Los Tigres del Norte
With half a dozen Grammys and sales in the tens of millions, able to pack arenas all over the country, Los Tigres del Norte—The Tigers of the North— is the most famous band mainstream America never heard of.
Los Tigres - four brothers and a cousin from a ranching family in northern Mexico – crossed the border from Sinaloa, Mexico into California in 1968 and settled in San José. Today they are U.S. citizens, but they spent many years living as undocumented immigrants and much of their music is born of that experience.
While still in their teens, they began to play and record behind the accordion of the oldest brother, José Hernández, earning some local popularity. Their music is called Norteño, northern Mexican music similar to Tejano. But in 1971 their English expat producer, Art Walker, owner of a small label called Disco Fama, heard an old “corrido” (a Mexican ballad) about Camelia La Tejana (Camelia the Texan), a drug smuggler who shoots her lover after he betrays her and then disappears with the money. Los Tigres released the corrido “Contrabando y Traición” (“Smuggling and Betrayal”) in 1974. The song was a hit on both sides of the border and introduced a new genre, the “Narcocorrido” (ballads of the drug traffic). It launched one of the most remarkable careers in Spanish-language music and inspired countless chroniclers of the narco lifestyle.
Their most important hits include “Jefe de Jefes” (“Boss of Bosses”), “La Banda del Carro Rojo” (“The Red Car Gang”) and “Pacas de a Kilo” (“One-Kilo Packages”). Writer Elijah Wald describes the album Jefe de Jefes as a "panoramic portrait of modern Mexico culture, painting the lives of peasant farmers, successful immigrants, greedy politicians, and all the varied denizens of the drug world in lyrics full of unpretentious but powerful poetry."
In the past decade, Los Tigres began to recount far more than the stories of outlaws. As nearly 20 million new immigrants arrived in the United States beginning in the 1990s, Los Tigres began to champion their rights. Their songs “La Jaula de Oro” (“Golden Cage”), “Tres Veces Mojado” (“Three Times Wetback”) and “De Paisano a Paisano” (“From Countryman to Countryman”) speak of the plight and the rights of immigrants in the United States.
Los Tigres del Norte have sold over 30 million records. And as of 2015 they have garnered seven Grammys and six Latin Grammys and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They received the Special Recognition Award at the 26th annual GLAAD Media Awards in 2015, for their song “Era Diferente” (“She Was Different”) about a young lesbian in the Mexican countryside. The band is ranked at number 15 in the list for "The 30 Most Influential Latin Artists of All Time" by Billboard magazine.