July 20, 2008 / 1:16 AM / 10 years ago

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

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.

Their success, Pino says, and Tierra Cali’s in particular, “has been slow but constant. They didn’t break from one moment to the next.”

Tierra Cali recorded three albums, released only locally in their Mexican states, before garnering a radio hit with “Amor Mio te Amo” some years ago. The group had a brief stint on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart in 2006, but got an extra push when Venevision began licensing Disco Ciudad’s product two years ago and began to re-release its entire catalog. Last year, Tierra Cali titles began cropping up on the charts.

“In the beginning our audience was young kids — 12, 15, up to 18 years old — because that’s who goes to the dances in Mexico,” Tierra Cali lead composer Humberto Plancarte says.

It’s precisely thanks to the youth factor that tierra caliente has found new breath, Discos Ciudad owner Arturo Malagon says. “The children in those states are turning toward new faces, and that allows the movement to renew itself,” he says.

Tierra caliente’s original traction, Malagon says, comes from its immediate followers. He calculates that some 5 million Mexicans in the United States come from tierra caliente states, including Michoacan, a major source of migrants.

But now, with the Venevision deal in place, Malagon’s acts have also found access to a national audience via TV promotional campaigns, which all Venevision acts have access to thanks to the label’s deal with the Univision network.

“Now, when we get onstage, we see whole families — children and parents — and also people from countries like Guatemala and Nicaragua,” Plancarte says. “Our market definitely grew.”


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