Tigres del Norte, Los
LOS TIGRES DEL NORTE
Formed: 1968, Rosa Morada, Sinaloa, Mexico
Members: Jorge Hernández, bandleader, vocals, accordion (born Rosa Morada, Sinaloa, Mexico, 7 August 1949); Eduardo Hernández, accordion, saxophone, bajo sexto, vocals; Hernan Hernández, bass, vocals; Luis Hernández, bajo sexto, vocals; Oscar Lara, drums; Lupe Olivo, saxophone.
Best-selling album since 1990: Jefe de Jefes (1997)
Hit songs since 1990: "Pacas de a Kilo," "El Circo," "De Paisano a Paisano"
Combining meaty social conscience with chart-topping popularity, Los Tigres del Norte are the best-selling group in the history of norteño ("of the north"), a folk-based rural Mexican genre. As its name implies, it was born in northern Mexico, influenced by the introduction of the accordion, the waltz, and the polka by German and Czech railroad engineers. Los Tigres were founded by the four Hernández brothers—Jorge, Raúl, Eduardo, and Hernan—plus cousin Oscar Lara. In 1968 the group received a temporary visa to perform in California prisons with other Latino artists. At the border an immigration inspector called the young musicians "little tigers," and the group adopted tigres as its moniker. The visa ran out, but Los Tigres found work easier to come by in California and put down roots in San Jose. The members eventually became permanent residents of the United States but kept their Mexican citizenship.
Los Tigres became widely known thanks to their 1972 megahit corrido, "Contrabando y Traición." Mexican corridos are story ballads, and their tradition dates back to the nineteenth century. "Contrabando y Traición" was an early "narco-corrido," a story-song about the drug trade. The song's success began a tidal wave of similarly themed corridos that continues to the present day.
During the 1980s, the group began producing political corridos such as "La Jaula de Oro," which deals with the 1986 immigration amnesty. In 1988 Los Tigres won a Grammy for the album Gracias! América sin Fronteras, which called for open borders. Although Los Tigres do not write their own material, they work closely with a stable of songwriters, including Teodoro Bello, Enrique Franco, and Enrique Valencia, who are in sync with the group's philosophy and sometimes provide made-to-order songs.
In April 2000, the group set up the Los Tigres del Norte foundation to preserve Mexican and Mexican-American folk music traditions. The first grant, $500,000, was awarded to UCLA's Chicano Research Center, with whom Los Tigres participated in a 1998 workshop. The money was used to digitize 32,000 corrido recordings from 1904 to 1954, from music historian Chris Strachwitz's personal collection.
Los Tigres' 2001 CD, Uniendo Fronteras, spent three weeks at number one on the Billboard Latin Albums chart and spun off several singles: "Mi Fantasia," "De Rama En Rama," "Somos Mas Americanos," and "Recuerdos Que Duelen." But the song that generated the most controversy was "Crónica de un Cambio." Recorded a few months after Vicente Fox's inauguration as president of Mexico, the song details problems he inherited from previous governments and asks when change is coming. However, "Crónica" was not released to Mexican radio until July 2002, a circumstance that led to its misconstrual as a criticism of Fox's administration. Fearful of offending the federal government, a major advertiser in Mexico, most stations avoided the song.
The group was hit by another partial Mexican radio ban later that year for the narco-corrido "La Reina del Sur," the title track of their 2002 album. Considering that many norteño groups record far more explicit material, some wonder if Los Tigres are simply convenient scapegoats because of their visibility and their willingness to criticize the Mexican government.
Spot Light: De Paisano a Paisano
De Paisano a Paisano (2000) marked the culmination of Los Tigres' transformation from entertainers into social commentators/activists. Instead of the usual straight-ahead cover photo depicting the band, the cover art depicts a mural by the Los Angeles artist Paul Botello, showing the "futuristic life of historical figures who have had a lot to do with our race," in the words of Jorge Hernández. The title track first single, a fierce ranchera written by Enrique Valencia, expresses an immigrant's desire to be buried in Mexico. Being buried in America, he said, "would be like dying twice." "They've made war on us, patrolling the border," Hernández sings ominously. On "A Quien Corresponda," Hernández condemns border-area ranchers in Arizona, who make citizens' arrests of illegal immigrants. The album signaled a rare coming together of Los Tigres' first-generation immigrant politics and Chicano activism.
Gracias . . . América sin Fronteras (FonoVisa, 1987); El Ejemplo (FonoVisa, 1995); Jefe de Jefes (FonoVisa, 1997); De Paisano a Paisano (FonoVisa, 2000); La Reina del Sur (Fono-Visa, 2002).
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