On a recent Saturday night, the Staples Center in L.A. brims with cowboy hats and botas vaqueras. Mexican-American legend Pepe Aguilar’s Jaripeo Sin Fronteras – a spectacle that mixes a concert with traditional Mexican bull riding – is in town. Among the line-up is his daughter, 15-year-old Ángela Aguilar, who has recently captivated the Latin music industry with her passionate interpretations of the storied mariachi genre – while trying her best to adhere to the normal activities of a teen life. “I am an artist, and I travel all around the world singing my music in front of thousands and thousands of people, but I’m also in a classroom with 15 kids studying Algebra 2. It’s like having two careers,” she tells Remezcla ahead of the show.
Last month, the family celebrated the centennial of her late grandfather Antonio Aguilar’s birth, who alongside his wife Flor Silvestre, became a power couple in Mexico’s entertainment industry in the ’60s. “My family has always been around music,” says Ángela. “My father is a singer. My grandparents are singers. I started singing ever since I was born. Even before I was born, I was listening to their music.”
Aguilar put her family’s name back on the map last year when she was nominated for Latin Grammys for Best New Artist and Best Ranchero/Mariachi album for Primero Soy Mexicana – an album with covers of ranchera classics popularized by women in the genre like Lucha Villa, Rocío Dúrcal, Lola Beltrán, and Silvestre. In February, she was nominated for Best Regional Mexican Music album at the Grammy Awards. Even though Aguilar didn’t win any awards, she says, “I sang at both awards shows. I’m proud to be singing the songs I do.”
“In this industry it wasn’t very known for women be singing in this genre, so I’m kind of like thanking the women that helped me along the way.”
“I feel super, super honored to be following in the footsteps of my grandma and everyone else,” Aguilar says. “In this industry it wasn’t very known for women be singing in this genre, so I’m kind of like thanking the women that helped me along the way.” As her album’s title suggests, the L.A.-born singer most identifies with her family’s roots south of the border. “I believe that before being American, before being anything else, I’m Mexican. It’s what runs through my veins. I’m proudly Mexican.”
With the family name preceding her, Aguilar says, “Something we say in Spanish is ‘El apellido no canta.'” That literally translates to the last name doesn’t sing, but she adds, “I am an Aguilar, but before everything else I’m Ángela. I’m putting my name out there as my own singer. If I wasn’t singing well and people didn’t like my music and my vision towards the music I’m making then they wouldn’t buy it. They wouldn’t buy anything that I’m doing. They do open a lot of doors for me being an Aguilar, but I have to prove myself to everybody. I have to be the best person that I can be.”
In deciding to be the newest Aguilar to sing, she saw her family’s legacy in music as more of an example than a launch pad. “I would see how cool it would be for them to be singing onstage and having fans and writing music,” she says. “I feel like I started singing because of that. Because I saw how happy they could make other people and also being happy themselves.” Interestingly, Aguilar parallels those feelings to a fairy tale. “It’s kind of like when you see a princess in a movie and you want to become a princess.”
Back at the Jaripeo in Staples Center, in between a masculine display of Aguilar’s brother, Leonardo, her uncle, Antonio Aguilar, Hijo, and her father Pepe impressively riding horses while singing their biggest hits, is Ángela’s set. The announcer calls her “la princesa de la música Mexicana” with a “voice that can transport you to Mexico.” Like a Mexican Disney princess, she rides into the dirt-covered arena in a horse-drawn carriage, bringing an air of femininity to the show. In a red and green gown, the colors of the Mexican flag, embroidered with roses, the young woman with the grown-up voice belts out a song that Silvestre once sang, “La Basurita.” Aguilar steps into the center of the ring and then launches into the timeless “La Llorona,” sounding like a woman beyond her years. There’s a stillness in the room when she is holding breathtaking notes with ease. Aguilar also salutes another huge Mexican-American superstar, Selena, with a ranchera cover of “Como La Flor.”
As one of the fresh faces in ranchera and mariachi music, Aguilar is opening young eyes and ears to the sounds of their grandparents and parents. “It’s cool to see that somebody in this new generation is reminding people of where we came from,” she says. Aguilar honors the traditions of the singers that came before her through the lens of the 21st century. “Social media is part of the new day – the new era. It’s really helped my career. It’s just helped me in a way to be very together with my fans,” she adds, talking about her 1.3 million followers on Instagram.
As for what the future holds for Aguilar, she is already hard at work on her follow-up to Primero Soy Mexicana. “I’ve recorded a bunch of albums but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I feel like right now I do and it’s been going great. I’m gonna have some songs that you guys haven’t heard before and some songs that I have written on my new album.”