of the lyrics is in the comments section of this video.) Suddenly it became fashionable to wear cowboy hats and boots. Bands that had never been to the Mexican countryside started to picture themselves in videos and on album covers with donkeys and bales of hay.
Chalino demanded money upfront for his songs instead of agreeing to royalties (a percentage of sales of recordings). He sold all rights to his songs for about $115,000. Royalties are now worth several millions, none of which his family will recover. In 1992 Chalino agreed to play a concert in Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa. He was kidnapped, driven out to a remote area and was later found shot in the head. He was 32 years old.
Calibre 50 is a Norteño quartet from Sinaloa founded in 2010. In keeping with some other modern Norteño groups, Calibre 50 features a drummer with a full drum set, and replaces the tololoche or bass guitar with tuba. The name of the band refers to the 50-caliber armor-piercing bullet, a metaphor for the strength that they hoped would propel them to transnational fame. The band gained a certain notoriety on YouTube for "El Tierno se Fue," leading to their 2011 breakout album "De Sinaloa para el Mundo." The band has been recording and touring at a furious pace ever since. Calibre 50 has a versatile portfolio of songs, including corridos, narcocorridos, Colombian/Mexican dance music known as cumbia, rancheras, and polkas. Last year the group "broke the record for for the most number-one songs on the Billboard Regional Mexican Airplay chart with 17 songs." Calibre 50 has produced twelve albums. In 2018 the band became the first artists (along with J Balvin) to reach 1 billion streams on Pandora Radio. Several of their songs have topped the radio charts for Regional Mexican Music in both Mexico and the United States. [Information from "Calibre 50," Wikipedia and Thom Jurek, "Calibre 50," AllMusic]
One of Calibre 50's chart-topping songs was released in 2018. "Corrido de Juanito" is the true story of an undocumented Mexican working in the United States, the family he left behind, and his own children.
English translation of "Corrido de Juanito" lyrics
WOMEN IN MEXICAN-AMERICAN MUSICThis section presents seven female Mexican-American artists who have had important impact on Latin music in the United States and Mexico: Lydia Mendoza, Carmen and Laura Hernandez, Selena Quintanilla are the major names associated with Tejano, and represent three phases in the genre's history. Jenni Rivera, Yolanda Perez, and Snow Tha Product (Claudia Meza) were all born in California. Rivera brought traditional Norteño genres to an international audience. Perez and Meza are part of the recent crop of Mexican-American rap and hip hop artists.
Lydia Mendoza, known as “the Mother of Tejano Music,” “The Singer of the Poor,” and “Lark of the Border,” was born in Houston in 1916 to a family of migrant worker-musicians. Her father worked as a railroad mechanic on the burgeoning railroads that served as the lifelines of national transportation in the early 20th century, and were a source of employment for many Mexican-Americans. As part of the father’s railroad work, the Mendoza family migrated back and forth between north Mexico and Texas. Each time they reentered the U.S., customs officials immersed them in tubs of gasoline to kill any suspected lice. While still a child, so determined was she to play guitar, Mendoza made her own primitive instrument out of a box and rubber bands. When her father left the railroad, the family played on the streets of San Antonio Texas for pennies. Lydia began her recording career at the age of 10 with the Mendoza family on local record labels catering to the Spanish-speaking population.
In 1934, at age 19, Lydia recorded what became her signature song,
Lydia Mendoza, "Mal Hombre” (“Evil Man”)(for English translation of lyrics press closed captions (CC) on video screen)
Following on the success of “Mal Hombre” she continued to tour with her family, hitching rides and following the agricultural labor routes of Mexican-American workers: Michigan, the Rio Grande Valley, and, later, California. Yolanda Broyles-González writes that “along the migrant agricultural worker routes she affirmed and celebrated Mexicannness during those decades when establishments regularly featured signs that read ‘NO DOGS, NO MEXICANS.’ … Mendoza always enacted a space of popular collective expression, an audible Mexican American homeland.”
Although “Mal Hombre” is not a borderland song (it is, rather, closer to an old-fashioned Argentinian tango), audiences requested it throughout her 60-year career. In her mature years, Lydia sang and recorded almost exclusively rancheras and historic corridos. The Library of Congress added “Mal Hombre” to the National Registry in 2010.
Carmen and Laura Hernandez were born respectively in 1921 and 1926 in Kingsville, a small Texas town, but for most of their lives resided in Alice, Texas, close to Mexican border. The sisters were among the first women to perform and record Tex-Mex music. The singing duo modernized & “sophisticated” the Tex-Mex sound in the 1940s by incorporating a jazz band with Afro-Cuban elements.
Carmen married Armando Marroquin whose independent record label, Ideal, stepped in to provide recordings of regional American-born Texas-Mexican musicians, and marketed them to a Texas-Mexican community that aspired to middle class status, as opposed to working class migrants. Not able to afford professional recording studios, Marroquin recorded songs in his living room, with blankets arranged on the walls to enhance the sound. His first record had run of only 200 copies, which sold out immediately. Soon he began supplying jukeboxes throughout Texas and the Southwest.
