Mexico is known for producing great Spanish-language music, from rock to pop to rap, as well as for favoring more traditionally Mexican sounding artists such as mariachi accompanied crooners like Juan Gabriel. Either way, the music in this vibrant North American country is fantastic and well worth a listen; here’s our introduction to the various genres and facets of the Mexican music scene in just 10 key artists.
The music of recently deceased Juan Gabriel is a great place to start if you want to dip your toe into the Mexican music scene. The notably flamboyant singer was adored by fans around the world, and enjoyed chart-topping success throughout his lengthy career. His timeless classics, such as ‘Querida’, ‘Noa Noa’ and ‘Hasta Te Conocí’ are still widely played on the radio, and in homes and parties across Mexico to this day.
Headed by iconic frontman Rubén Albarrán, whose energy levels never seem to drop below 100%, is the long running Mexico City band Café Tacuba. One of Mexico’s most successful groups, they took their name from a popular Mexico City café in the historic centre. While they’re perhaps best known for their catchy hit ‘Eres’, along with quirkier songs such as ‘Chilanga Banda’, Café Tacuba have dabbled in numerous musical genres and are a must-listen if you want to understand the Mexican music scene.
Hailing from Monterrey is perhaps Mexico’s most famed hip-hop and rap group, Cartel de Santa. Having formed in 1998, they soon rose to prominence and their back catalogue of tracks includes such classics as ‘Todos Mueren Por Mí’, ‘Extasis’ and the very on-trend ‘Los Mensajes del Whatsapp’. Although they haven’t been free from controversy over the years – the lead singer accidentally killed his former band member in 2007 – they are an iconic Mexican group.
Mexican rock is arguably dominated by the musical stylings of notorious band Molotov. Their most popular songs, which you really ought to try and learn at least some of the lyrics to if you want to fit in at any Mexican social event, are the bilingual songs ‘Gimme The Power’ and ‘Frijolero’. However, they’re also infamous for their questionable and expletive ridden lyrics in the songs ‘Chinga Tu Madre’ and ‘Puto’.
US-born Julieta Venegas is regularly referred to as one of the Mexican music scene’s most understated yet consistently successful acts, and is currently wrapping up her Algo Sucede tour. Known for playing multiple instruments, from the accordion to the piano and guitar, her sound is best described as indie pop. With a career spanning almost 25 years, she has an impressive repertoire of songs to choose from; however, some of her most popular are ‘Me Voy’, ‘Limón y Sal’, and ‘Eres Para Mí’.
The granddads of the Mexican ska scene, Maldita Vecindad are absolutely essential listening for anyone who wants to check out the whole gamut of Mexican musical genres. Formally known as La Maldita Vecindad and Los Hijos del Quinto Patio, some of their most popular songs include ‘Pachuco’ (a subculture style whose fashion choices they’re also known for embracing), ‘Solín’, and ‘Kumbala’.
For a more upbeat, and stereotypically Latin sound, Los Ángeles Azules are a force to be reckoned with. Kind of like the Mexican Jackson 5, their line up is currently made up of the six Mejía Avante siblings, and they’re best known for cumbia rhythms and big band stylings. It’s practically impossible to leave Mexico without hearing their song ‘Cómo Te Voy a Olvidar’ at least once, and ‘El Listón de tu Pelo’ is another key favourite.
Natalia Lafourcade has music in her blood, as her father is the French-Chilean musician Gastón Lafourcade. However, despite this musical heritage, she’s successfully forged out her own path as one of Mexico’s best pop/ pop rock performers and is easily recognisable due to her distinct singing voice. Some of her best songs include the recently released ‘Hasta La Raíz’, ‘Lo Que Construimos’ and ‘El Amor Acaba’.
If you’re more interested in electronic music though, Mexico can also deliver; Nortec Collective is a musical ensemble that originally hails from Tijuana in Baja California. Although they announced in 2008 that they wouldn’t release more music as a collective, they’ll continue receiving airplay for a while to come due to one song in particular; ‘Tijuana Sound Machine’.
We round off our introduction with Luis Miguel, an iconic figure across not only Mexico, but Latin America as a whole. Sometimes known as El Sol de México, the musical genres he touches upon through his songs are broad and predominantly traditional; think mariachi and boleros, plus a healthy smattering of pop and ballads. If you’re not convinced about his popularity, his 2010 album went platinum within three days of being released. Definitely check out ‘La Incondicional’ and ‘La Media Vuelta’.