June 25, 2010 | 10:28 am
Originally published on the LA Times Pop and Hiss music blog.
Friday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Tigres del Norte will make history. Although the Mexican super group is known for its ability to cross borders, performing at the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic will be a new frontier.
The show will mark the first time a regional Mexican band has played at the venue since it opened in 2003. Though Los Tigres attract audiences of thousands to their Los Angeles gigs, the group has never performed at a Los Angeles venue with the cultural stature and acoustics of Disney Hall.
It’s an interesting turn for the band, which formed in the mid-1960s and is made up of four brothers and one cousin. The band has become known for its ability to connect with its fans through songs of the struggles of the Mexican working class on both sides of the border.
Jorge Hernández, founding member, singer and accordionist, says that the intent is to present the reality of Mexican life without embellishment or exaggeration. “We sing about society, law enforcement, immigration, love, poetry …” he said, his voice trailing off as if to indicate that the list is endless.
The band’s showmanship is much less humble. Dressed in shiny boots, stiff tejano hats and tight-fitting, brightly-colored suits embellished with elaborate stitching and sequins, the band embodies classic norteño style – dazzling and snazzy.
The concert is being presented by Global Pop at the Music Center, a 3-year-old program that aims to celebrate the diverse cultures of L.A. by bringing an array of music to the most magnificent and elite venue in the city – Disney Hall. Past performers include Filipino songstress Lea Salonga, Korean group Fly to the Sky, Chinese pop singer CoCo Lee and French troubadour Hugues Aufray.
“Disney Hall means much more than just classical music,” says Ming Ng, programming manager at the Music Center, adding that Global Pop invited Los Tigres del Norte because “they’re such an amazing, legendary band,” and so beloved by the Los Angeles Latino community.
These days, Los Tigres typically perform at fairgrounds, sports arenas and convention centers — and draw fans known for a devotion that verges on worship.
The band first hit the big time in 1972, though it had already formed unofficially in the Rosa Mirada, Sinaloa, Mexico farming town where the Hernández family grew up. In 1965, brothers Jorge, Raúl and Hernán and cousin Oscar Lara began to perform in northern Mexico cities, and eventually in the U.S. There, the group became known as Los Tigres del Norte.
Today, Raúl isn’t with the band, but younger brothers Eduardo and Luis have joined. Since their first release, Los Tigres have turned out 55 albums and sold 34 million records. Their version of norteñofeatures fluttering accordion keys, even beats on the drums, the deep chords of the electric bass and lower pitched acoustic bajo sexto. A two-chord cadence on the accordion ends each song with a near comic conclusiveness.
The lyrics often address social issues, and avid followers can not only sing but discuss the lyrics of the group’s several hundred compositions, which are mostly corridos, or story-songs. In return, following each show, children, teens, young adults and their grandparents line up to talk to the band members, often spilling out their life stories.
Sometimes, says Hernández, a story will become material for a song. The Tigres stay after their shows until the venue is empty. “Meeting our fans is beautiful,” Hernández said.
Lately, the post-concert discussions have focused on the controversial Arizona immigration law that will require law enforcement officers to verify the status of anyone suspected of being in the country without documentation if that person has been stopped or detained for other reasons.
“If they enforce this law, there’s going to be a lot of trouble,” Hernández said. “If it starts in Arizona, it can start in California and it can start all over the country. It’s going to be very difficult for us to feel that we are equal.”
Los Tigres plan to include a song opposing the law on their upcoming album, scheduled for release in October. They’ve joined a growing number of artists in calling for a boycott of Arizona.
Their most recent hit is “La Granja” (The Farm), which Hernández says they’ll perform at Disney Hall. It’s a parable about Mexican drug trafficking using farm-animal symbolism to illustrate the relationship among the government, law enforcement and the farmers.
The concert will include songs from every decade of Los Tigres’ performing history dating back to the 1970s. The challenge to the Tigres will be to maintain their boisterous, free-wheeling, ranch spirit without clashing with the polished beauty of the venue.
Hernández said they recognize that the Disney Hall crowd may not be their customary audience, and that the band may have to tone down its roar. No matter who comes, he said of the concert, “I hope it’s going to be for everybody.”
— Daina Beth Solomon
Photo: Los Tigres del Norte. Credit: Los Tigres del Norte