“Sister acts” were a big trend in the Big Band Swing Era that dominated jazz in the 1940s. Carmen y Laura were the Spanish-language version of wildly popular sister acts like The Andrews Sisters. In addition to more traditional conjunto-type Tejano, Carmen y Laura recorded Spanish-language songs accompanied by Beto Villa, whose orquesta tejana (Tejano Big Band) hybridized a sound from jazz and Latin music that “allowed Mexican Americans to both assimilate and to maintain ‘powerful associations ancestral 'heritage.;'’ (Manuel Peña, quoted in Ragland).
(English translation of lyrics in subtitles)
Carmen y Laura, with Beto Villa y su Orquesta, "Un Rato No Mas" ("Not One More Minute")
Carmen y Laura also toured extensively in the following decade, bringing Spanish-language music to audiences throughout the country. In an interview Carmen Marroquin described how she and her husband pioneered a touring network.
We opened the gate, we opened the road for everybody… Everything was very, very limited, there was nothing, there were no halls, no promoter, no Spanish-language radio … So when we started, we wanted to be heard, and we wanted to sell and we knew we had to go and work. We got a map, and we said we’ll go here and here and here. The first place we went to was Del Rio [Texas] and from there we went to West Texas,… to New Mexico and then Arizona and California. That was our first route. Once we got to these places we had to approach people to make the dances and we had to ask the clubs to sponsor us. Because few towns had halls, we used to go to the school gyms. … So we opened the path for Del Rio, California, Utah, Kansas, Illinois… You know, I was very surprised, I knew there were Mexican people in Los Angeles and in Chicago, but I never dreamed I would see Mexican people in salt Lake City. And, you know, people, went wild. When we got on stage they started throwing money at the stage. There were thirsty … for hearing something in Spanish.
In 1980 Tejano singer Rick Trevino established the Tejano Music Awards, currently held annually in San Antonio, Texas. The Award for Female Vocalist and Entertainer of the Year was first presented in 1981 to Lisa Lopez, who had a number one hit on Billboard’s Regional Mexican Airplay chart. The next four years, Laura Canales swept the award for Female Vocalist. These women singers paved the way for the most popular and best-known Tejano performer of all time, Selena Quintanilla. They also brought new influences into Tejano from American R&B and pop, appealing to a younger and wider audience who didn’t relate to the conjunto traditions of polka rhythms played by groups based on accordion and bajo sexto.
Singer/songwriter, actress, model, and fashion designer Selena Qunitanilla was born in 1971 in the Houston, Texas area. Her unofficial title, “Queen of Tejano Music,” has never been challenged. Selena was the top-selling Latin music artist of the 1990s and among the most influential Latin music artists of all time. Her life was portrayed in the film Selena, starring Jennifer Lopez, in 1997. In 2020 Netflix released the first episodes of the ongoing program “Selena —The Series,” a detailed recounting of her career and biography.
Selena debuted as a child in 1981, singing in a band with her siblings at small local wedding celebrations and dances. Though her father was a musician who had recorded songs in Spanish, Selena was brought up speaking English and had to learn Spanish in her teens in order to appeal to her Mexican-American audiences. Her parents led her and her backup band on bus tours throughout the United States until, in 1987, she toppled Laura Canales's record at the Tejano Music Awards, winning Best Female Vocalist nine consecutive times.
Upon signing to a major record label, Selena released her first solo album in 1989. But it was in 1994 that her album, “Amor Prohibido” (“Forbidden Love”) propelled her to the top of all popular music charts, won the Mexican American Album at the Grammy Awards, sold 2.16 million copies, was certified 36 times platinum, and contained the number 1 single song, "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom." The success of “Amor Prohibido” garnered a younger and wider audience than any other time in the history of Tejano and was the first commercial success of Tejano in Puerto Rico. Its release was followed by national and Central and South American tours.
Selena, "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom.”
Lyrics of "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom" with English translationSelena had already begun and English-language crossover album when she was murdered by Yolanda Salvador, who for years had headed her fan club and managed her cosmetic boutiques. Salvador was found to have embezzled $30,000 from Selena’s businesses and when confronted, shot the Texan star who died a few minutes after naming her murderer. Selena’s funeral drew 60,000 mourners, attesting to her widespread popularity.
Following Selena, Tejano’s popularity and influence gradually diminished. In 2012 the Houston Press ran an article entitled “Is Tejano Music Completely Dead?” Today Tejano has more in common with country, pop and R&B ballads than with the original Tejano conjunto, and is kept alive through Internet radio and music streaming services catering to Spanish-speaking populations.
Norteño, on the other hand, has maintained a steady fan base in Mexico, the United States, and internationally. Women have had a decisive role in bringing Norteño and other regional Mexican genres to the attention of a global audience. The most important of these is Jenni Rivera, singer/songwriter, actress, producer, and philanthropist born in Long Beach, California in 1969. Rivera died in a plane crash in 2012 at the age of 43. Over the course of her career Rivera sold 20 million albums worldwide, making her the highest earning Banda singer of all time.
