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¡Arriba Chalino Sánchez! 

Like father, like son: Adán takes over

Thursday, Mar 18 2004
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Photo by Gregory Bojorquez

“My dad started a way of dressing, a way of singing, a way of acting, a way of talking, everything,” says Adán Sánchez. “It was a big-ass revolution!

Sánchez isn’t exaggerating. His father, Mexican music legend Chalino Sánchez, took traditional corridos — ballads played in accordion-based polka or waltz rhythms — and radically changed the culture by toughing them up: wearing the cocked Tejana (cowboy hat), “barking” out his songs, allowing his fans to get onstage with him and pose for pictures, and speaking Sinaloan slang. Like Tupac Shakur, Chalino wrote and recorded tons of songs in a short musical career; he sang about the valientes — the tough and poor; he had a fondness for firearms; and he was ultimately gunned down, becoming even more famous after his death.

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But that’s not how Adán wants his dad to be remembered: “He was a great singer, a great songwriter, a great artist, but he was a really great dad. A family man who loved his kids.” Chalino picked Adán up from school in a Corvette, threw birthday and Christmas parties for him, even sought his young son’s opinion about his songs. He was a generous man friends called “El Compa” (Buddy), who liked giving away things. “He would go to the ranchos and give boxes of clothes to the people. I knew my dad; I knew what kind of person he was. I ain’t going to worry about all the haters.”

Like Tupac, Chalino had offstage enemies. Adán was just 8 when his mother, Marisela, broke the bad news. Following a 1992 show in Sinaloa, Chalino and his brother Espiridion were stopped in traffic by armed men in a federal police car. They were taken from the car, and Espiridion was released. The next morning, two campesinos found Chalino’s body dumped by an irrigation canal. He was blindfolded, and his wrists had rope marks. He had been shot twice in the back of the head.

“It was hard, there was nobody there for my mom,” says Adán. “I was the only man. I was 8, but really I was acting like I was already 18, trying to help my mom.”

Adán began to fill his father’s shoes in other ways as well. When he and his mother and younger sister were invited to attend a show at El Farallon nightclub in Lynwood, the owner, a good friend of Chalino’s, asked Adán onto the stage: “I just got up there, got on the mike. I was off beat, off tone. It sounded like shit, honestly, but people liked it.”

He’s been singing ever since. In 1992, Adán recorded for his father’s “informal” label, Rosalino Records, then signed with Musart (one of L.A.’s larger Mexican labels), then Sony’s Luna Music. Eleven years and eight albums later, Adán, now 19 and known as “El Compita” (Little Buddy), has just released a new album under powerhouse Univision Records, Un Soñador (A Dreamer).

Un Soñador features 12 cuts ranging from mournful rancheras to foot-stomping zapateados and corridos and even a cumbia jam. The love ballad “Me Cansé de Morir por Tu Amor” (“I got tired of dying for your love”) has received major play on 105.5 FM KBUE (Que Buena), Southern California’s main Mexican music station. The album includes classic tracks such as the killer opening cut, “Deja Que Salga La Luna” (“Let the Moon Come Out”), written by the Mexican master José Alfredo Jiménez — by the end of this full-brass banda, you’re begging for the celestial body to show itself.

While the use of his middle name, “Chalino,” on the album cover may disappoint those listeners looking for the stories and the distinctive Nacho Hernández accordion sound his father was known for, Adán makes a case for himself with his own more melodious style. But he and his father are never far apart: The centerpiece of the CD is “Arriba Chalino Sánchez” (“Long Live Chalino Sánchez”), a corrido written by Adán. Revealing his hip-hop influences, he calls out Chalino imitators: “Keep copying, sirs/His songs and corridos/Continue to waste your time/You’ll never be Chalino/You can’t play people for fools/Keep biting his style.”

“It’s cool that people try to sing like him,” says Adán, “but I don’t like people trying to eat off him. There are certain people who record for their own purposes to get money, to get more famous. I am not trying to fight anybody. Honestly, I’m trying to do my own thing and not worry about anyone else.”

Adán’s own thing is the love ballads. “That’s what people like, that’s what the people ask for,” he says, breaking into a mischievous grin and adding, “What the girls like.” In his live performances in the U.S. and Mexico, young women often storm the stage. Adán says that he can deal with the celebrity thing.

“It’s cool to be recognized. Gracias a diós que sí [Thank God], it’s part of the job. I learned that from my father, the way of being with people. They don’t want to see stuck-up artists. People don’t want to see somebody that doesn’t want to take a picture with them, that doesn’t want to give an autograph. You have to be sincere to your public.” Adán dedicated Un Soñador to, who else, “the people.”

That humility is firmly rooted in his origins. “I’m the type of person who likes to dream a lot. A few years ago, I dreamt about having my own car, now I have three. A few years ago I dreamt about buying another house for my mom, now I can do it,” he says. But Adán, his mother and his 15-year-old sister aren’t going anywhere; they still live in the same house their father bought in the southeast Los Angeles community of Paramount. “We’re attached to it. Sort of the thing you don’t want to get rid of. He worked so hard for it. Plus I don’t want to leave friends behind. Paramount is home.”

In the small rancho of Los Basitos Sinaloa, meanwhile, fans clean the gravesite, leave flowers and play banda music for hours in homage; Chalino Sánchez rests in peace here. But his legacy lives on in Los Angeles with Adán. “A lot of people, young and old, come up to me and tell me, ‘I liked your dad and I like you now,’” he says. “I’m just doing my own thing, trying to follow him by doing my own thing. Making sure he’d be proud of me.”

Adán Sánchez will perform at the Kodak Theater, 6801 Hollywood Blvd., on Saturday, March 20, at 8 p.m.; call (323) 308-6363.

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