From Mexico With Love (And Beats)

Aug 5, 2012
Originally published on January 24, 2013 2:03 pm

Ranchera accordions. Romantic boleros. Maybe some sweet cumbias. Those sounds spring immediately to mind when discussing Mexican music, but Mexico is a playground for musicians of all genres and backgrounds. Dig a little deeper and you'll find sensual son jarocho stylings alongside astounding rock 'n' roll and heart-accelerating electronica.

Every week on the Alt.Latino podcast, co-hosts Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreras explore the sounds of Latin America. This week on Weekend Edition Sunday, they share some of their new favorites from northern Mexico's bubbling electronic-music scene.

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When you think of music from Mexico, the accordion flourishes of ranchera or the sultry repetitions of bolero might come to mind. But there's also a growing electronic music scene in Mexico, where musicians are mixing digital beats with a distinctive Latin sound.

Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd of NPR's Alt-Latino join us now with some recent Mexican electronica hits that have moved up Latin music charts. Jasmine, Felix, welcome back to the show.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Thank you very much.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Always a pleasure.

WERTHEIMER: Now, let's listen to some of this music. Jasmine, where do you want to start?

GARSD: Let's start with Mexican Institute of Sound. This is...


WERTHEIMER: There's a very funny name.

GARSD: Well, it's funny. He has a great sense of humor because Mexican Institute of Sound is really one dude. His name is Camilo Lara. He's a Mexico City-based producer and DJ, also the president of EMI in Mexico. This is the song "Mexico" off of the new album "Politico."


CAMILO LARA: (Playing)

WERTHEIMER: Where would you go to hear music like this, Felix?

CONTRERAS: You can hear it in a lot of different places. And in Mexico, the electronica scene sort of developed in the north, along in Tijuana and Monterrey in the northern part of the country. And it started at in homes and people's, you know, community centers - they weren't necessarily bars and nightclubs. And then it started to get more popular.

WERTHEIMER: How does this compare with electronica in other parts of the world?

GARSD: It's up there in terms of quality and in terms of visibility, but it definitely has a very uniquely Latin and uniquely Mexican sound. It's mixing ranchera, nortena, cha-cha-cha, cumbia.


LARA: (Singing in foreign language)

WERTHEIMER: Felix, what about the lyrics? Most electronica is just pretty much all music, not so much words.

CONTRERAS: Dance and music and, you know, have a good time, be out late. And in Mexican Institute of Sound, in Camilo Lara's case, he's part of a wave of Mexican musicians who are taking a very hard look at the reality of Mexico with the drug violence, with all this stuff. And this album, "Politico," is a very overt political statement, social statement. The lyrics on this album, I'll give you an example, it says the Zetas or El Chapo, meaning two different drug gangs.


LARA: (Singing in foreign language)

CONTRERAS: (Reading) Their children are already hit-men. Bite your tongue, they found 30 dead in Veracruz.

So he is tackling, as are a lot of Mexican musicians, taking on the social scene there in Mexico.

WERTHEIMER: Jasmine, is that what most of the electronic is like? Or is most of the electronica dancing, have a good time?

GARSD: A lot of it is dancing and having a good time. It's a party vibe. But Camilo Lara, I guess you could say he's kind of the conscious, the Bob Dylan of Mexican electronica.


GARSD: We had him on the show recently and he talked a lot about what it means to be a musician in Mexico today, and his desire to have that consciousness.

WERTHEIMER: There's another song here on the list that we haven't played called "La Nina" by Meketrefe. What is that?

GARSD: Well, Meketrefe in a lot of Latin America is slang for an idiot or a fool.


GARSD: (Foreign language spoken)


CONTRERAS: What you call me?

GARSD: Oh, I'm not calling you that.



GARSD: But in this case, it's a very talented DJ from Brooklyn. And he is working on this track with Priscilla from a Mexican band, which I love, called Quiero Club. And it's called "La Nina Chatarra Mix." The girl, kind of like in a junkyard mix.


MEKETREFE, FEATURING PRISCILLA: (Singing in foreign language)

GARSD: They're actually mixing street sounds and it's giving a really good feel. I was recently in Mexico for about a month. They're giving a really good sense of this hectic vibrancy, the frantic nature of Mexico City. I mean, what you're hearing is audio of a kid, kind of one of these street salesmen saying, you know, we'll buy your old refrigerators, we'll buy your old mattresses or any kind of junk that you have. And they're looping it with beats.

CONTRERAS: You know, the other thing that's interesting about Mexican electronica is that when you listen to electronica music from other countries, if they incorporate Latin music it's usually Caribbean-based; which means that there's an African bass to it - a lot of drums, a lot of percussion. And the Mexican music with the electronica artists, they are doing is they're bringing in Mexican music and it could be anything from traditional pre-Colombian, indigenous folk music - accordions that the Germans brought in. I mean, there's a lot of different types. Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: So, Jasmine, is there something that is climbing the charts that we should be listening for?

GARSD: Well, if Camilo Lara and Mexican Institute of Sound is kind of like the conscious of Mexican electronica - well, I don't know what I would call 3BallMTY. That's the number three and ball, M-T-Y.


GARSD: 3BallMTY, they've really crossed over into the Latin mainstream. It started off with this DJ called Ricardo Reyna and he created this sound called 3ball, tribal pre-Hispanic. It mixed a lot of electronica, ranchera and, what they called, a tribal beat. And then this group of teenaged DJs, 3BallMTY, took it and they created a very unique sound. Right now it's called 3Ball Guarachero and this is playing, I mean everywhere, everywhere.

I've heard it at every Latin store. I went to a salsa concert and they played it.


3BALLMTY: (Singing in foreign language)

GARSD: And I should tell you that this came out in 2011, but it's really - I wanted to play it for you because it was like the hit. They used to be a very underground movement and these are the kids that brought it there. And their aesthetic is so interesting. They wear these like pointy, jester-like cowboy boots...


GARSD: ...that are - I mean how long are those boots?

CONTRERAS: It's an exaggeration of the style. It comes from northern Mexico so it's very rural. And so, you have the cowboy hats. You have the belts and the jeans and all that. And the boots really, like honestly stick up. I'd say at two, three feet and they curl up, and it's a whacky scene.


GARSD: And they have these amazing group dances. And now 3BallMTY kids are, I think, moving away from the boots a little. But, you know, I'm still trying to get Felix to put those boots on.


CONTRERAS: Fat chance, that.


WERTHEIMER: Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreras, they host nprmusic's Alt-Latino, a weekly podcast about Latin music. Jasmine and Felix, thank you very much for joining us.

CONTRERAS: Thanks a lot.

GARSD: Thanks for having us.

WERTHEIMER: Now, we're going to hear more of "Intentalo" by 3BallMTY.


3BALLMTY: (Singing in foreign language)

WERTHEIMER: What does intentalo mean?

GARSD: Try it.


GARSD: Mm-hmm.

WERTHEIMER: You might like it?

GARSD: That's right.



3BALLMTY: (Singing in foreign language)

WERTHEIMER: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


3BALLMTY: (Singing in foreign language) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.