IMMIGRANT SONG 


;At first glance, Los Tigres del Norte are to norteño music what Elvis is to rock & roll. One writer for the Los Angeles Times Magazine, after attending a Los Tigres concert in their home state of Sinaloa, Mexico, even likened the experience to seeing Elvis play in Memphis. Down to the penchant for kitschy stage garb and melodramatic love songs, the band and the man have a few things in common. They've been deemed pioneers in their respective musical genres, are revered by fans in larger-than-life proportions and have become musical icons.

;;But a closer look reveals Los Tigres del Norte are perhaps a notch above Elvis. For more than three decades, they've been the most perceptive chroniclers of the Mexican-American experience. Considered a bi-national band, Los Tigres have given a voice to the voiceless migrant workers that make up most of their fan base. They've also sorted out the sordid tales of narco-culture and government corruption in songs that have even been banned from Mexican radio. If you want to get the lowdown on what's going through the collective mind of the border communities on both sides of the Rio Grande, listen to a couple of Los Tigres' fabled corridos.

;

;"People relate to us," says Luis Hernández, the band's bass player and one of its vocalists, on the phone from North Carolina, fresh from their Grammy win for Best Norteño Album the night before. "We have a communion and very good communication among ourselves, and I think we transmit that to the people."

;

;If their lyrics sound authentic it's because they too had to struggle and eventually cross to the other side for a piece of the pie that has long eluded Mexico's working class. In the mid-1960s the Hernández brothers — Jorge, Raúl, Hernán and Eduardo — ranging in age from 7 to 13, left school and learned how to play instruments after a farming accident left their father disabled. The children left the countryside and headed for Mexicali's cantinas, where they played for prostitutes and their drunken clients.

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;In 1968 the boys were hired to play a Mexican Independence Day parade in San Jose. The day before they were to return to Mexico, a family hired them to play at a party that aired on the radio. The fact that an Englishman from Manchester named Art Walker was tuned in forever changed the boys' destiny. Walker, a merchant by heart, got into the music business accidentally when he began selling 78 rpm records at the Paramount Swap Meets in California and realized there was a high demand for Mexican music. Eventually he formed Discos Fama. When he heard the boys on the radio he signed them on the spot.

;; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
; LOS TIGRES DEL NORTE ;
; with Horoscopos, Alcaranes M., Nobleza, Zain ;
; 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24 2007 ;
; Silver Spurs Arena ;
; 321-697-3333;
; $50-$70;
;

By the 1970s, at Walker's insistence, Los Tigres del Norte went electric, and norteño — once a regional acoustic music with a bad rap because of its cantina roots — went pop. The band's first hit in 1972, "Contrabando y Traición" ("Contraband and Treason"), catapulted their career and introduced a new subgenre to norteño fans, the narcocorrido. The single was ahead of its time in many ways. Jorge Hernández sang it as a solo, in contrast to the folky duet format of the past, and the song told the violent tale of the fearless, gun-wielding Camelia La Tejana, punctuated by the sound of gunshots at the end, which paved the way for the prevalence of sound effects to come. The tales of the drug trade underworld captivated fans, the band's popularity exploded, but more importantly the narcocorrido was here to stay.

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;"Our lyrics were something new to the people," Hernández says. "People identify to those kinds of people. Somehow drug dealers become idols in the little towns and even in the big town because they are the ones who appear every day in the newspapers and on the news in TV. At that time, those kinds of things didn't have the [musical] exposure and when Los Tigres came out with those songs, it was like it was there but now we made them into songs."

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;While the narco songs gave Los Tigres its first fame, they had yet to conquer Mexico. After a subsequent hit, "La Banda del Carro Rojo," about drug smugglers in a shootout with Texas Rangers, Los Tigres made a movie.

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;"That's when we made the crossover backwards, you know, instead of going from Mexico to the U.S., the Tigres made the crossover from the U.S. to Mexico," Hernández explains.

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;Their 1976 anthem to migrant laborers, "Vivan Los Mojados" ("Long Live the Wetbacks"), sealed their alliance to Mexico's working illegal aliens. Los Tigres even set up their tour schedule to coincide with the harvests. "Tres Veces Mojado" ("Three Times a Wetback") tipped its hat to Central American immigrants who cross three borders to escape civil war and come to the U.S.

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;Currently on tour in support of a new album, Detalles y Emociones (Details and Emotions), to be released in March, Los Tigres are once again devising ways to bring music to the invisible people of America working under the radar.

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;"With all the political problems affecting illegal immigrant workers, people are starting to move around in order not to be caught by immigration, and we're trying to set up the tours again in order to get into where our people are."

; music@orlandoweekly.com

More by Lissette Corsa

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