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Kumbia Kings

Kumbia Kings


Latin pop group


Cashing in on a trend toward growing "urban regional' music markets, the Texas-based Latin pop band Kumbia Kings has seduced younger Tejano audiences with its market-driven mix of mainstream pop, cumbia, rap, reggae and R&B. Led by A.B. Quintanilla III, the bilingual octet from Corpus Christi debuted with almost instant chart success, eventually winning both Grammy and American Music Awards nominations. A successful cross-over group in the United States, the group has extended its fan base to Mexico, Central and South America.

The origins of Kumbia Kings can be found in the person of A.B. Quintanilla, a musician, producer and songwriter who was also the older brother of the slain Latin pop star Selena. The "Queen of Tejano" was credited with forging a new musical genre that took the rural, accordion-based Tejano sound and reworked it with dance music and techno-pop influences—a formula that won over Latino audiences from south Texas to California. A.B. was a major force behind this sound, writing many of Selena's songs and performing with her in the South Texas band Los Dinos. Both were children of Abraham Quintanilla, a guitarist in his own right who always encouraged his children to pursue music. After the 23-year-old Selena was murdered in 1995 by her fan club president, A.B. continued working along similar musical lines, writing for well-know Latin artists such as Thalia and Tito Puente, Jr. In 1997, he would join Cruz "CK" Martínez (erstwhile member of La Sombra) in forming the Kumbia Kings, a band that quickly proved to appeal to Selena's demographic fan base—albeit with slightly more urban influences.

The new band, also known as LK2, was composed of young males in their teens and early 20s. In addition to Quintanilla, the principle onstage personalities were Martinez, Jason "DJ Kane" Cano, Alex Ramirez, Roy "Slim" Ramirez, Frank "Cisko" Bautista, Andrew "Drew" Maes, Frank Arrandar, and Jesse "OJ" Martinez. In March of 1999, the group released its debut album Amor, Familia y Respeto, which went on to sell nearly a million copies (between the United States and Mexico). In addition to the Spanish-language songs "Azucar," "Te Quiero A Ti," and "Fuiste Mala," the group's English-language hit "U Don't Love Me" stayed on the Billboard charts for 95 weeks. In addition to a Grammy nomination, the band would go on to win three Billboard awards, two Furia Musical Awards, ten Tejano Music awards, a Ritmo Latino award, and two Premio Lo Nuestro awards.

Part of the group's success could be found in its ability to tap into the changing youth market (much as Selena did in the 1990s) and in the cross-over market possibilities of bilingual rap. While the group's repertoire started out as an extension of Selena's cumbia-pop, it began to embrace more urban elements to reflect changing Tejano youth audiences. Some press profiles of the new band seemed to addressed them less as a musical breakthrough than as a market phenomenon capable of gauging the evolving tastes of its public. This sentiment was echoed by leading bandmembers.

"When (Kumbia Kings) came out in late 1997, we had started to see a change in the market," Cruz Martínez would tell the Houston Chronicle in 2004. "Kids started to dress different at concerts. You would see people dressing more urban style. It's kind of when the market changed from Elvis to the Beatles."

In 2000, the band took advantage of its bilingual nature and cross-over potential to release the album Think'n About U. But the band's Spanish-language creations kept coming yearly, with Shhh, in 2001 and Los Remixes in 2002. In 2003, the group released the albums No Tengo Dinero and 4. The latter album featured collaborations with other popular and eclectic Latin artists, including El Gran Silencio, Ozomatli, Nopal Beat, Aleks Syntek, and Limi-T 21. According to the band's record company, Quintanilla has a special talent for recognizing "the immediate market needs" of a bicultural audience of Mexican origin that operates in two languages and with a broad range of musical influences—including cumbia, ballads, salsa, reggae, hip-hop, jazz, dance and R&B. The band started billing itself as AB Quintiana y sus Kumbia Kings (A.B. Quintanilla III Presents Kumbia Kings).

In 2003, the band was nominated by the American Music Awards for Latin Artist of the Year, as well as for a Latin Grammy in the Best Pop Album by a Duo or Group With Vocal category. Around this time, Quintanilla began to publicly express his thoughts about working in a mainstream pop band and expressed an interest in moving Kumbia Kings, whose line-up change considerably over the years, in a different direction.

"With Kumbia Kings, it's allowed for me to express myself through music after Selena and the tragedy," Quintanilla told the Houston Chronicle in 2003. "Coming out of a humble place like Texas, I've gained a lot of respect on the international level as a producer, arranger and writer … if you ask where A.B. wants to be, I want to be a Willie Nelson for the Mexican community. Someone who's giving music for the next 20, 30 years. Kumbia Kings has been a mere instrument, a mere tool to allow me to express myself through that."

In 1994, "A.B. Quintanilla III Presents Kumbia Kings" won a Billboard Latin Music Award in the Latin Pop Album Of The Year, Duo Or Group category. Later that year, the band released its latest album, Fuego in October of 2004. Released with a Kung Fu aesthetic, the album featured Quintanilla (bass/writer/producer), Cruz "CK" Martínez (keyboards/producer), Chris Pérez (lead guitar), Nino B (rapper/dancer), and the vocalists Abel Talamantez, Nando, Pangie, and Pee Wee. The title cut "Fuego" showed a slightly harder edge, incorporating more hip hop influences and a hard-driving dance-cumbia sound. This was in contrast with "Sabes a Chocolate," which was closer to the teen pop/"sweet cumbia" sound that often characterized the group. The band spend the latter part of 2004 touring regionally and promoting its latest album.

For the Record . . .

Members include A.B. Quintanilla (born Abraham B. Quintanilla III in Toppenish, WA; son of Abraham Quintanilla, Jr. and Marcela; brother of the late Latin pop star Selena), bass, producer; Cruz Martinez , keyboards, producer; Chris Perez , lead guitar; Nino B , rapper/dancer; Abel Talamantez , vocals; Nando , vocals; Pangie , vocals; Pee Wee , vocals.

Group formed in 1997; released debut album Amor, Familia y Respeto, on EMI International, 1999; released Think'n About U, 2000. Released Shhh, 2001; Los Remixes, 2002; No Tengo Dinero, 2003; 4, 2003; Fuego, 2004.

Awards: Billboard Latin Music Award , Latin Pop Album Of The Year, Duo Or Group, for 4, 2004; three Billboard awards, two Furia Musical Awards, ten Tejano Music awards, a Ritmo Latino award, and two Premio Lo Nuestro awards.

Addresses: Record company—King of Bling Studios, 4403 N. 22nd St., McAllen, TX 78501. Website— Kumbia Kings Official Website: http://www.loskumbiakings.com.

Selected discography

Amor, Familia y Respeto, EMI International, 1999.

Think'n About U, Capitol, 2000.

4, EMI International, 2003.

Sources

Books

Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale Research, 1996.

Periodicals

Houston Chronicle, March 14, 2004; October 21, 2004.

Online

Contacto Magazine, http://www.contactomagazine.com/lonuestro1121.htm (November 7, 2004).

"4th Annual Latin Grammy Round-Up," Grammy.com, http://www.grammys.com/features/latino/2003/0829_generalpop.aspx (August 29, 2004).

"Kumbia Kings," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (November 7, 2004).

Tejano Music Awards website, http://www.tejanomusicawards.com/kumbiakings.html (November 7, 2004).

—Brett Allan King

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