El Bebeto’s “Lo Legal” (“What’s Legal”) is a monster hit on Mexican radio. It’s technically a love song, with no direct reference to  U.S. immigration policy, the wave of immigration that saw millions of Mexicans head north in recent years, or the separation and heartbreak that resulted.

But if you want it to be a protest song, it’s all there. (The video, above, connects the dots a little more explicitly.)


The Bible tells us no prophet is accepted in his own land. In Latin America, rock and roll musicians tend to look to the U.S. or U.K. for inspiration. Here in Mexico, that leaves a yawning gulf between homegrown rock and roll, which tends to be polished and slick, and the wild, raw, raucous banda and norteño music that occupies the center of the pop universe.

I’m fascinated as to why that is. Some of it has to do with class divisions: banda and the like are music for the campesinos and the working classes. The derogatory word for such stuff in Mexico is naco, or redneck. Everybody needs something to rebel against, and you’ve got to figure that a lot of Mexican middle-class kids see accordions and tubas as relics of grandpa’s music (or their country cousins’ music), and not part of the new world that they want to construct with their art.

You can’t blame them for it.

But there are also exciting examples in which the worlds collide. I was never really sold on the Nortec Collective, but I appreciate their attempt to fuse techno and norteño music and come up with something new. Monterrey’s El Gran Silencio seemed to buy into the idea of cultural fusion in an earthier, less theoretical way. When they’re on, their mix of dancehall, cumbia and rock and roll is pretty hard to beat.

Are more collisions inevitable? This March, the norteño superstars Los Tigres Del Norte were the headlining act in a Veracruz festival, Cumbre Tajin, that also featured the Pet Shop Boys and Smashing Pumpkins. The crowd, according to one Mexican newspaper, met Los Tigres with a “scream of ecstasy“; I wish I would have been there to take the sociological measure of the screamers: were they indie rock kids? Their parents? Both?

One of the most interesting mix-and-mash, rockstar-meets-naco moments occurred last year, when the Spanish rock star Enrique Bunbury covered the ragged-but-right Colombian vallenato hit “Diario de un Borracho.” Bunbury finds the gothic, Bukowskian strain in the song (not hard to do in a tune about wallowing in one’s own drunkenness), and highlights it with an appropriately Tom Waits-ian makeover.

The result is pretty cool — a spooky bummer of a song, though I think I still prefer Alfredo Gutierrez’ vallenato version. Sometimes you just want the naco.


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The mighty Orquesta Basura played a free set this weekend at the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso, in Mexico City’s historic center. The capital generates 12,000 metric tons of trash daily, and an estimated quarter-million people make a living of one kind of another off of trash, including pickers, recyclers, haulers–and these four musicians.

They make their instruments out of junk (including the helmet mounted “trompe-cabezas” trumpet, above), and their repertoire is a sweet-smelling salvage job that picks over some of the best semi-forgotten popular dance styles from around the world: tango, gypsy jazz, klezmer, polka, &c. Fitting for a city whose most beloved taco comes from Lebanon.

Here’s the Orquesta playing “Besame Mucho” at a 2011 festival:

Photos: [RF]


Here are Los Titanes de Durango, making like gangster Lewis Carrolls with the fantastic neologism “Los Alcapones,” a compression of “Al” and “Capone” –the new word, apparently, signifying general bad-assitude, and sounding so naturally Spanish that you wonder if it could slip by the Real Academia Española.


Chicha Libre hails from Brooklyn, but their collective heart is in Lima. On their website they claim to give the chicha treatment to Satie and Wagner, as well.

Not sure if this adds up to more than a novelty song. But sometimes all is forgiven on the dance floor…