Nortec Collective Crosses Musical, Real Borders

Fussible and Bostich stand at the Mexico-U.S. border; credit: CoreyTakahashi / NPR i i

Fussible and Bostich stand at the Mexico-U.S. border. CoreyTakahashi / NPR hide caption

itoggle caption CoreyTakahashi / NPR
Fussible and Bostich stand at the Mexico-U.S. border; credit: CoreyTakahashi / NPR

Fussible and Bostich stand at the Mexico-U.S. border.

CoreyTakahashi / NPR

The Nortec Collective, a group of musicians in Tijuana, blend the traditional Norteno style with club beats. They have thrived in the mix-it-up culture of Tijuana for a decade, in part, because so many people traveled across the border to collaborate with and listen to them. But recent border crackdowns have changed the musical culture and the style of the Nortec Collective as well.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The music scene of Tijuana once teemed with nightclubs and thousands of American revelers. But that has changed as border security increased to deal with illegal immigration and drug gangs. And so the character of Tijuana's music scene has evolved as well.

Reporter Corey Takahashi explores that change with this profile of a group of longtime Tijuana musicians called the Nortec Collective.

COREY TAKAHASHI: When you drive through Tijuana, you feel like you're twirling the dial on a radio of live musicians.

Mr. PEPE MOGT (Nortec Collective): Here on the sidewalk there are some Norteno working, because they usually play on the streets or play in the restaurants around here.

TAKAHASHI: Nortec Collective musician Fussible is showing off a Norteno hangout near his home. There's a bullfighting ring and a beach. So there are restaurants and a captive audience for this folk music from northern Mexico. In this slice of Tijuana, you could listen to plaintive songs about life on the border and catch a breeze off the Pacific Ocean, while saltwater eats away at the ragged border fence on the shore.

(Soundbite of music)

TAKAHASHI: Music all over the place down here.

Mr. MOGT: Yeah, I mean, this is normal in Tijuana, to have music very loud.

TAKAHASHI: Some of the musicians take requests and play for tips. Fussible, whose real name is Pepe Mogt, gets approached by a few. This Norteno street performer covers a classic from the group Los Tigres Del Norte.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing in Spanish)

TAKAHASHI: Norteno musicians are a traditional, cowboy-hat-wearing crowd. Nortec Collective takes this traditional Norteno and reinterprets it through synthesizers, drum machines and a grab bag of other digital tools.

(Soundbite of song, "Tijuana Sound Machine")

THE NORTEC COLLECTIVE (Band): (Singing in Spanish)

TAKAHASHI: The musician Bostich, whose actual name is Ramon Amezcua, composed this track, "Tijuana Sound Machine."

Mr.�RAMON AMEZCUA (Musician): We were thinking about a machine, a car that can take you to the imaginary trip to Tijuana and take you to different places from our city.

TAKAHASHI: The mythical "Tijuana Sound Machine" appeared on the cover of their last album. Its a rugged, cherry-red low rider that has speakers for rims. This evening, Bostich is driving a dowdy, gray minivan, a symbol of his other Tijuana life. Hes a father of four and a part-time orthodontist.

Thieves have been trying years for his city. A wave of drug violence and kidnappings led to border crackdowns on both sides. Bostich says thats kept Americans away from Tijuana, including musicians he used to collaborate with. Tijuana culture has turned inward, and Bostich says he and Fussible began working with more traditional and local acts.

Mr.�AMEZCUA: Like, we grew up with - I born here in Tijuana. And we grew up with that border. And for us its part of our lifestyle to see that border.

TAKAHASHI: In his home studio, Fussible uses his computer to showcase some unfinished tracks from their next album.

Mr.�MOGT: If I tell you that thats a Nortec track, maybe it doesnt sound anything at all, you know, similar to Nortec, but when we, you know, starting to, like, you know, putting all the acoustic instruments, it became another totally different thing, for example.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr.�MOGT: Its like having, like, the soundtrack of Tijuana.

TAKAHASHI: That soundtrack has always been a cross-border mix of old and new, Mexico and the U.S., but theres a different vibe in Tijuana today.

Mr.�MOGT: Before, it was a small fence. Now its, like, a huge wall, like, with ropes and lamps and helicopters, you know, border patrols, you know, motorcycles and stuff like that. Its like a huge paranoia for the border.

TAKAHASHI: Fussible and Bostich are crossing that border later this month for shows in L.A. and San Diego.

For NPR News, Im Corey Takahashi.

(Soundbite of music)

THE NORTEC COLLECTIVE: (Singing in Spanish)

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