Este informe no está disponible en español.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Where Mexico (Not Salsa) Is King
By MIREYA NAVARRO
November 6, 2001
Clubgoers in Los Angeles dance to the Mexican band Conjunto Azabache.
LOS ANGELES At the bullring-shaped Pico Rivera Sports Arena, the show kicked off on a recent Sunday with a jaripeo or rodeo. But the 5,000 fans filling up the $40 bleacher seats the women holding children on their laps, the men in cowboy attire were there not for horses but for music.
And when the first of two headliners, Ezequiel Peña, appeared atop a galloping white horse belting out a ranchera song, girls rushed down the aisles with flashing cameras and men tossed their hats into the ring as if they were bouquets of flowers.
"I feel like I'm in my hometown," said Alicia Bañuelos, 31, a native of Jalisco, Mexico, as she sat breastfeeding her 1-year-old son.
Pico Rivera could be found anywhere in Mexico, but its address is the San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles County. The arena's concerts are devoted exclusively to regional Mexican music (the catchall name for ranchera, norteño, banda and other popular music with roots on both sides of the border), which has become the best-selling Latin-music genre in this country.
Fans of Ricky Martin or the Buena Vista Social Club may never have heard of Mr. Peña, or Banda El Recodo or Los Tigres del Norte. These are not the kind of Latin artists who are deemed crossover material or are invited to perform at the Latin Grammys, or who get much radio airplay in big Hispanic centers like New York and Miami.
But this Latin country music whose wide range extends from mariachi music, ballads and polka and waltz rhythms to bouncy blends that incorporate pop is hardly the poor cousin to fashionable salsa or hip rock en español; norteño stars like Los Tigres del Norte sell millions of records, regularly top Billboard's Latin charts and draw tens of thousands of fans to stadiums.
Alejandro Fernandez, a ranchera star, at Madison Square Garden.
In short, they are among the most popular acts in Latin music today, well known in a wide swath stretching from California to the Midwest, and the line is inching eastward with the growth and dispersion of a Hispanic population that is overwhelmingly of Mexican descent.
The long reach of the music was in evidence even at Madison Square Garden last month, where, far from the horse stables and bleachers of the modest Pico Rivera arena, waiters sold $7 cups of champagne garnished with strawberries, and 14,000 fans watched a slick show by two of ranchera music's biggest stars Vicente Fernandez and his son, Alejandro.
"Of 35 million Latinos in this country, 60 percent are Mexican," said J. Gilberto Moreno, former United States director of Fonovisa, a subsidiary of the Mexican media giant Grupo Televisa and the principal recording label for regional Mexican music. "That's the market."
The latest figures from the Recording Industry Association of America show that regional Mexican accounts for 52 percent of all Latin music sales in the United States, which total more than $600 million a year. Spanish-language pop, which includes rock, captures 33 percent of the market, and tropical styles, including salsa, only 14 percent.
Despite its market pull, however, regional Mexican music has not gotten its due, promoters say.
Last year, Fonovisa boycotted the Latin Grammys in protest, saying that regional Mexican music got short shrift in the number of performers during the broadcast. (This year's broadcast was canceled because of the World Trade Center attacks.) Executives also complain that the news media have ignored the music while hyping Latin pop stars who sing in English, a tendency that they say raises questions about what kind of inroads authentically Latin music can make in the United States.
"What's happened is that the media has glamorized what they know and ignored what they don't know," said José Rosario, Fonovisa's marketing director.
An often cited problem is that the Latin divisions of major recording labels tend to be concentrated on the East Coast and run by people who do not know or care for Mexican music. But perhaps a bigger problem is image. Even in Mexico, some music scholars note, regional Mexican is associated with rural, working-class people and is looked down upon.
"The majority of people who buy our music is town folk, people who work in the fields," said Jorge Hernandez, the leader of Los Tigres del Norte, a sextet of five Mexican-born brothers and a cousin who live in San Jose, Calif., and favor flamboyant, glittery costumes in loud colors.
But the sales figures point at a widening appeal, not only because of a Latino population that grew by more than 60 percent over the last decade but also because young Mexican-Americans today are growing up with pride in their roots, recording industry executives say. Major labels like Sony have come up with their own regional Mexican music divisions in recent years and seen sales jump.
