Burque’s Spanish-Language Music Scene: From Norteño And Corridos To Polka And Beyond

From Norteño And Corridos To Polka And Beyond

Franchesca Stevens
7 min read
BurqueÕs Spanish-Language Music Scene
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Ay yai yai! Albuquerque’s Spanish music scene is alive and well, despite our still-lagging economy. However, it’s a competitive market with ups and downs. Several local nightclubs work hard to position themselves to capture a bigger piece of the pie … or enchilada, as it were.

Just before 10pm, the only couple on the dance floor at
Club Cananas (12935 Central NE) is a young woman wearing white short-shorts and 3-to-4-inch glittery heels and her neatly dressed Mexican boyfriend, in pointy boots and a cowboy hat. But by 10:30pm, the crowd has swelled.

Club Cananas is one of Albuquerque’s premier Mexican nightclubs. It sits near the Tramway exit off I-40, making it an easy destination for anyone who loves musìca norteña, a genre of Mexican music that usually includes accordion, guitars, bass guitars, drums and at least one keyboard. It’s popular in both Mexico and the US, especially with the Mexican and Mexican-American community. Although it originated in rural areas, norteño is hot in cities like Albuquerque, too.

Norteño has an upbeat sound that combines Mexican, Spanish and—can you believe it?—even German styles like polkas and waltzes. It may seem strange but during the late 1800s, a lot of Polish immigrants settled in Mexico.

Club Cananas’ dance floor is surrounded by a long, well-lit bar, with tables and chairs to the north and south, a live band to the east (usually house band Estampida Norteña), and the club’s entrance and lobby to the west. By now guests are standing three-deep there, chatting among themselves and sucking down Bud Light, Corona, Dos Equis and Tecate.

The ceiling is accented with several disco balls that cast pinpoints of colored light, and the club’s walls are adorned with neon signs and framed historical photos of various Mexican revolutionaries in ancient
cananas; “cananas” is Spanish for the gun belts that fighters used to wear criss-crossed over their chests.

Friday is Club Cananas’ biggest night, and general manager Carlos Lopez is usually here as early at 7pm to make sure everything and everyone—including bartenders, cocktail waitresses, bands and security staff—are in place. Yes, bands. Club Cananas frequently imports bands from Mexico, such as Sonora Madrigal which plays here on this night.

Lopez, originally from Ciudad Juárez, has lived in Albuquerque since 1971 and, like club owner Ted Garcia, has seen the local Spanish music scene wax and wane. Lopez admits business has slowed due to the sluggish economy. But he adds that “Mexican music is here to stay, and the clients are always going to follow it … A lot of places think it’s very easy to deal with Mexican clientele but have no idea what they’re getting into … Music is very important to [Mexicans], and you have to know what’s in right now and what’s not.”

And entrepreneurs must to be willing to deal with heavy competition.

Club owner Garcia acknowledges the fact that he’s not the only game in town, and that he has to compete with other clubs which, like his, want a bigger piece of the “Mexican” market.

“Albuquerque is bringing in a lot of fine music groups from different parts of Mexico … [and] this is part of the entertainment scene,” Garcia said. “You go out with your husband or your boyfriend or girlfriend or whatever and have a nice time. It’s clean. Nothing bad. It’s all good.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of town near the intersection of 12th Street and Candelaria,
Leo’s Nightclub (1112 Candelaria NE) also serves up norteño on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Leo’s has been in business for about 15 years, and it features a dance floor, a well-stocked bar with its ceiling papered in $1 bills, touring Mexican bands, a house band named Lider, and, like Club Cananas, a DJ spinning during breaks. The club also has three TVs mounted above and airing sports, lots of neon signs and friendly clientele. On this night one patron is offering everyone free samples from his bag of beef jerky, and a fully masked DJ announces, “We’re going to party all night.”

“It’s very competitive. There are lots of groups and lots of bars,” says club owner Leo Nuñez , referring to the local Spanish music scene. “If you don’t have live music, [Mexicans] won’t come here.”

Nuñez says running a nightclub in Albuquerque is sometimes like “a roller coaster” and that it can go up or down, depending on the economy. His patrons, however, seem oblivious to the business end of the game. They fill the club most weekends, dancing to Mexican corridos (ballads) from Chihuahua and Durango.

Sunset Grill & Bar (6825 Lomas NE) near Lomas and Louisiana, club manager Rosalie Herrera says her biggest norteño night is Saturday. Sunset’s house band, Los Bohemios, has been playing there since the place opened, about 15 years ago. The band’s there on Friday nights, and on Sunday, the club switches to New Mexican style music—music that originated in the northern part of our state. Herrera says the difference between norteño and New Mexican music is that although both play songs in Spanish, norteño tends to include more corridos, whereas New Mexican music is more upbeat with its numerous polkas.

Herrera says Mexicans are loyal norteño fans; even when she worked at another norteño club in Albuquerque years ago, she noticed that that at the end of the month—when many people were typically running low on money—“they would still come in.” “[Mexicans] work hard all week, and that is their way of unwinding. They’ll have a few drinks—maybe they might go to church on Sunday—but Saturday night is their night to party.” However, it’s not exactly the same as it used to be. Herrera says that owing to stricter DWI laws, more of her patrons now choose to drink water by the middle of the night, instead of alcohol. She said many of them are here on work visas and are fearful of being deported if they are ever arrested for drunk driving. She says her busiest times of year are between August and September, when the horse races and state fair take place at Expo New Mexico, just across the street.“We do get a lot of business from the horsemen, the jockeys, the trainers, the groomers, all the horse people over there are pretty regular,” Herrera adds.

Caravan East (7605 Central NE) patrons enjoy norteño and New Mexican music on Fridays and Saturdays. The club—traditionally known as a country-western music venue for decades—boasts three bars, a dance floor, pool tables and a smoking patio; and it recently increased its level of Spanish music to appeal to a larger audience. It is one of the largest such venues, comprising more than 10,000 square feet.

“The Caravan East is very fortunate to have such a long, good rapport with bands and entertainment and nightlife. We’ve just been very lucky,” says booking and day manager Kim McDonald. “We try to stay consistent, but yet we [also] try to change with the times …

“We have Spanish bands. And I’m allowing my country bands to play a little more of a variety of music than they are normally capable of playing. Before, we did not allow them to play anything other than country—unless it was after midnight, and they would would play a couple of rock songs.”

Some of Caravan East’s more regular New Mexican bands include Al Hurricane and Al Hurricane, Jr., Samuel D, Simpatico, Chimayo Boyzz, Cuarenta y Cinco, Preston Garza and El Gringo—each costing from hundreds to “a couple thousand” dollars a night to book.

McDonald said the Spanish music scene in Albuquerque is great. “I think it helps the economy. It keeps it local. I think people should get out more. We have a beautiful club. So many people do not even know what it is and it’s been here, I think, the longest.”
BurqueÕs Spanish-Language Music Scene

Eric Williams ericwphoto.com

BurqueÕs Spanish-Language Music Scene

Eric Williams ericwphoto.com

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