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Hispanic Icons: Jenni Rivera

by Monika Fabian

Hispanic Icons: Jenni Rivera


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On December 8, 2012, Jenni Rivera played a sold-out show in Monterrey, Mexico, before boarding the plane that would crash and lead to her untimely death. You can hear recordings from her last concert with the newly released 1969-Siempre En Vivo Desde Monterrey Parte 1. Rivera was famously known as the diva of banda, the brass-led Mexican regional genre in which she worked for most of her two-decade career. It was a moniker with a backhanded ring to it, one that recognized the Long Beach, Calif., native's well-coiffed, formidable persona and boisterous lyrics just about as much as it admonished them. Nevertheless, Diva de la Banda was a title Rivera wore with pride because she and her legion of fans knew better.

They understood that it takes toughness -- equal parts grit and grace -- to be a female musician in a male-dominated field like norteño, and in general a woman in a world that dictates expected roles and behaviors. Rivera's music chronicled those struggles and pushed back on them. She penned songs that boasted about being the mistress ("Querida Socia"); about getting sloppily drunk with girlfriends ("Las Malandrinas"); and about being a drug trafficker with an all-female fleet of bodyguards who doubled as trained veterinarians to care for her animals ("Jefa de Jefas").

In life and song, Rivera was more like banda's Mariposa de Barrio, or barrio butterfly -- her scrappiness and resilience were part of her charm and appeal. No matter the challenge -- single motherhood, relationship drama, tabloid drama -- Rivera had a courageous (and often rebellious) song about it, plus scores of fans that would listen and relate. Her music was the soundtrack of their lives, too.

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