The Wikipedia article on Jenni Rivera describes her as
[t]he most important female figure and top selling female artist in Regional Mexican music. known for her work within Banda, Mariachi and Norteño.
Billboard magazine named her the "top Latin artist of 2013", and the "best selling Latin artist of 2013".
Aside from music, she was active in her community and donated her time to civic causes. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence appointed her its spokesperson in the United States.
In the early 2000s, she was often criticized and was refused bookings at venues across California for performing Banda music—a male-dominated music genre. “One radio programmer in L.A., the meanest son of a bitch in the world, threw my CD in the trash right in my face." However, her popularity grew after she won the Lo Nuestro Award for Regional Mexican Female Artist of the Year in 2007, which she won nine consecutive times. In 2007, she released Mi Vida Loca, [“My Crazy Life”] which debuted at number 1 on the Regional Mexican Albums chart and number 2 on the Top Latin Albums chart in the United States. Her tenth studio album, Jenni (2008) became her first No.1 record on the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart in the United States.
On December 11, 2012, two days after her death, Fonovisa Records released La Misma Gran Señora, the album debuted at No.1 on Billboard's Top Latin Albums chart, No.1 on Billboard Regional Mexican Albums chart and No.1 on Mexico's Top 100 chart. Since its release, it has been awarded one Billboard Music Award, three Latin Billboard Music Awards, and two Mexican Billboard Music Awards. At the 2013 Billboard Music Awards it was awarded the Top Latin Album accolade.
Jenni Rivera was one of the early women in the industry to sing narcocorridos. Rivera began recording music in 1992. Her music centered around testimonies of gender nonconformity. She was also one of the few women, at the time, who openly sang about “non-traditional” behaviors among women. Rivera's music was a source of empowerment for young Latinas and Chicanas who saw their stories reflected in her music. Additionally, Rivera's fans, “played her music to transmit undisciplined desires, endorse immigrants civil rights, and protest women’s abuse.”
Rivera’s song from 2000, “Las Maladrinas” marked the beginning of her successful recording career. It was written to pay homage to her female fans. “The song blew up,” she said. “That’s when Jenni Rivera was born.” [As defined by urbandictionary.com, a malandrina is an “independent lady, sassy as f, really beautiful, sexy, wicked/evil, someone not to screw over. ‘You don't want to mess with her dude. She’s a malandrina …’"]
Jenni Rivera, "La Chacalosa"English translation of lyrics to "La Chacalosa"
Yolanda Perez was born in Los Angeles in 1983, and began her career at age 11, mostly performing Banda music. From 2003 she began to combine Banda with rap and influences from hip hop and R&B. She also began to write lyrics mixing Spanish and English.
Yolanda Perez, "Estoy Enamorada y Mi Padre No Lo Entiende” (“I’m in Love and My Father Doesn't Understand”)
The video for this song features Don Cheto, a fictional Mexican-American radio and television personality created by Juan Razo. “Don Cheto” is widely known throughout Mexican-American pop culture through El Show de Don Cheto, which is carried nationally on the highest rated Spanish radio station in Mexican Regional formats, and on television in L.A. and Houston, since 2005. Jenni Rivera and Mexican singing star Ana Barbara appear in Don Cheto’s parody video “Ganga Style.”
Snow Tha Product (Claudia Alexandra Madriz Meza) was born in 1987 in San Jose, California to Mexican immigrants. She began singing with a mariachi band at the age of 6. When she was a teenager she began to free style. A year after moving to Texas in 2010 she released her underground independent album “Unorthodox." She married and divorced, and currently lives with her 10-year-old son and her fiancee Julissa, with whom she shares a YouTube channel, “everydaydays,” and a podcast, “everynightnights.”
“Bilingue” is a song from 2019 featuring Snow’s rapid fire flow and mix of English and Spanish.Lyrics to "Bilingue," with English translations
READINGGuadalupe San Miguel Jr., "Nativism, Immigration, and the Latinization of America," in Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, September 2011. Available online through Brooklyn College Library.
REFERENCESCathy Ragland, "Introduction" in Musica Norteña: Mexican Americans Creating a Nation between Nations, Temple University Press 2009. Available through JSTORR
Manuel Peña, The Texas-Mexican Conjunto: History of a Working-Class Music, University of Texas Press, Austin 1985.
Handbook of Texas Online, Dan W. Dickey, "MUSICA NORTENA"
Allmusic - Norteno
Alejandro L. Madrid (ed.), Transnational Encounters: Music and Permance at the U.S.-Mexico Border, Oxford University Press, 2011
Guadalupe San Miguel, Tejano Proud: Tex-Mex Music in the Twentieth Century, Texas A&M International University, 2002.
Raimiro Burr, The Billboard Guide to Tejano and Regional Mexican Music, Billboard Books, 1999.
The Handbook of Texas Music, Texas State Historical Association, Austin 2003.
Sam Quinones, True Tales from Another Mexico: the Popsicle Kings Chalino, and the Bronx, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque 2001.
GROUP TOPICSSuggested follow-up topics
- Chicano Rock; Contemporary Mexican and Mexican-American music in California. The Twiins: Mexican Music Made in America