The musical heritage of Mexico is impressive. This is the country that brought the world mariachi and banda (for better or worse), as well as an alarming number of narcocorridos about cartels and drug runners. However, there are plenty of impressive acts that go beyond the regional (and many that don’t!), so here are the best 15 artists you need to know from the 15 largest Mexican states.
Chihuahua – Los Vikingos del Norte
As the biggest state in Mexico, you’d think there’d be plenty of artists to choose from when it came to Chihuahua, but, alas, no. However, it’s seemingly about the quantity not quality for the state that raised Juan Gabriel and the love ’em or hate ’em group Los Vikingos del Norte. Known for creating upbeat, Mexican-ised covers of popular chart songs (such as Peter, Bjorn and John’s ‘Young Folks’), we’ve selected Los Vikingos del Norte as the band you need to know from Chihuahua. Why? Because Juan Gabriel is already super famous.
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Sonora – Valentín Elizalde
The narcocorrido star that was brutally murdered – allegedly at the hands of cartel members – in 2006, Valentín Elizalde is our pick for the north-western state of Sonora. One of the controversial genre’s most famous artists, Elizalde is well remembered for ‘A Mis Enemigos’, a track released shortly before his death that was actually rumored to have been the reason for his murder.
Coahuila – Mario Domm
Coahuila, Mexico’s third biggest state, is also the birthplace of Mario Domm – one of the founding members of Mexican pop rock band Camila. A successful artist, he has collaborated with numerous popular artists in his capacity as both performer and producer and won several Latin Grammys. An honorable Coahuila mention goes to Susana Zabaleta from Monclova, a former telenovela actress and soprano singer.
Durango – Cosmé McMoon
While the name might not sound all that Mexican, Cosmé McMoon (formerly McMunn) was born in Durango at the turn of the century before moving to the Texas as a child, and later to New York. He was best known as the concert pianist accompanist for famed (but entirely tone-deaf) soprano Florence Foster Jenkins. However, upon her passing, his interests switched from piano to bodybuilding and chess.
Oaxaca – Lila Downs
Oaxaca has a history of indigenous culture and political resistance, so it’s no surprise Mexico’s fifth biggest state produced feminist hip hop artist Mare Advertencia Lírika. However, our pick for Oaxaca is Lila Downs, a Mexican-American, Oaxacan-born singer-songwriter who is known for tapping into traditional Mexican music and bringing indigenous influence to her performances. Notably, she has sung in several languages, such as Zapotec, Mayan, Nahuatl, Purépecha and Mixtec.
Tamaulipas – Dulce
Dulce is the stage name of Matamoros-born singer and actress Bertha Elisa Noeggerath Cárdenas, who was actually raised in the nearby state of Nuevo León. After starting a band in her youth, she found support from famed Mexican singer José José and made her way to Mexico City to begin her solo career. Some of her biggest hits are the songs ‘Tu muñeca’, ‘Lobo’ and ‘Déjame volver contigo’.
Jalisco – Porter
Choosing just one artist from the state of Jalisco was tricky considering it has produced some of the best bands and musicians in Mexico, from reggae favorites Golden Ganga to rock legends Maná and Carlos Santana, as well as piano prodigies such as Daniela Liebman. However, we chose Porter, the indie rock band whose music is often dreamlike, trippy and difficult to pin down. Porter’s biggest hits to date are probably ‘Espiral’, ‘Host of a Ghost’ and ‘Palapa’.
Zacatecas – Pepe Aguilar
Born into great musical stock as the son of ranchera singer Antonio Aguilar and Golden Age film actress Flor Silvestre, Pepe Aguilar dabbled in rock music in his youth before sticking to what he was good at and going on to define and dominate the regional genre that both his parents were known for, ranchera. His presence on the Latin scene has won him almost ten Grammys and he continues to perform to this day.
Baja California Sur – KL Reggae
Baja California Sur, culturally and geographically separate from much of Mexico, is well known for producing one of the country’s best reggae bands, KL Reggae. Having founded back in 2003, this peace and justice promoting group continue to enjoy success, having shared the stage with groups like The Original Wailers, Molotov and Panteón Rococó. ‘Vamos Caminando’ makes for a great introduction to their work.
Chiapas – Julión Álvarez
Julión Álvarez is one of Mexico’s most popular banda performers, known for his Julión Álvarez y Su Norteño Banda songs. ‘Y Así Fue’ won him a Latin American Music Award, while ‘El Amor de su Vida’ earned him a Latin Grammy nomination for Best Regional Mexican Song. He’s known for being a La Voz…México judge too. A Chiapas shout-out goes to Reyli, former member of rock/pop band Elefante.
Veracruz – Paquita La del Barrio
The distinctive voice and style of Mexican ranchera singer Paquita La del Barrio (real name Francisca Viveros Barradas) is truly unforgettable. While born in Veracruz, just like the super successful singer Natalia Lafourcade, Paquita La del Barrio got her big break in Mexico City in the ’70s with songs that hit back at Mexico’s often machismo-driven culture. For a truly representative Paquita La del Barrio song, you have to listen to ‘Rata de dos patas’.
Baja California – Julieta Venegas
While the southern end of the Baja Peninsula produced great reggae, the northern chunk of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula produced huge names in indie/pop music, such as Tecate-born Carla Morrison and the inimitable Nortec Collective and their frequent collaborator Bostich. However, the artist you must listen to from Baja California is definitely the consistently fantastic and underrated Julieta Venegas, who primarily deals in Latin alternative/pop.
Nuevo León – El Gran Silencio
If choosing an artist from Jalisco was hard, choosing one from Nuevo León was even tougher. Honorable mentions go to Panteón Rococó, Control Machete, Kinky, Cartel de Santa and Mexico’s only openly lesbian rapper Niña Dioz, but we’ve chosen El Gran Silencio as the band you need to know from this northern state. Primarily categorized as Spanish rock, El Gran Silencio’s genre is practically indescribable, blending together reggae, hip-hop and cumbia sounds among other things. ‘Chúntaro Style’ is a modern-day classic.
Guerrero – Joan Sebastian
Joan Sebastian was the stage name of Guerrero native José Manuel Figueroa Figueroa, a prolific songwriter and singer who passed away in 2015. While you may not have heard of him, he’s actually the most successful Mexican in Grammy history, having won seven Latin Grammys and five Grammys. He composed songs for huge names such as Vicente Fernández and Pepe Aguilar too, predominantly dealing in ranchera, grupera and Latin pop music.
San Luis Potosí – Ana Bárbara
Finally, Mexico’s fifteenth biggest state, San Luis Potosí, is home to singer Ana Bárbara (born Altagracia Ugalde Mota). As with the aforementioned Paquita La del Barrio and Joan Sebastian, she’s prominent in the regional Mexican music scene and is known for her impressive vocal range and beauty. What’s more, she’s one of very few regional Mexican performers to gain recognition outside Mexico and the US.
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