This week, the O.C. Weekly’s “¡Ask a Mexican!” visits the L.A.
Weekly to explain the nuances of Mexican musical genres. (By the way, the
Mexican is, in fact, award-winning journo Gustavo Arellano. But keep it under
I called the Gibson Amphitheater for Almost Acoustic Christmas tickets, and
a teller said there’s some kind of Mexican music awards show there on December
13, hosted by a radio station. I thought the only types of Mexican music were
mariachi and Los Lobos — is there more? And how the hell did Mexicans snag a
spot at the Amphitheater? Are they sweeping Universal Studios for a month afterward?
—Earnest Westside Liberal
Switch your radio dial off Nic Harcourt and hear the reality: Spanish-language
radio is Southern California radio — has been since about a decade ago,
when such stations first began topping the Southern California Arbitron ratings.
And no station is as influential as KBUE-FM 105.5/94.3, better known as “Que
Buena” (“So Good”). For the past four years, the Premios Que Buena awards show
has highlighted the best Mexican regional musicians in various genres. And yes,
Earnest: There are more styles of Mexican regional music — execs created the
catchall term gabacho to describe the music your car washer and nanny
dance to every Saturday night — than skeletons in that pinche pocho Villaraigosa’s
This Tuesday night, Que Buena will honor the best acts in the following categories:
Norteño: The accordion-based mestizo polkas native to northern
Mexico with a metronomic bass beat. Norteño musicians usually wear tejanas
(Stetsons) and frilly cowboy outfits that look like a gayer combination of Jon
Voight’s character in Midnight Cowboy and Liberace.
Banda Sinaloense: Ever drive through Echo Park only to hear what
sounds like a Bavarian oompah band blasting from a Silverado driven by a cholo?
That’s banda sinaloense, a brass-band style replete with clarinets, trumpets,
a massive drum, farting tuba and even a French horn. Huge cast of musicians
— usually 18 members — that needs no amplification, even in the cavernous Amphitheater:
The rumble a full banda produces could disintegrate your spleen like
nothing since Sunn O))).
Duranguenze: Like banda, but faster and featuring a strange
fascination with synthesizers and mucho use of the Melodica wind keyboard.
Refers to the central Mexican state of Durango but first became popular in Chicago
(yes, Earnest: Mexicans live in Chicago. Even Alaska!). Duranguenze is
the reggaetón of Mexican regional: wildly popular, incredibly annoying,
as addicting as tequila but without the little worm at the end.
Tierra Caliente: Historically used to describe the Afro-Mexican
rhythms of the southern Mexican state of Guerrero. Nowadays just another banda
rip-off, this one is spruced up with harps, echo, and organs even chintzier
than the ones pounded on in duranguenze music. The lamest Mexican music
since the Frito Bandito theme song.
De la Sierra: Related to bluegrass in that it’s reliant upon nasal-voiced
hicks backed by acoustic guitars, bass, drum kit and the occasional fiddle for
songs about murder, drugs and murder. And murder!
Soloista: No Spanish translation needed. Just a guy or girl backed
by any kind of regional Mexican music. While all the nominees in the Best Male
Solo Artist category are puro mexicanos, the female side includes local
spicy señoritas Yolanda Pérez and Jenni Rivera, the reigning queens of banda,
who are as American as the pastrami burrito at Pink’s.
Dueto: See? Spanish isn’t that different from English — just knock
off all those damn ending vowels. Que Buena will probably give the award here
to the track recorded by LBC bad muchacho Lupillo Rivera and the late
And don’t think the Premios Que Buena covers all Mexican regional music,
Earnie. There are some genres too regional even for Que Buena. Take son jarocho,
the twinkling, pounding, improvised music native to the Caribbean coastal state
of Veracruz. Or the marimba music of Chiapas. Or Aztec conch jams. Or mariachi.
Goes to show Mexicans can hate wetbacks as much as whites do.
Got a spicy question about Mexicans? Ask the Mexican at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And those of you who do submit questions: Include a hilarious pseudonym, por
favor, or we’ll make one up for you!