"We're selling to the younger and to the older," said Abel de Luna, senior vice president in charge of the regional Mexican division of Sony Discos. "That's why the music is growing."
Its strength is obvious in Mexican- American strongholds like California, where a driver will not find a merengue on the radio dial for many, many miles. Instead, FM stations with names like La Campesina (the Peasant), Puro Mexico and La Raza (the Race) play accordion-based, polka-style sounds or weepy mariachi violins and dedicate songs to los traileros, or truck drivers.
The music regularly plays to thousands. On the Sunday Mr. Peña and Banda el Recodo performed at Pico Rivera in September, Los Tigres del Norte and Priscila y Sus Balas de Plata played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, while Los Tucanes de Tijuana, a norteño group, appeared at Dodger Stadium.
While New Yorkers are drawn to salsa palaces like the Copacabana, in the Los Angeles area it's the large, regional Mexican music clubs like Lido that lure crowds. A norteño night at Lido recently drew 800 people spread around tables, six-deep along the bar and the dance floor. The crowd was mostly English- speaking people in their 20's raised on Madonna, but at Lido they wore cowboy hats and danced cheek to cheek and side to side in fast-paced, jumpy steps to live bands with names like Conjunto Azabache and Los Camperos del Norte.
"Norteño is my thing, said Dora Hernandez, 20, of Orange County, a Mexican-American. "The environment gets me going."
While regional Mexican music is essentially Mexican folk music, in its broadest definition it also includes American homegrown products like tejano, of which Selena was a major star, and conjunto, which merged the button accordion taken to Central Texas by German settlers in the late 1800's with the traditional Mexican songs of native Mexican-Americans. (Conjunto was the subject of a documentary, "Accordion Dreams," shown in August on PBS.)
The music comes in a wide range of forms, from corridos, ballads dating back to the 19th century, to new combinations like Tijuana's nortec, a techno dance music with accordion and banda's brass sounds. Regional Mexican lyrics can be festive or socially conscious but often revolve around love, women and liquor.
"Country western and Mexican regional are half-brothers, and they don't even know it," said Ralph Hauser Jr., a concert promoter and artist manager whose company runs the Pico Rivera Sports Arena.
The corrido itself has evolved to give rise to one of the most peculiar trends in Latin music over the last 15 years the narco-corrido, or corridos about the culture of cross-border drug traffickers from centers like Sinaloa in Mexico and Los Angeles that often glamorize drugs, not unlike gangsta rap.
Elijah Wald, author of "Narco- Corrido: A Journey Into the Music of Drugs, Guns and Guerrillas" (Rayo/Harper Collins), said the narco-corrido could partly take credit for the rising popularity of regional Mexican music. They are now played by norteños and banda bands and have the attention of young listeners who would otherwise be listening only to rap and R & B, he said.
"The big difference that they've made is that they've taken music that is old-fashioned and made it hip again," Mr. Wald said. "This made country music as hip as rap."
There are also signs that regional Mexican music is gaining nationwide recognition. In February a multimedia exhibition about corridos is scheduled to open at the Smithsonian Institution and then tour 10 cities through 2005. And Los Tigres del Norte have given $500,000 to the University of California at Los Angeles to promote the study and appreciation of the music.
One of the first projects of the university's Chicano Studies Research Center is to digitize thousands of phonograph recordings of Mexican popular music made in the United States between 1904 and 1954.
Mr. de Luna of Sony Discos said the music was featured more in Spanish-language television these days. And while most performers used to come from Mexico, he said, many developing regional Mexican artists are born in the United States and bilingual, increasing the potential for crossover appeal.
But some artists have long enjoyed great popularity among not only Mexicans but also Latinos of all stripes.
At last month's concert at Madison Square Garden, when Vicente and Alejandro Fernandez greeted their fans by calling out the names of Latin American countries, a loud roar came not only from Mexicans, but also from Colombians, Salvadorans and Hondurans.
The music "has a lot of feeling, and it always relates something," said Evelyn Santos, 46, a New York native who grew up in Puerto Rico.
She added, "It always has a story about something that has happened to you or will happen to you."