Los Tigres del Norte
Formed in San Jose, Calif., at the dawn of the 1970s, Los Tigres del Norte -- comprising the Hernandez brothers of Sinaloa and drummer Oscar Lara-- had been playing music together since they were children, but it wasn't until impresario Art Walker heard them in San Jose in the late '60s that they began to take themselves seriously as a band. Walker signed them to his new label Fama Records, and the group began to have limited success, playing throughout San Jose's growing Mexican district and getting some airplay. But the group truly coalesced when bandleader and vocalist Jorge Hernandez heard a singer in Los Angeles perform "Contrabando y Traicion." The dramatic narco-corrido was unlike anything he'd ever heard, and it became the group's break-out single in 1971. "Contrabando y Traicion" told the story of a Bonnie and Clyde-esque drug-running couple with a flair and drama not seen before in narco-corridos, and the hit spun off legions of imitators who invented further adventures for the ruthless fictional heroine, Camelia La Tejana, as well as a slew of songs in a similar vein. Early hits like "La Banda del Carro Rojo" followed up on "Contrabando y Traicion"'s success and cemented the band's place as a corridos powerhouse. Though pioneers of the narco-corrido, the band has never allowed itself to be pigeonholed in that genre, refusing to name real drug traffickers in their songs (unlike many other groups) and shunning the gun-glorifying imagery associated with the genre. Their diverse repertoire includes love songs, songs about the immigrant experience in the U.S., and critical commentaries on Mexican politics. They spearheaded the movement to write songs about the immigrant experience with the 1976 single "Vivan Los Mojados," a still-relevant track that questions what would happen to American agriculture if all the "wetbacks" were sent back to Mexico. "La Jaula de Oro" (The Gold Cage) is widely considered a masterpiece; it deals with the alienation a longtime immigrant can still feel in the United States. In 2000, stars of rock and pop came together to pay homage to the group with an album of covers, El Mas Grande Homenaje A Los Tigres Del Norte, which acknowledged the group's massive contributions to music north and south of the border. After three decades, Los Tigres del Norte have become less a band than an institution, a defining voice for over a generation of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.