Happy Día De La Independencia: A Mexican Rock Primer

By Special Correspondent Arturo R. García

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As we noted in May, Wednesday marked Mexican Independence Day, which kicked off at midnight with the traditional Grito de La Independencia by not only President Felipe Calderón, but all executive office-holders, right down to the local level.

But rather than mark the date here with a history lesson, I want to do something fun – if you haven’t encountered Mexican rock – and before anybody asks, yes, Juanes may be dreamy, but he’s also from Colombia – here’s a few artists to check out:

Kinky (pictured above)
The skinny: The Monterey natives have come the closest to crossing over into the U.S. market, as they’ve played the Coachella festival and had their songs featured on American series like Nip/Tuck, Dexter and Gossip Girl. They also had the chutzpah to cover Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio.”

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Maldita Vecindad
The skinny: I’ve always referred to this band as our national equivalent of Public Enemy – listening to their debut album was as eye-opening an experience for me as Fear Of A Black Planet, as Maldita took on things from a street-level point of view that was, for a long time, very rare in the Mexican music scene. Since they’ve stopped recording, you could argue that Molotov has inherited the band’s mantle as social commentators – check out (NSFW) Frijolero – but for a snapshot of the Mexico City street life, nothing and nobody can top “Un Gran Circo.”

Maná
The skinny: If Molotov and Maldita are the fighters, these guys are the lovers, and 22 million album sales, four Grammys, five Latin Grammys and a guest-spot on Santana’s Supernatural album confirm their spot as the country’s premier date-rock group. Their Unplugged album was a success for MTV and their 2006 album, Amar Es Compartir, debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard Top 200 chart.

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Cafe Tacuba
The skinny: Tacuba and Maldita are contemporaries, and like MV, Tacuba has shown an ability to vault from genre to genre – it’s just as comfortable creating epic soundscapes like the eight-minute Volver A Comenzar as making traditional instrumentation sound new again in songs like “Ingrata.” Their shows are also not for the easily-tired: when I saw them in San Diego last year, they came back for five encores.

Nortec Collective
The skinny: Not a band, per se, but a group of DJs who unite techno and norteño music, earning them spots doing remixes for Beck, bills alongside Beck and Basement Jaxx, and performances in London, Paris and the Kennedy Center. On a personal note, Nortec kicked off a three-band bill with Kinky and Tacuba in 2003 that is still one of my all-time Top three shows.

As this post could go on wayyyy too long for my Editrix, let me close out by offering the following links so you can check out just a few more standout artists:

julieta1
* Julieta Venegas: Technically a Long Beach native, but raised in Tijuana.
* Hello Seahorse!: Dreamy-sounding up-and-comers
* Pistolera: NYC-based alterna-folkers with a kick
* Mexican Institute of Sound: Camilo Lara’s feel-good one-man project has also gotten his music on U.S. TV shows.