The Caliente Column

Fandango USA: Life After 'Charanga'
By Doug Shannon (

Three years after 'La Charanga,' Fandango USA is proving that it
won't be a one-hit wonder.

Not after "Te Amare Un Million De Veces" spent nearly three months
on the Billboard chart and the title track to their latest album
"Matanga La Changa" was nominated for Crossover Song of the Year
at the 1995 Tejano Music Awards.

Of course, "La Charanga" inevitably comes up in conversation and
Balde Munoz, Fandango's founder and drummer, is surprisingly
modest about it.

"Last year at the Tejano Music Awards we had a recording called
'La Charanga.'  I don't know if you've ever heard it or not,"
he said without any touch of irony.  "It's kind of peppy," he
added helpfully.

If you haven't seen Fandango USA in a while, get ready for a
new look.  Keyboardist and accordionist Ricky Fuentes, 25, has
stepped in to let singer Hugo Guerrero concentrate on getting
the party going.

It took some time for Balde to convince Hugo to come out from
behind the synthesizers.

"I've always considered myself a keyboard player first, then a
singer," Hugo said.  "But a few years ago we did a benefit for
the Border Patrol called 'Say No To Drugs,' and I got up from
the keyboards and said, 'If anyone offers you drugs, what are
you going to say?' and I had everybody saying, 'No!' and Balde
kind of liked that.  He said, 'You ought to be up front.'

"I was really reluctant about doing it.  When I had the keyboards
in front of me they were like a wall and I felt protected.  Now
I feel vulnerable--I have the whole stage to cover."

Besides energizing its live sets, the Laredo-based group is
also getting ready to release a new album, "Mas De Tu Amor,"
which they finished mixing on May 10.  For the new CD, which
will be released this summer, they're going "back to basics,"
according to Freddie Records VP Freddie Martinez Jr.  "Mas De
Tu Amor" includes four cumbias, four rancheras, one ballad,
and one charanga.

"'La Charanga' opened doors for us in Mexico, so we started
doing well there, but we kind of slacked off on the Tejano
side," Hugo revealed.  "So in this new album we're trying to
do more Tejano.  We're capable of a lot more than just charanga."

Though it won't happen on the next Fandango release, Balde would
like for Hugo to sing some tunes with a mariachi band.

"Not that I want to get him out of Fandango and put him in a
mariachi band!" Balde said.  "Hugo's a blond guy.  He doesn't
look Mexican or Mexican-American; he looks white.  If we put
him in a mariachi suit, he'd look weirder."

Fandango's producer is Freddie Records President Freddie
Martinez Sr.  It's a relationship that wouldn't work for every
label executive or artist.  But Balde respects Freddie's
musical background and his ability to sense a hit.

"We've been in this business long enough to know that we
don't want to impress musicians; we want to sell records,"
he said.  "Freddie's always listening to original material and
sometimes he'll hear a tune that fits our style.  He spends
endless hours in the studio with us."

Balde and Freddie have known each other since the late sixties,
when Balde was recording duets with Laura Canales and performing
with Los Unicos, one of the first conjuntos to use keyboards.

Hugo has also worked on projects outside of Fandango; at one
point, he tried a solo career, recording three albums on his

"I found out that it's very hard for one guy to do everything,"
he said.  "Maybe back in the sixties it was easy for one guy
to take care of the business side of it but the Tejano
industry has grown a lot and it takes a team now."