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A recent Friday night found me in my favorite part of Indy, the Westside. I was at Chispas Nightclub to catch a live performance by Alacranes Musical - an important and hugely popular Mexican-American band from Chicago, Illinois. Since releasing their first LP in 2003, Alacranes have maintained a constant presence on the Latin music charts.
The group specializes in a genre of music known as duranguense. During the late 1990s, Alacranes played a key role in the development of the duranguense style. Although not widely known outside the Latin music scene, duranguense is perhaps the most significant new genre of music to emerge from the Midwest since the rise of Chicago house and Detroit techno during the 1980s.
Before the concert I spoke with saxophonist and founding member of Alacranes, Oscar Urbina Jr. Urbina gave me the inside story on Alacranes Musical and the birth of duranguense music.
NUVO: Can you tell me how the duranguense music scene developed in Chicago?
Oscar Urbina Jr.: We were one of the main bands that started the whole movement back around 1999. It was a local style of music in Chicago and the suburbs at first. But slowly and surely it grew and around 2003 the big major labels started coming around to check it out. That's when we got our opportunity, along with about four or five other bands in the area who were really popular.
Once we were signed to a major label, we started traveling out of state, playing bigger concerts and bigger venues. Everything started growing slowly and a couple years later you have this phenomenon called duranguense. Thanks to all our fans we've been able to achieve gold records and platinum records. We created a movement and we put Chicago on the map for Hispanic music.
NUVO: How would you describe the sound of duranguense music to NUVO readers who might not be familiar with regional Mexican music genres?
Urbina: A lot of people, especially those who aren't familiar with Mexican music, right away they assume it's mariachi. It's not! If you've ever heard banda music, then you have a good idea of what duranguense sounds like.
NUVO: So what makes duranguense unique from banda?
Urbina: Duranguense is similar to banda, but we added synthesizers. Duranguense is more electronic then banda. The banda groups have the brass and wind instruments. Banda groups use a tuba. But we have an electronic tuba, we use the Yamaha DX-7. That's a big difference in the sound right there. We took banda to a different level.
NUVO: Since duranguense was born in Chicago, I'm curious if your fans in Mexico consider the genre to be authentic Mexican music.
Urbina: Yes, they consider it 100 percent Mexican. Our story is different from the way things usually happen in the Hispanic music scene. Usually an artist gets big in Mexico first and then they make their way to the United States. For us, it was the other way around. People in Mexico were waiting for the duranguense bands from the U.S., particularly the groups from Chicago. As soon as the duranguense bands started making their way down to Mexico the whole scene just blew up.
NUVO: Tribal music from Monterrey is getting big right now. What are your thoughts on 3Ball MTY and the growing popularity of tribal?
Urbina: It's a new era and we respect those artists. Music is like fashion; every three or four years something new comes out. Who wears an Ed Hardy shirt now? Two years ago everybody wore them, now it's just not happening. But I have nothing but respect for musicians who are coming out with new styles, because in our time we did it and now they're doing it and it's their time to shine.
NUVO: Future plans for Alacranes Musical?
Urbina: We have a fresh new record contract with our label Universal. We are going to be recording again soon and continue touring. Hopefully, in October or November, we're planning to hit Mexico for a tour. We haven't been there in about three years because of the whole situation there. We're trying to put all the pieces together with security and just be very careful about who we work with.
Each edition of A Cultural Manifesto features a mix from Kyle Long, spotlighting music from around the globe. You can now subscribe to A Cultural Manifesto's podcast on iTunes! This week features duranguense music.
1. Dean Blunt And Inga Copeland - 11 (Hyperdub, 2012)
2. SBTRKT - Hold On (Young Turks, 2012)
3. DRC Music - We Come From the Forest (feat. Bokatola System)
4. Havana Cultura - Agita (Sunlightsquare mix) (Warp, 2011)
5. Seun Kuti - You Can Run (Falty DL remix) (Because, 2012)
6. Tinariwen - Tenere Taqqim Tosaam (Four Tet remix) (Rise Record Club, 2012)