Off-Ramp®

A weekly look at SoCal life covering news, arts and culture, and more. Hosted by John Rabe

Los Tigres del Norte frontman Jorge Hernandez on the band's almost 50-year career

by John Rabe with Kevin Ferguson | Off-Ramp®

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One of the most popular and ubiquitous bands in Mexico, you can find a Los Tigres del Norte CD almost anywhere - theses CDs were found in a Superior Market in Northeast Los Angeles John Rabe/KPCC

Los Tigres del Norte, one of Mexico's biggest and longest running bands, will perform at the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge on Thursday, Oct. 1. Formed in 1967, Los Tigres have released dozens of albums, sold millions of records and toured worldwide.

Off-Ramp host John Rabe talked with with Jorge Hernandez, the band's singer and accordionist, and his son, Jorge Jr about the band's history, their relationship with fans and the kind of songs they play: corridos.

On the corrido's history and significance in Mexico

Jorge Hernandez, Jr.: It's an early form of oral tradition. Initially, it was a way that the news or current events, or events from town to town were passed on. But now, what the band tries to do is create a movie in three-and-a-half minutes. It has a beginning, it has a climax and it has an end. And I think that's what allows them to connect with their fans and their community. Because they're taking real life events — you have the early immigrant that came and crossed the border in the '70s and '80s, with songs like "Vivan los Mojados."

Vivan Los Mojados

As you transition, you have songs like "La Jaula de Oro," which talks about a father who feels like he's encaged. The song's called "The Golden Cage" [in English]. He feels like he can't do anything, even though he came here to look for an opportunity — and that standoff between him and his son in that particular song. He asks his son: Do you want to [go back to] Mexico? And his son responds [in English] "I don't want to go back to Mexico. No way, Dad."

La Jaula de Oro

On playing concerts on both sides of the border

Jorge Hernandez, Sr.: Yes. There's a lot of difference — even if we play for a lot of Mexican people here in the United States. Over there in Mexico they have more liberty to yell, to have fun. Here it's a little more restricted. The feeling is different. When you come out, the people are more quiet than Mexico. They have fun, but in a different way.

I think it's the way this country is — we have the discipline, I guess.

On Los Tigres' long history of performing all-request shows

Jorge Hernandez, Sr.: We play two or three songs at the beginning, and then after, we introduce ourselves. And then we start the requests — they send little papers, they put some signs — they put the name of the song they want. We just play what the people request. Not what I want.

On the iconic, unique suits Los Tigres del Norte perform in, designed by Manuel Couture in Nashville

Jorge Hernandez, Sr.: We have a lot of suits from him, that he made for us. Manuel has been with us for a long, long time. It's like a country-western suit. 

I'm just gonna put it this way: When you go to the war, you take your rifle. If you're gonna fight and you don't take your rifle, you'll feel empty. When you're on the stage, and you got a nice outfit, and you know the people are going to look at you — it makes you feel very secure in what you're doing.

If it looks good, it doesn't matter how much it costs.

On the popularity of Los Tigres del Norte

Jorge Hernandez, Jr.: I think it comes back their connection with their people. I think them being first generation immigrants, and going through those life experiences of coming here, being here undocumented, establishing their lives... that created that foundation. Not only for them, but everybody who came along with them and listened to their music.

For us, going out to a family dinner, it's very common for us to have people come up to the table and want to say hi to my dad, to my uncles, and just say "thank you for being our voice." 

They're almost at five decades. So they've truly had the career of the Rolling Stones. Their tour and work ethic is unparalleled. They tour 10 months a year, and it's been that way ever since I could remember. I think other families have seen Los Tigres as our voice. And that transcends generations.

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