For San Jose-based Los Tigres Del Norte, playing music is a way to bring their past and future together, to tell tales of triumph and tragedy and to celebrate their rich musical and cultural heritage. And they’re very good at it. The internationally-celebrated super-group has sold over 32 million albums, won numerous prestigious awards—including five Latin GRAMMYs and recognition as Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) Icons—and received worldwide recognition as pioneers of modern norteño music; a style of Northern Mexico border music driven by the sound of the accordion and bajo sexto (a 12-string guitar), and filled with tales of love gone wrong, narcotics running, and the hardships of immigration.
Unlike norteño “oldie” music that stayed within the confines of traditional instruments and sounds, the new wave of norteño musicians—that includes Los Tigres alongside such popular artists as Flaco Jimenez and Ramon Ayala—has incorporated modern instruments such as keyboards and electric bass, and brings an awareness of today’s tumultuous cultural and political climate to their songs. The relatable qualities of Los Tigres’ stories and their reputation for sincerity have earned the band the nickname Los Idolos Del Pueble (the Idols of the Town), and led to them being widely regarded as “the leading musical storytellers for multiple generations of Latin immigrants.”
Formed by the Hernandez brothers in the late 1960s after their family moved to San Jose from Sinaloa, Mexico, the group is led by vocalist and accordion player Jorge Hernandez and filled out with Hernandez’s brothers: Hernan on electric bass and vocals; Eduardo on accordion, saxophone, bajo sexto and vocals; Luis on bajo sexto and vocals and his cousin Oscar Lara on drums.
For the last 40-plus years, Los Tigres Del Norte have been playing their unique blend of traditional and modern Latin music, and the local-gone-worldwide mega-stars are favorites on both sides of the border, bringing social injustice and inequality to light with their tales of heroes, villains and everyday folk.
Los Tigres Del Norte play a benefit concert to kick off the 20th anniversary of the San Jose Mexican Heritage and Mariachi Festival on Feb. 24 at the San Jose Repertory Theatre.