Norteño (Spanish pronunciation: [norˈteɲo], northern), also norteña, is a genre of Mexican music. The accordion and the bajo sexto are norteño's most characteristic instruments. The norteño genre is popular in both Mexico and the United States, especially among the Mexican and Mexican-American community. Though originating from rural areas, norteño is popular in urban as well as rural areas.
Some popular norteño artists include Ramón Ayala, Intocable, (David Pimentel) Los Cadetes de Linares, Los Alegres de Terán, Los Tigres del Norte, Los Huracanes del Norte, Los Tucanes de Tijuana, and Los Invasores de Nuevo Leon. Thanks to the popularity of radio stations playing regional Mexican music, many norteño artists have become widely popular among the Mexican-American community. Local radio stations have continued to be a major influence in popularizing norteño.
Emperor Maximilian I was the first to bring middle Europe music to México in 1864, as with him came the obligatory marching bands and musicians to celebrate and entertain him. When Maximilian's dubious empire was defeated, many of his former army and fellow countrymen fled north and dispersed into what is now the states of Nevada and Arizona, to name but two. Polish immigrants also made their way to Mexico during the late 19th century and settled in the state of Texas. Norteño or Norteña music, however, owes its distinctive sound to the Mexican and Spanish oral and musical traditions, blended with guitar, accordion and brass (based on the instrumentation used in military brass bands), woven and spun unto the wholly Teutonic tempos of Polka and Waltz.
In addition, German and Czech migrants to Northern Mexico and the U.S. Southwest brought different styles among them: la redova, la varsoviana and the polka. These European immigrants fueled the demand for a local brewing industry, and they also influenced the music scene by bringing the accordion, waltz, and polka, which were part of the popular music of their homeland. Soon, local bands adopted these elements, and a new unique style gradually resulted from a blend with Mexican ranchera styles. This new style soon became a unique norteño genre, thus named because it was primarily popular in the northern regions of Mexico.
In the late 1910s and 1920s, the corridos entered a golden age when Mexicans on both sides of the border recorded in San Antonio-area hotels, revolutionizing the genre alongside Mexico's political revolution. Los Alegres De Teran were the first band to play norteño music. All that we have from this genre we owe it to Tomas Ortiz and Eugenio Abrego, Los Alegres de Teran. Later in the century, Los Cadetes de linares, Cornelio Reyna, Los Invasores de Nuevo Leon, and Carlos y Jose commercialized Northern music. Other bands such as Intocable and Ramon Ayala, Duelo, Siggno, Palomo, Pesado, Control, Solido added influences from cumbia, rock music, and other new styles, thus creating a unique new blend in some of their new songs.
In the 1950s, the heavy influence of Norteño on the traditional music of Mexican-Americans in southern Texas gave rise to a new form of popular music, called Tejano or "Tex-Mex", which is often influenced by American rock and swing. Tejano music often includes English and may sound much more like American rock and country music, but is a broad genre of music incorporating many different styles, all having origin in traditional Texas Mexican music.
However, because Tejano music is derived from Norteño music the two are often confused as different names for the same genre. Though Norteño came first, Tejano music is a norteño-derived genre and is not the same as norteño. The difference is easily heard in two different performances of the song "El Disgusto." Eddie Gonzalez is typical of Tejano music, while Ramón Ayala is typical of norteño music. Note that the Tejano style typical of Eddie Gonzalez's music is heavily influenced by American country music and jazz, while Ramón Ayala's music sounds much less Americanized and more rural and traditional.
Modern norteño has also diverged significantly from more original "oldie" norteño, which was the type played by Narciso Martínez and related groups before the 1950s. Since the 1970s and 1980s, electric bass guitars and modern percussion have been added to norteño music. The traditional guitar-and-accordion style of Los Alegres de Terán and Antonio Aguilar transformed into the modern style typical to that of Los Tigres del Norte, Intocable, Duelo, Isac Esquivel(Nocion Del Tiempo) and Oro Norteño. In the past, norteño bands consisted of an accordion as the lead instrument, with the bajo sexto (a type of 12-string Mexican guitar) serving as the roots of the music. Today, a typical norteño band usually includes a drum set, and a saxophone or electronic keyboard may also be included. (Un Puno De Tierra Ramon Ayala y sus Bravos del Norte)(Los Rieleros del Norte)(Polo Urias ysu Maquina Nortena)(Los Nortenos de Ojinaga)and the other main difference would be the use of two accordions instead of just one for Norteño.
Norteño became even more popular in the 1990s and 2000s in the United States as the Latino-American community increased rapidly. Norteño continues to be one of the most popular types of modern Mexican music today, but it is also gaining rapid popularity in the United States. Many of the most famous Mexican bands such as Ramón Ayala y sus Bravos del Norte, Pesado and Intocable are all based in the United States with American labels, and their music is usually recorded and produced within the United States. Grupo Pesado is the leader in norteño music today. This trend follows the rapid integration of Mexican-American immigrants into the United States.
Distinguishable features of norteño include use of the button accordion and bajo sexto. The rhythm is usually steady and can be middle or fast tempo. Norteño is a style of Mexican country music and thus has a more rural sound. Some artists like Ramón Ayala may sound older and more traditional, while others such as Oro Norteño and Los Dueto Voces del Rancho have a rowdier style and stronger beat. Besides the typical instrumentation, norteño music, as well as many other forms of traditional Mexican music, is also noted for the grito mexicano, a yell that is done at musical interludes within a song, either by the musicians and/or the listening audience.
Genres similar to norteño include banda and duranguense. Banda and duranguense bands have almost entirely brass instruments instead of accordions and guitars. However, banda and duranguense often play the same songs that norteño bands play, and they have the same steady beat of norteño. Lyrics and artist names are also similar.
Because many of these band names contain Mexican state names or a general geographical description (e.g., "de la Sierra"), norteño, banda, duranguense, and other similar genres can be classified into a category known as "regional Mexican music." Also, norteño is a border-type music, which is why many norteño groups choose to attach "del Norte" to their group names.
Norteño has many different regional styles. Norteño in Texas, for example, is very likely to be influenced by American music like Intocable, young producer/accordionist Isac Esquivel, while norteña from Tijuana and Tamaulipas may sometimes have influences from the Caribbean. Durango and Sinaloa have also produced norteña bands, even though the two states are more closely associated with the musical style of banda music (or duranguense). Chihuahua and Zacatecas norteño often incorporates the saxophone into their bands, creating a saxophone-accordion duet. Additionally, norteña music from Guanajuato and Chiapas sometimes employs synthetic marimbas in their music instead of the usual accordion.
Each norteño band also has its own unique adorno (music which interrupts the lyrical lines in between). For example, one of Conjunto Primavera adornos is a series of flutters, while Los Rieleros del Norte's adornos are characterized by descending scales. The saxophone was introduced in a small border town in the state of Chihuahua called Ojinaga, an important center of Norteño culture from which many groups have emerged.
- *Atlas Cultural de México. Música. México: Grupo Editorial Planeta. 1988. ISBN 968-406-121-8.
- The Saxophone in Norteño music at Smithsonian Education
- Texan-Mexican conjunto music
- Accordion History featuring Santiago Jiménez, Jr. (Flaco's brother) NPR Music