Music

8 Women-Led Acts Stepping Up in Regional Music

Lead Photo: Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla
Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla

Pardon the gender essentialism, but the long history of Mexican regional music—a ludicrously vague catch-all term that encompasses genres from norteño to mariachi—would not be the same without its woman stars. Corrido songwriter Graciela Olmos composed “Siete Leguas” for Pancho Villa after the famed general’s death in 1923. In the more modern era, Lola Beltrán and Chavela Vargas are two imminently recognizable voices, while Selena’s appeal has barely faded since her tragic death by a fan club president. The ‘90s saw the rise of Priscila y Sus Balas de Plata, Grupo Límite with its lead singer Alicia Villarreal, Graciela “La Reyna del Pueblo” Beltrán and longtime ranchera star Aida Cuevas. Then of course, there was Jenni Rivera, Long Beach’s banda queen whose impending superstardom was all but certain before her untimely death in 2012.

Since then, it’s hard to say that there has been a woman megastar in regional—even if acts like Ana Bárbara and Paquita la del Barrio have garnered avid followings. Many say the right alchemy of stage presence, technical mastery and professionalism has yet to be achieved since Jenni, but other factors may play into the curtailing of women’s careers. One must consider how the smoky, maleante aesthetic that has powered the mainstream rise of corridos tumbados singers is considered by many to be off limits to women regional artists.

“This is the biggest challenge I’ve seen you take on in your life,” regional media personality Pepe Rivera told Angel Del Villar when the Del Records head came to Rivera’s office with his signee (and fiancée) ranchera singer Cheli Madrid in 2019. Madrid talked about how women singing about marijuana “doesn’t fit.”

That perceived incongruence amounts to a severe handicap in today’s regional industry, where superstars like Natanael Cano and Legado 7 sell out venues across the United States with their smoke-filled corridos tumbados.

But such parameters may be due for a shift.

“I want to change that way of thinking,” 16 year old Sonora-born singer and guitarist Ivonne Galaz tells Remezcla of the limitations many in the industry now seem to accept as a given. “I’m going to have to work hard on that.” Galaz grew up in Ciudad Obregón a rockera, but inspired by a new generation of corridos tumbados rebels like Legado 7, Omar Ruíz, Fuerza Regia and Aldo Trujillo, Galaz found corridos best suited for what she calls her “thick, deep voice,” and started singing while accompanying herself on the guitar for Instagram audiences. After moving to Los Angeles, Galaz’s brother in law, corridos singer Andrew Bautista, introduced her to the founder of seminal SoCal label Rancho Humilde, home to many of the artists who influenced her work in the genre. “Jimmy said, ‘Bring her by. I’m looking for a girl who plays corridos,’” remembers Galaz, who became the label’s first woman signee.

Perhaps the first step to supporting women in regional is honoring the ones we have. Showing love to the artists on this list would make a good start. You can also check out online communities like Mujeres Del Regional, which incidentally made a very shareable all-star cautionary COVID-19 video that doubles as a 101 on rising regional talent.

1

Horoscopos de Durango

Vicky and Marisol Terrazas grew up on the road with their father and his Chicago-born duranguense group. Marisol was on the keyboard by the time she was nine, and the pair eventually became the Horoscopos’ frontwomen. Their born-together duets on the Desatados album (including a sweet cover of “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”) won a Latin Grammy in 2007, and after a few breaks from the business, they’ve amassed both a catalogue of regional classics and a reputation for rowdiness at live events befitting a pair of legends.

2

Grupo Emperatriz

Following in the steps of Grupo Control’s Jennifer Degollado as a woman regional accordionist, Grupo Emperatriz leader Dulce Contreras has also taken inspiration from Julieta Venegas, performing Venegas’ “Andar Conmigo” at the Playas de Tijuana border wall in her career’s early days. 2019’s “Si Me Tenías” gives an idea of Grupo Emperatriz’s more recent preference for dazzling catsuits and Dulce’s oftentimes rueful vocals.

3

Chiquis

As Jenni’s daughter, Chiquis Rivera was born into the complexities of banda life, but she’s flexed serious media entrepreneurship of her own. Though she’ll retool songs Mom made classic like “Paloma Blanca,” this year Chiquis also surprised fans with the pop-facing “Ticket De Salida” alongside Amandititita. Rivera sang and produced historic trio “Destrampadas,” a track that also featured regional comadres Ely Quintero and Helen Ochoa.

4

Ivonne Galaz

The promising first woman signed by SoCal corridos verdes leader Rancho Humilde scored a featured appearance on “Golpes de la Vida” with labelmate Natanael Cano on his 2019 smash album Corridos Tumbados. There’s rumors Galaz will show up on a track with fellow RH signee Miss Natalie López, and she has a crew of talented musicians in her band, including the fire East LA requinto player and vocalist Lluvia Arámbula.

5

Helen Ochoa

Not every norteña and ranchera ballad singer has a 2013 Beyoncé cover in their repertoire, but not every singer is Helen Ochoa. You could say the “Si Yo Fuera Chico” singer from Fresno County town Mendota does bring a certain Bey kind of imperviousness into her otherwise traditional discography, a career into which she accelerated after a star turn on Puerto Rico’s Objetivo Fama TV competition.

6

Gaby Romero

In multi big cat print button-down shirts and a tejana, this relatively emergent singer from La Paz, Baja California accompanies her own incredibly clear voice on the requinto. The instrument seems the perfect tool for throwing a full-throated twist on a cover of El Coyote y Su Banda Tierra Santa’s “El Coyote,” a corrido for those who walk alone—or even “El Chico del Apartment 512.”

7

Ely Quintero

This Sinaloan singer tells stories from one of her home state’s biggest industries. Catch the vibe on “Barbies de la H9” or “Cheyenne Sin Placas,” two of Ely’s stories from the world of mafia women. In addition to collaborations with Chiquis and CDMX reggaetónera Rosa Pistola, Quintero is uploading her past catalogue to streaming services this year so that new fans can enjoy her nine albums of Culiacán corridos.

8

Perla Quintanilla

“A mí me dicen la doña por que los tengo bien puestos,” sings Tamaulipas’ “leona del corrido,” the niece of renowned singer Beto Quintanilla. In her performances she echoes her uncle’s swinging charro shoulders, and in the studio Perla makes corridos for alpha women—a fact otherwise evidenced by the title of her 2018 album Alfa Mujer. Quintanilla told Remezcla that she has a pair of songs slated to drop at the end of the month, a corrido and a sierreno track.