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Guest Essay

Mexico's New Wave

by Judy Cantor-Navas

Mexico's New Wave

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Our next guest essayist for Napster Latin Week 2012 is Judy Cantor-Navas, who doesn’t know the words to any Justin Bieber songs, but frequently quotes the Cuban songbook and has been known to play air guitar to classic Argentine rock. Currently the managing editor of Billboard en Español and a contributor to Billboard magazine, she also programs Latin music for various digital outlets and blogs at cubaonrecord.com.

The Mexican electronic dance music dubbed "tribal guarachero" has become the biggest Latin thing to come up from the clubs since reggaeton, and its success has put the spotlight on a new wave of DJs and bands redefining the Mexican sound.

Even people who don't know that tribal in Spanish is pronounced "treeball" might recognize the outrageously long-toed homemade pointy boots seen in the video for "Inténtalo" by 3BallMTY. The trio of shy teenage DJs suddenly showed up this year and began sweeping all the Latin music awards shows, looking a little stunned in the glare of sequins on mariachi suits and Spanks-enhanced gowns.

"Inténtalo," a wild, instinctive track with a synthetic gallop slowed by the voices of regional Mexican ballad singers America Sierra and El Bebeto, seemed like a one-off, a hit club song that will forever recall nights out in 2012 and trigger a lot of quinceañera memories. But now 3Ball have another radio hit with "Besos al Aire," and artists from the group's native Monterrey and beyond are putting out albums with "tribal" in the title.

"Tribal is becoming a Latin movement instead of just a Mexican movement," said 3Ball leader Erick Rincon, who is now 18. "It's really growing stronger." The group has toured Latin America and Europe, opening for Justin Bieber in Mexico; Rincon recently collaborated with Diplo, and since the success of "Inténtalo," he has been recruited by regional Mexican stars to do tribal remixes of their songs.

3Ball broke a sound that, like reggaeton before it, appeals to both genre-specific and mainstream Latin music fans, as well as Spanish- and English-speakers. But more than something new, "Inténtalo" was really a tipping point in the evolution of Mexican and particularly regional Mexican music, the biggest-selling Latin genre.

Nortec Collective and, later, Mexican Institute of Sound were groundbreakers in mixing electronic music with Mexican street sounds, and a DJ named Ricardo Reyna has been credited with first mixing cumbia and other native rhythms into house a decade ago. And of course, Café Tacvba are the most Mexican of rock bands, translating the country's complex cultural mix to music like no one else can. But the key figure in the current story of tribal is Toy Selectah, producer and member of the revolutionary Mexican hip-hop band Control Machete. A fellow native of the Monterrey scene, Toy got in touch with Rincon after hearing some of the teenager's early mixes and produced the album Inténtalo with the idea of bringing tribal to the masses.

Traditional regional Mexican music is certainly not going away, but "Inténtalo" proved there's a new generation listening to young artists who are approaching it in different ways, whether it's tribal's electronic fusion taking on a more suggestive tone with the DJ who calls himself El Pelón del Mikrophone, or the arch Latin alternative style of El Conjunto Nueva Ola, who appear onstage in luchador masks. The East Coast-based Mariachi el Bronx sing punk norteño songs in English; Arizona-based Sergio Mendoza Y La Orquesta's "Mambo Mexicano" brings an indie-rock sensibility to the Latin big-band party sound.

One thing, though: "The pointy boots are over," Rincon declared as he gazed down at his own emo-friendly lace-up ankle boots on the red carpet of Billboard's recent 2012 Mexican Music Awards.

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