The Caliente Column

Los Tigres Del Norte: El Ejemplo
By Doug Shannon (

Los Tigres Del Norte, whose fans filled the 960-capacity Rainbow Center
ballroom in Kansas City by 9 p.m., two hours before they took the stage,
are more than a living legend. More than 20 years after their first big hit,
"Contrabanda y Traicion," they're still setting the musical trends, not
following them.

Before Los Tigres rose to the top of their field in the early '70s, norten~a
music's popularity was primarily limited to Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas and Texas,
according to columnist Sam Quin~ones. But Los Tigres hit it big while living
in San Jose, Calif., where the group has been based since 1968.

"Contrabando" has become a standard. MAZZ covered the song in the early '90s.
The song was the first norten~a hit to mention the drug smuggling and violence
around the border, said Jorge Hernandez, the group's director and accordionist.

Los Tigres was also one of the first norten~o groups to have a sax player and
to play cumbias.

Although the popularity of corridos (norten~a songs set to either a ranchera
or waltz beat that tell a story in a narrative style) dealing with smuggling
exploded after the "Contrabando" was a hit, the controversial subject matter
produced a backlash among radio stations, with some program directors
expressing concern that the songs glorified the characters associated with the
drug trade. KCOR in San Antonio refused in 1995 to play "La Fama De La Pareja"
for just that reason, according to former DJ Antonyo Andrade.

Los Tigres stayed one step ahead of the competition in the 1980s with hits
such as "La Jaula De Oro" and "Tres Veces Mojado," songs about immigration.

Hernandez said the group stays in touch with the concerns of its fans because
its members are willing to talk with them. Between sets and after its second
set at the Rainbow Center, all of the group's members made themselves available
for pictures, autographs and conversation.

"People like to welcome us and talk with us and that helps us stay in touch
with their concerns because they tell us whatever is on their mind," he said.

"We believe in God," he said. "I'm not anyone to judge what someone else is
doing. I believe everyone deserves respect for what they do, whatever their
station in life or their job might be."

In the 1990s, the group modified its style again in response to the tastes
of a second generation of fans, which expects to hear some boleros and ballads
in the mix. Romantic songs like "Agua Salada," "Golpes En El Corazon," and
"Se Nos Estorbo La Ropa" have broadened the group's appeal.

The group plays for the children of its original fans, Hernandez said. And
to have been at it for almost 30 years, Hernandez still looks young and

"A lot of people don't like the job they do," he said. "We do, and we've
remained active and happy to be doing what we're doing, and that's helped us
stay healthy."

Hernandez's faith in God helped him through the deaths of his father and his
brother. And his respect for others saw him through a robbery at a western
store in California, in which he faced two masked robbers who demanded money
and told them to leave him alone, because he didn't have any. They did.

"One shouldn't be afraid of anything in life," he said. "Living with confidence
helps you achieve an inner peace that leads to a better life."

Another type of robbery also affects Los Tigres, though it's not violent.
It's the piracy of their CDs and cassettes. FonoVisa, the group's record label,
won a court decision in 1996 allowing it to sue vendors of pirated material,
according to Billboard magazine.

Hernandez said the group receives no royalties from sales of pirated cassettes
and supports FonoVisa's action.

Hernandez, who plays no less than five different accordions during a typical
dance, says each one has a different sound.

"We're negotiating with Hohner, an accordion company, to come up with a new
style of accordion," he said. "We also would like to develop a new design
for bajosexto."

Los Tigres Del Norte's latest release is "Unidos Para Siempre," which finished
1996 as the year's number-one selling norten~a album, according to Billboard.