By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Music from the northern states of Mexico has become very popular among Latinos in the United States, in part because it’s rich in references to the travails of immigration and the rocky road toward the American Dream. Norteño’s love poems and social-commentary tales are set to a bouncy beat that brings to mind both polkas and waltzes. At first, all the tunes sound alike, but after a while, especially in a live setting, a mantra-like feeling grabs hold — you’ll find yourself pining for more. Add some antojitos, a couple of beers and good company, and you may start believing you were Mexican in a previous incarnation.
In the ’90s, banda music became the newest phenomenon, fusing the norteño style with the sound of country brass bands. Its groups play everything from rancheras to tropical dance music.Where To Go:
If you’re looking for the quintessential mariachi experience, drop in at La Fonda on a night when Nati Cano’s Mariachi los Camperosis performing. His is one of the country’s most underrated ensembles, performing a dizzyingly varied repertoire with unparalleled subtlety. Another excellent group is José Hernandez’s Mariachi Sol de México, which ç works out regularly at Cielito Lindo restaurant in South El Monte.
The big-scale mariachi event of the year is Rodri Rodriguez’s Mariachi USA Festival at the Hollywood Bowl, where after five hours of nonstop performances by numerous ensembles you’re guaranteed to know the lyrics to "Volver, Volver" by heart.
For norteño and banda music, check the occasional outdoor festivals, such as the Fiesta Broadway, where several different groups perform, usually for free. The crucial norteño group Los Tigres del Norte visits Los Angeles on a regular basis, and its members don’t leave the stage until everyone’s song request has been honored.
Other groups worth seeing: the Mariachi Los Gavilanes at Mision Los Gavilanes in San Gabriel, Mariachi Tlaquepaque at El Parian in El Monte, and Montebello’s Mariachi Alma de Mexico in the restaurant of the same name. An outstanding all-female ensemble, Mariachi las Alondras, can be found playing in restaurants all over town.What To Get:
If you want a taste of the Golden Age of Mexican ranchera, invest in best-of compilations by greats José Alfredo Jiménez (the best composer in the genre), Lola Beltrán (its greatest female voice) and Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán (the world’s most spectacular mariachis). If the devastating passion of these sounds gets you hooked, try one of Juan Gabriel’s mariachi albums. Essentially a pop idol, he also composes fine rancheras.
For the modern norteño sound, Los Tigres del Norte’s Jefe de Jefes is a must. Slickly produced and chock-full of corridos (the epic ballads that originally told stories of the Mexican-American War), this double-CD is way over-the-top with accordions and rich vocal harmonies.ROC EN ESPAÑOL
Most of it’s awful. The exceptions are heavenly and can rival the efforts of quality English-language artists such as Björk, Tricky or Radiohead.
The roc en españolmovement got its start in Mexico and Argentina during the ’60s, with a bunch of hippies singing protest songs heavily inspired by Bob Dylan. In the ’80s, the genre exploded, with bands such as Soda Stereo and Caifanes taking their sonic cues from England’s new wave. Many groups started out with terrible records, but after a lot of trial and error, and with the blind support of Latino rock fans, something clicked, and now the masterpieces are arriving on a regular basis.
Latin rock is about eclecticism, the scattered dreams of musicians who grew up listening to their parents’ collection of boleros and Afro-Cuban records while digging gringo music of all kinds, from punk and hip-hop to alternative and bubblegum pop. Of great importance to the genre has been the contribution of two idiosyncratic producers, Gustavo Santaolalla and Andres Levin. Their work created the aural identity that defined the new generation of Latin rock: at once warm and cold, technologically adventurous while keeping a foot firmly planted in nostalgia.
The last five years saw the birth of a new subgenre that belongs in the roc en españolcategory, but has also the freshness of an independent movement: rap en español, which began as a gimmick but quickly found its own identity. Incorporating hip-hop aesthetics into a fragmented Latin American reality, acts like Molotov, Control Machete, El Gran Silencio and Los Tetas have undergone explosive creative growth in the last two or three years.Where To Go:
Roc en español fans are feverishly devoted, and will give new names a try just because they’re part of the family. And the shows are all over the place: from the Greek Theater, which occasionally brings together three or four of the biggest acts for a festival, to the House of Blues and the Roxy, which have recently opened their doors to Latin rock. Monthly gigs are organized by magazines La Banda Elástica at the Key Club and Retila at Jacks Sugar Shack in Hollywood.