Why did you decide to participate in the film "Al Otro Lado"? What message do you hope Mexicans, Mexican Americans and non-Mexican Americans get out of the film?
We participated because we found that this documentary offered an opportunity to yet again express the truth — the truth of Los Tigres del Norte. I had the good fortune of meeting Ms. Almada, who approached us and shared her vision for the documentary with us, and we found it to be a good vehicle to express the truth of all our fellow Mexican citizens who wish to come to this country.
As for the message, I would like all immigrants to be aware of the huge risks that are present when one leaves their homeland, and to affirm that the danger is not a myth, it is real.
Over your very successful 30-plus year career, you have sung about immigration, love, hard work and the rhythms of daily life for Mexican Americans living in the U.S. You have been called the "Mexican equivalent of the Rolling Stones and Willie Nelson combined," "spokesmen for a community that remains largely voiceless in Mexico and the U.S." and you yourself have called the group "musical spokesmen for the truth." The recent immigration marches that happened across the country must have been very meaningful for you. What are your hopes for immigrants in this country?
I feel very proud about the reaction of our people during the marches, for they finally took action and decided to express their needs through a legal and massive movement. This is a part of our learning curve; by being present in these demonstrations, we are a part of the political process. My hopes for immigrants in this country are recognition, peace and legal transparency.
Have you ever thought about expressing those hopes in a song aimed not at a Mexican or Mexican-American audience, but at a non-Spanish speaking audience?
Absolutely. Globalization is a fact, especially in Europe. And of course, we would like to sing about the reality and the problems present in the now diversified Europe.
You are credited with the first hit about drug smuggling in the U.S. with the release of "Contrabando y Traicion" in 1972. The song is a narcocorrido — a corrido about drugs, smugglers and violence. Some consider narcocorrido the Mexican equivalent of gangsta rap. Can you explain a bit about narcocorrido culture and your band's philosophy on it? What are your personal favorite narcocorrido songs? Why do you like them?
The corrido, the ones we interpret, are musical currents that become part of our culture; simply put, it is a nonfiction history put to music — one which I do not think can be compared to narcocorridos.
The corrido belongs to us, the Mexicans, and it goes back years and years in our culture. The narcocorrido is a new form of expression which, oftentimes, is a story not based in truth; it is one in which drug dealers are worshipped.
Los Tigres del Norte sing histories with much success. These histories are not offensive, and we do not worship drug traffickers. We do not sing narcocorridos, or perhaps a better way would be to say that we only sing corridos. The narcocorrido has been, shall we say, a sub-title or sub-genre, of the overall history of the corrido.
As for my favorite songs, I have many of them. But I think one song that those in this country can identify with rather quickly is titled "Las Dos Patrias." It is a history that talks about people who have two citizenships that live in this country, and who are trying to progress. It is an overarching theme of our history, and we give voice to that history in the song.
We also have other songs that tell our history. For example, there is a corrido, a narrated history, that listeners and our fans like very much called "Somos Mas Americanos" (We are More American). We think that the people always ask for this song, especially at live performances, because it make a connection with them in a meaningful way.
What do you have to say about Chalino Sánchez and Paulino Vargas?
Paulino Vargas is a composer with a rich and long career. The first song I recorded with Paulino was in 1974; the song was called "La Banda del Carro Rojo," and it truly connects with the people. They still ask for the song because it marks the history of the corrido (which is now called narcocorrido) because it speaks to the history of the drug trafficker.
To this day, he is a composer of profound, deep feelings, one who describes people truthfully and without embellishments, just how they really are in real life and with the right choice of words that can be made into music.
He is an author of diverse topics and is very different from other composers. He has the essence and the knowledge of these histories, and somehow, I feel that he lives these histories with his audience.
In my opinion, he is the best composer of these types of histories. If we are talking about corridos, we have to point to Vargas, and whenever we need a history, we should speak with him.
As for Chalino, I did not have the opportunity to know him. He was a person with grand style who, through his songs, effectively reached his audience. He left an indelible mark on the music industry. Even though we only had him for very little time, he made a huge impact. Above all, especially those of us in this field, we will always remember Chalino Sánchez and know why he was important.
This interview will be available in English. Any message to the Anglos that saw "Al Otro Lado," who aren't familiar with your music and may feel intrigued to find out what you're all about? How would you sum yourselves up for them? What album should they start with in getting to know you? Do you have any songs that you think would be particularly important for Anglos to hear?
I invite them to learn more about us. This way they can understand our motives, will hopefully see that Latinos are rich in culture and values and that we have a lot to offer.
We — Los Tigres del Norte — are a group that came together at the end of 1972/73. We have had a firm commitment to create songs and music that convey the social problems that exist in America. But not only that, the purpose of our music is also to bring joy. And why not? We cry with those who suffer with broken hearts.
We have many, may songs but there are several that I can recommend: "America," "La Jaula de Oro," "de Paisano a Paisano" — the song I previously mentioned, "Las Dos Patrias," "Ni Aqui Ni Alla," and another song called "Somos mas Americans" which gets requested a lot in Europe.
In closing, I think that the most important message is the message of peace and tranquility. Los Tigres del Norte cares about our society, our Latin American brothers and sisters and we hope for unity. We speak about our hopes in some of our greatest hits. We hope that each and every citizen will reach their purposeful goals — these are very important — so that all our families can live better and have a better life, so that we can work hard to provide our daily bread to those we love every day.