Campanas de America rings new but stays true

By Chito de la Torre
    "We're with the Rolling Stones, Janet Jackson and Tina Turner.  I feel
honored."  Those are the words not of rocker, metal head or an R&B artist. 
That's a quote from Juan Ortiz, leader of Campanas de America, the group
formerly known as Mariachi Campanas de America.
    "Were the first Latinos to be distributed by Virgin Records," added the
curled-mustached man.  Actually, Campanas de America is signed on with Barb
Wire Productions, the upstart label the surprised everyone last year by
signing on Ruben Ramos and helping him make a tremendous comeback with his
"Nueve Vidas" CD.
    Now Barb Wire has worked out a distribution deal with Virgin Records America,
Inc.  That means that artists like Campanas de America, Ruben Ramos, and even
Amber Rose (the 13-year-old sensation from San Antonio) will be available
throughout the world.
    It just so happens that the deal was signed when the Campanas de America CD
was due to come out.  But Virgin couldn't have had better luck than that. 
Campanas de America is a perfect way to introduce Virgin to the world of Latin
music.  That's because Campanas does it all, and does it well.
    Campanas de America looks like a Mariachi.  They certainly have the virtuoso
musicians to make them a Mariachi but they don't act like a Mariachi.  That's
just too limiting for the San Antonio based group. 
     "Some people have called us Alternative Mariachi"  Says Ortiz.  "Our
influences are Chicago, Bette Midler, George Strait," he adds.  And that's
what makes them such a fun group to watch.  One minute they're playing a
traditional Mariachi tune like  "La Mariquita," the 8th track on the
just-released CD. And the next minute they're playing a Tejano tune like
"Dejame Llorar Solo," (the 9th song on the CD).
    In fact "Dejame Llorar Solo is the first time Campanas tries Tejano.  "We're
using an electric bass and guitar," explains Ortiz.  According to Ortiz, it's
his son, Roland San Miguel who sings the song.  It's a surprising tune with
strong vocals and a powerful sound that even though it uses some electrical
instruments, it still full of real brass and strings, no synthesized stuff on
this CD.
    The entire CD is that way. Every song is crafted with the perfection.  And
while every song has a touch of Mariachi in it, this is not a Mariachi CD.
    For example, the lead song, "Medio Peso" has the driving brass reminiscent of
Chicago in their heyday.  And the sassy timbales make it a cumbia that's as
easy to dance to as it is to rock out to.
    Another way cool track-- not that any of them are anything but cool --is "Mi
Estrellita," written and sang by Juan Ortiz for his wife.  It pulls at your
heart strings like the best ballads.  In fact, I think its a great idea for a
Disney animation.
    Campanas de America contains only two traditional Mariachi tunes, the already
mentioned "La Mariquita" and "El Alacran."  The rest are mostly cumbias with
one ranchera (a funny number titled "El Guiri Guiri" that even has a bit of
rap thrown in), the Tejano tune and a couple of ballads.
    There's an inexplicable appealing quality to music made by humans.  The
fingers plucking strings, lips buzzing out harmonious brass, and dynamic
voices belting out with real enthusiasm.  It's enough to make any one want to
get up and dance, even the Vice President of the United States.
    "The Vice President and Tipper started dancing to Mujeres Coquetas," says
Belle Ortiz, manager of Campanas de America and Juan's wife.  That occurred
during Campanas' performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC last
September 23rd.  If you want to see it for yourself, tune in to NBC on Sunday
October 27 when the show will be aired.
    If on the other hand you want to see Campanas perform live, check them out
this month at Six Flags Fiesta Texas where they will be performing every
weekend at the "Las Noches de las Brujas" show.

Campanas de America, the new CD by the like-named group stay true to their
Mariachi roots, but adds some way cool sounds you just gotta hear.  On the CD
is a Tejano, a ranchera, some touching love songs and plenty of danceable
--30-- (printed with permission)