Los Tigres Turn Up The Heat On Mexican Folk Songs

Apr 26, 2012
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Right now some of the hottest artists in Latin music are in Miami for the annual Billboard Latin Music Conference and Awards. Those awards celebrate the most popular musicians in business innovators in Latin music.

Now if you are not an expert on Latin music, do not worry. We have you covered. Here to guide us, Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreras. They are co-hosts of the NPR Podcast Alt.Latino. They've been with us this week to tell us which artists to keep an eye on.

Welcome back. Thanks for joining us again.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Thanks for having us.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Thank you. Thank you.

MARTIN: So, so far we've covered Pitbull Jennifer Lopez and Romeo Santos. Today we move on to Mexican music, Felix?

CONTRERAS: Yeah. And we're going to do something that sometimes called an acquired taste. It's a very, very rural style of music and the music industry calls it Mexican Regional. The Mexican community has a bunch of different names for it: corridos, ranchera, conjunto. Either way it's great party music.

MARTIN: OK. And we'll deal with the eye rolling on Jasmine's side later.


GARSD: Come on. That's not true.


MARTIN: I can see. Yes it is true. Let's...

GARSD: But the listeners can't.


MARTIN: But now they know. So let's hear some. Felix, tell us what we're going to hear first.

CONTRERAS: We're going to hear "La Puerta Negra." And this is a track from their nominated CD called "Los Tigres del Norte Unplugged."


LOS TIGRES DEL NORTE: (Singing in Spanish language)

MARTIN: Let's just get real about it.


MARTIN: This is the kind of music that if you drove a big family party...


MARTIN: We would hear, or the kinds of songs the kids learn in elementary school. Right?

CONTRERAS: Sort of. Yeah.

MARTIN: They're called corridos.

CONTRERAS: These are corridos. Corridos...

MARTIN: Which are?

CONTRERAS: They're like storytelling songs. And, you know interestingly they have their roots in the Mexican Revolution. And what happened was is like these minstrels would go - 'cause it was fought on two fronts, in the south and in the north. So in order for people to keep aware of what was going on these guys would travel back and forth and sing these songs. They were corridos, about battles, about heroes, about what was going on. And then it developed into, you know, love stories and then it just became a whole tradition along the Texas/Mexican border, along the border with U.S. and Mexico.

MARTIN: So Jas, is it fair to say that perhaps some of the younger generation is not as in love with corridos as the seniors in the family are?

GARSD: No, no. There's been a whole new invention of corridos. There's this new style called the Treval(ph), which mixes - fuses corridos with electronica and with dance music. But I have to say Los Tigres del Norte really won my heart over with their storytelling abilities. They tell the stories of immigrants and folk stories, really.

MARTIN: But Israel still true that this genre had a moment of kind of - what's the word - notoriety when the narco terrorists or the drug gangs...


MARTIN: ...kind of adopted the genre as their own and they had - didn't they, was it that they commissioned corridos to tell of their exploits.

CONTRERAS: Right. Then this...

MARTIN: And this was not well received, I think, by a lot of people.

CONTRERAS: By a lot of people by some of the listening public. But, you know, some of the people really dug it too. It is akin to gangster rap...

GARSD: Right.

CONTRERAS: ...and in telling those stories and crossing the line and going maybe a little too far.

MARTIN: It's kind of like the CNN of...

GARSD: Absolutely.

MARTIN: You know people used to say that rap was the CNN of the hood...


MARTIN: ...in a way this is its own kind of CNN, or Fox, if you will.


GARSD: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Fox news, if you will.


MARTIN: Jas, well, tell me about this album "Unplugged." You said that there's also something interesting about the way this album has been marketed.

GARSD: Well, yeah. I mean for someone like myself - who, I'm of another generation than Felix, and I'm also not Mexican or Mexican-American - it made it very translatable that the "Unplugged" album had other artists who appealed to me, like Kaje(ph) Trese(ph), like Juanes, the Colombian singer. To get an album by Los Tigres del Norte with such high-profile collaborations really made it easier for me to ease into that world.

CONTRERAS: It's always going to be an acquired taste because it's just it's such, it's so specific to that part of the world, that part of the country. You know, I grew up with it; my mother loves this music. And so as a result, when I was a kid I hated it. I preferred the Jackson Five, you know what I mean? But as I grew older, especially now, the stuff is great.

MARTIN: Coming to a Christmas party near you.


MARTIN: Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd are co-hosts of NPR music's Podcast all Alt.Latino. They joined us here in our Washington, D.C. studios.

Thanks guys, for spending time with us this week.

CONTRERAS: Thanks for having us. It was fun.

GARSD: Thank you so much.

MARTIN: We're going to take you out on another artist in the so-called Regional Mexican category. Here is Jenni Rivera singing "Basta Ya."


JENNI RIVERA: (Singing in Spanish language)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. And remember, to tell us more, please go to NPR.org and find us under the Programs tab. You can find our podcast there. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter @TELL ME MORE/NPR. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.