This year’s Pollstar Live! conference added yet another milestone Thursday in featuring a Mexican band for the first time in one of its Rainmaker panels. Los Tigres Del Norte, a legendary group whose career spans more than six decades, stopped by the event at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles to discuss the trajectory of their career as well as the past and current challenges Latin artists face.
“It’s an honor for us to be here,” Jorge Hernández, the band’s accordion player and lead vocalist, said. “We are very proud to be here.”
Hernandez went on to detail the fascinating journey of Los Tigres Del Norte that originated in Mexico back in 1968. The group, which currently consists of four brothers and a cousin, immigrated to the U.S. and began playing for tips at restaurants, a practice called “taloneando” among Spanish speakers, gathering what little money they could to send to their families in Mexico. The bandmembers would cram themselves and their instruments in one car to play small shows in California, and label owner Art Walker was in attendance for one of them. He ended up taking a chance on the group by sponsoring them and recording their first record.
“We started that way when we came here to the U.S.,” Hernández said. “[We performed] at a prison in Merced, we played restaurants, [venues] that were very small. We used to play songs at tables. … We got involved in the recording industry and recorded four records, and we still performed at restaurants.”
That quickly changed in 1972 with one song: “Contrabando y Traición.” The song, which translates to “Contraband and Betrayal,” is a corrido (folk song) about a drug-smuggling couple crossing the border and it was a massive hit in both the U.S. and Mexico.
The band, which has more than nine million monthly listeners on Spotify, has gone on to win six Grammys — a feat no other Mexican band has achieved — and traveled across the world, selling out arenas and stadiums.
How does a Mexican norteño group that has been together for 65 years remain relevant to this day among fans of all ages? Luis Hernández, the youngest member of the group, believes their music continues to resonate because the struggle of the immigrant that they detail in their songs remains relatable and they are sincere in how they present their message.
Los Tigres has never shied away from politics in its music with powerfully charged lyrics such as those in “Somos Más Americanos,” which translates to “We Are More American.” Jorge sings about being told to go back to his country because he doesn’t belong and responds with, “I want to remind the ‘gringo,’ I didn’t cross the border, the border crossed me. America was born free, the man divided it.”
Their music not only speaks to a diaspora of 42 million people of Mexican descent in the U.S. — a fact that was provided by LENUSA CEO Euler Torres, who moderated the panel, at the beginning of the discussion — but to anyone that struggles to find their place in this country while holding on to their roots and culture beyond U.S. borders.
“[Latin] music has gone through a great transformation, not just artistically, but also in the way other genres are applying what we have been trying to say long ago, such as the bad treatment of women,” Luis tells Pollstar after the panel. “I think that when you expose something or say something, you have to give it a seriousness and feeling so that it can transcend [genre] and lives on with new generations.
“Our concepts, we try to focus on our people and community, especially those in the U.S., and we try to be involved with our community,” Luis said during the panel.
The band, which is currently on the road for its “Siempre Contigo Tour,” has found ways to expand its reach and expose its music to fans who may have never considered listening to música norteña. Los Tigres, dubbed as “Los Jefes de Jefes” (“The Bosses of Bosses”) after one of their hit songs, famously paid tribute to Johnny Cash’s performance at Folsom Prison by recording a live show there in 2019 and collaborated with Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de La Rocha in an MTV Unplugged session in 2011.
“When artists work together, the music world opens up that much more because with where technology is and is going, there’s no way people aren’t exposed to it,” Hernan Hernández tells Pollstar. “They realize it almost instantly.”
Even with all that success, Los Tigres and many other Latin acts have struggled to receive endorsement deals or sponsorships due to misconceptions. Torres pointed out frustration in the word “Latin” being used when describing popular music and culture positively while the word “Mexican” gets lumped into negative connotations like cartel violence. He says this damages “our potential to have relationships with corporations and government agencies” although the Mexican-American music industry alone is a strong economic force.
Jorge Hernández admitted to feeling chills after hearing Torres talk about the obstacles the Mexican artist must overcome and added, “When they do commercials for the people, they put somebody that does not belong to the Mexican people. I cannot get into that because it is not real.”
Torres believes agencies need to do more of a focused sniper approach rather than a shotgun approach when it comes to outreach, and that’s why he and other members of the Mexican-American live music community have combined forces to make LENUSA — a network of venues, artists and promoters.
That kind of unity in which people look out for each other is what Jorge Hernández asked of the audience that included music industry professionals, saying it can lead to success for all parties involved because Latinos, especially Mexicans, carry so much spending power in this country — $1.6 trillion to be exact, according to Stanford study mentioned by Torres.
“Si somos unidos, nunca seremos vencidos,” Jorge Hernández said to close the panel, which transtes to, “If we are united, we will never be defeated.”