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Música Mexicana: Seven Artists to Consider

Published Jun 2, 2009 - (Updated Dec 3, 2012)

Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Spring/Summer 2009 issue.

Just as Mexico is turning heads on the silver screen, thanks to young performers such as Salma Hayek and Gael García Bernal, Mexican musicians are crossing the border and finding success and popularity all over the world. Here are a few outstanding Mexican performers who are making waves in their area of expertise, both in Mexico and internationally.

Café Tacvba

Don’t look for lead vocalist Ruben Albarran’s name in the credits of this Grammy and Latin Grammy award-winning Spanish rock band’s CDs—he changes his name for each production. A favorite among Mexican roqueros, Café Tacvba has kept the same lineup since its foundation in 1989 and has collaborated with many eclectic performers, the Kronos Quartet and David Byrne among them. “Cuatro Caminos,” their 2003 release, was produced by Argentinean musician and film composer Gustavo Santaolalla (“Brokeback Mountain”).

Julieta Venegas

What do Argentinean tango, Colombian vallenato and Mexican ranchero music have in common? All three genres feature the accordion extensively. The instrument had not been commonly associated with pop music, however. (Think MTV diva plucking a banjo in front of an audience.) That is, not until Julieta Venegas came along. Another Santaolalla collaborator, this pop rock superstar and her accordion have crossed over both north and south of Mexico with multiple Grammy and Latin Grammy awards under her belt. “Sí” (2003) and her MTV-Unplugged special recorded in 2008 are two great examples of her musicianship.

Rolando Villazón

Considered both one of the leading operatic tenors of our time and a sought-after recitalist, Mexico City-born Villazón has performed at the top opera houses around the world. His 2007 Deutsche Grammophon recording of Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme,” alongside Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, debuted at number two on the Billboard chart, a rare distinction for an opera recording. The production was subsequently given extravagant cinematic treatment by Oscar- and Emmy-nominated Austrian director Robert Dornhelm, premiering in Europe in 2008 to favorable reviews.

Lila Downs

From studying classical music and operatic singing to becoming a Deadhead following the band across the United States, singer Lila Downs draws from many sources to create some of the most innovative tributes to traditional Mexican music produced today. The daughter of an indigenous woman from Oaxaca and a Colorado filmmaker, she spent many years in the USA, where she met longtime musical collaborator jazz saxophonist Paul Cohen. “La Cantina,” released in 2006, is a great tribute to Mexican ranchera songs.

Susana Harp

Originally from Oaxaca, singer Susana Harp fell in love with her roots while performing community service as a teenager in the small town of Santa María Yaviche. Today, she is equally committed to singing and performing as she is to Xquenda, the cultural organization she founded to preserve the native music of Mexico, particularly from her state, where approximately 400,000 people still speak only Zapotec. Her 1997 debut, “Xquenda,” features a nice selection of traditional Mexican songs in Spanish, with a few selections in Zapotec. “Arriba del Cielo,” released in 2003, features five centuries of Mexican children’s songs and lullabies sung in a variety of dialects.

Alejandro Fernández

Spend enough time in town and, sooner or later, you’re bound to spot this popular Latin Grammy-winning singer dining at De Santos, Café des Artistes or other trendy Puerto Vallarta restaurants. The son of legendary ranchera singer Vicente Fernández, Alejandro Fernández began his career following his father’s successful path but quickly crossed over to mainstream pop music, while never forgetting his roots. “Me Estoy Enamorando,” his 1997 collaboration with producer Emilio Estefan, established him as an international star. His latest, “De Noche: Clásicos a mi Manera” is a collection of previously released romantic boleros.

Banda El Recodo

It’s quite amazing that traditional klezmer and banda groups share such similar instrumentation yet sound completely different! Banda gets a lot of flak in town. After all, if someone is driving with their stereo system cranked up to nine, chances are they are listening to banda. Still, if you wish to explore this music further, nobody has excelled as much as El Recodo, the popular band from Sinaloa. Their “No Me Sé Rajar,” released in 2002, headed the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart that year.


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