Fierce Enough to Bite
Sunday, February 18, 2007
CHARLOTTE They're sitting around the table last Sunday for a little pre-show dinner, this band of brothers, Mexican-born, California-bred, the most famous creators of the brassy, accordion-heavy norteño sound.
A cellphone rings with news from Los Angeles.
¿Ganamos? ("We won?") Pause. ¡Ganamos! Yes, they just won -- the second Grammy in Los Tigres del Norte's 40-year career. En masse, they stand up, forming a bit of a conga line, shaking hands, slapping backs and kissing cheeks, every one of them, the bass player, the tour manager, the accordion player . . .
After the show, fans will stick around till the clock pushes past 3, clamoring for pictures, stealing kisses, exhorting them: ¡Defiendan nuestros derechos! (Stick up for our rights!)
As the lyrical voice of the Latino immigrant, they've been sticking up for the rights of el pueblo ever since they recorded their first corrido, or ballad, in the late '60s. But the pre-dawn hours will bring something to remind them what it is to be brown-skinned and accented in America, never mind the private jet, the tricked-out tour bus, the 32 million recordings sold. To remind them of why, after four decades of making music, Los Tigres have decided to become even more vocal about their political convictions.
They are sitting in the hotel lobby here, they later say, basking in that Grammy afterglow, waiting for the restaurant to open for breakfast. Gone are the saffron beaded costumes, the accordions and the guitars. Now, they're in sportcoats and dress slacks, middle-aged men. Until hotel management approaches. Demands to see their hotel keys. Demands to see identification.
They tell this story with a knowing shrug and a roll of the eyes.
Since appearing at La Marcha, the immigration-rights marches held in cities across the United States last April, Los Tigres del Norte, who play the D.C. Armory tonight, have taken a tougher, even more critical line.
On their CD to be released next month, "Detalles y Emociones," they sing about President Bush's plans to build a barrier along the Mexico-U.S. border. On the track "El Muro" (The Wall), they sing -- in Spanish, English, Farsi, French and German: "Bush, Bush, don't push. . . . better to build a bridge than a wall. . . . Listen Mr. President, you know you need us, on your team as well as in the kitchen. . . ."
And these days, the godfathers of norteño are gaining mainstream attention: There is this month's Best Norteño Album win for "Historias Que Contar" ("Stories to Tell") -- their first Grammy in 20 years. Then at next month's 14th Annual Latin Awards ceremony, they'll receive a BMI Icons award for their "unique and indelible influence on generations of music makers."
All this while playing more than 150 concerts a year, from Los Angeles to Mexico City, from Bogota to Boston, from Japan to Jalisco.