Photos by Gregory Bojorquez
A couple of years ago, a young South-Central singer named Jessie Morales put out an album called Homenaje a Chalino Sánchez (Homage to Chalino Sánchez). Morales, known as El Original de la Sierra, was still relatively unknown, so a good many people were surprised when the album sold 10,000 copies the first week, rocketing to the top of Billboard’s Latin charts. After the album’s third week on top, SoundScan, the company that issues the reports on album sales on which Billboard bases its charts, began getting complaints from other record companies. Sales couldn’t be that good.
Morales’ album was another episode in the remarkable postmortem career of Chalino Sánchez, one of the most influential singers to come out of Los Angeles in 20 years.
¡Arriba Chalino Sánchez!:
The famed Mexican/L.A. narcocorrido singer’s son is moving on up. By Ben Quiñones
Read the full Chalino Sánchez story in our archives.
“He was the star of La Raza, the real people, the people who work the fields and factories,” says Morales. “The kids, the children of those people, said, ‘Oh man, I wish I was like this guy.’ That’s the image I was looking at.”
Chalino single-handedly made cholo-style gang members in Los Angeles change the way they dressed, from baggy pants and bandannas to cowboy garb typical of rural Mexicans. Major labels — Sony, EMI and Univision — now re-release his material or sign the narcocorrido singers he influenced, including his son, Adán (see accompanying article), Manuel and Pedro Obregon (Dueto Los Del Campo) and others.
“El Narquillo”: Edgar Aguilar
Morales first heard Chalino when the singer recorded a corrido about Morales’ murdered cousin, Lolo Ramos. “I was listening to English music: oldies and rap. But when I heard that song, that got me into it. I started singing in swap meets,” he says. “On Saturdays and Sundays, they’d have norteño groups play for people while they were shopping. I’d say, ‘Hey, can you guys let me sing a song?’ I started singing every week at swap meets for a year. I was 14 at that time.”
Edgar Aguilar, also from South-Central, began listening to Chalino three years after the singer died. He started singing at talent shows, then begged the management at El Parral in South Gate, one of the premier narcocorrido clubs, for a chance to sing at open mikes. He copied Chalino’s style from videos. “That’s what L.A.’s about. It’s about selling dope, smoking dope, shooting people, guns and everything,” says Aguilar, who goes by the stage name El Narquillo (Little Narco) and now has a deal with Sony Records. “And if they’re not doing it, they want to hear about it.”
“El Chalinillo”: Ambrosio Cano
Before Chalino, Mexican L.A. depended on Mexico City and Guadalajara for its music. Chalino provided an L.A.-grown taste of Mexico, and today, for the first time, Los Angeles is the training ground for new Mexican music.
Ambrosio Cano is one who immigrated to L.A. for the music. A kid from the village of Jacola, Sinaloa, Cano heard tapes of Chalino when he was in junior high school. Like dozens of other singers since, he copied the singer’s style. A local record promoter signed him and billed him as El Chalinillo (Little Chalino). He put out his first album at 16. At 17, he immigrated illegally to Los Angeles to be closer to the corrido scene. As El Chalinillo, Cano has 13 albums behind him.
“Before, [pop music] went from Mexico City to Los Angeles,” says Rafael Jiménez, a Huntington Park–based agent for some of the better-known narcocorrido singers. “Now it’s from here to there. If a singer does well here, he’ll do well down there.”