"Hot" Mexican musical genre picks up steam in U.S.

Sat Jul 19, 2008 9:14pm EDT
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By Leila Cobo

MIAMI (Billboard) - Mexico's music from the hotlands -- better-known by its Spanish term, "musica de tierra caliente" -- has long played second fiddle to its more popular cousin, duranguense.

But in the last several months, tierra caliente seems to have found its groove, with a new generation of acts increasingly populating the Billboard sales and airplay charts.

At the helm of this new wave of tierra caliente is Tierra Cali, a quintet that has been recording for a decade, but only began charting in the past year.

Tierra Cali currently has three titles on Billboard's Top Latin Albums chart, including "Mas Allaa de la Distancia" (Discos Ciudad/Venevision), which debuted at No. 8 last month and is entering its seventh week in the chart's top 20. It has already sold more than 70,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Tierra caliente's resurgence seems to be a mix of demographics and distribution. The music, a kind of techno-cumbia that includes traditional banda instruments plus synthesizers, sounds similar to musica duranguense, although not quite as frenetic, and, like duranguense, has been around for decades. But while duranguense found a second home in Chicago, allowing it to break big in the United States, tierra caliente remained a niche genre largely confined to its home (and hot, weather-wise) Mexican states of Michoacan, Guerrero and Mexico.

Tierra caliente, like duranguense, found a bigger commercial opening in the '90s, when techno-banda was born, a movement that blended traditional banda with electronic instruments. The tierra caliente groups took it a step further, quickening the pace and using keyboards.

But while the movement gained traction some three years ago thanks to groups like Beto y Sus Canarios and Triny y la Leyenda, things never took off like they did for duranguense.

Now, "duranguense is on the downturn and tierra caliente is taking shape," Venevision Internacional VP of music Jorge Pino says. The indie label, distributed via a joint venture with Universal, has a licensing deal in place with Mexico City-based Discos Ciudad, which specializes in tierra caliente, and whose roster includes Tierra Cali, Dinastia de Tuzantla and El Cejas.   Continued...