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Betto Arcos Brings Heat From Mexico

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Betto Arcos Brings Heat From Mexico

Betto Arcos Brings Heat From Mexico

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GUY RAZ, host:

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: A couple of months ago, we took our program out to LA where Betto Arcos happens to reside. Betto hosts the music program called "Global Village" on KPFK. Anyway, he took us to some of the best taco trucks in the city and tipped us off to some of his favorite new Mexican music, including work by this artist you're hearing. His name is Ernesto Anaya.

This track is off Anaya's debut album, and though we're not in LA this weekend, Betto is with a whole bunch of amazing new music from Mexico.

Betto, great to have you back.

Mr. BETTO ARCOS (Host, "Global Village"): Great to talk to you, Guy.

RAZ: Now, I know you mentioned Ernesto Anaya before, that he's sort of one of the best known instrumentalists in Mexico. And this is actually off his debut record, I guess a sort of homage to a kind of traditional style of Mexican music.

Mr. ARCOS: The style of music is called Son Huasteco, and it's better known in Mexico as huapango. It's this festive, joyful, exciting music form the northeastern part of Mexico, an area that comprises about six or seven different states.

It's roots music. It's the equivalent of bluegrass to Mexico because it's from the mountains, and it's very festive, and it's danceable, and it's just great music, very soulful.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ERNESTO ANAYA (Musician): (Singing in foreign language).

RAZ: Now, Betto, why did Ernesto Anaya wait so long to record his own record if he's sort of been around and worked with so many other artists for so long?

Mr. ARCOS: You know, I asked him this very question a couple months ago, and he says, look, I'm really busy. I've been, you know, I don't have any time to do my own stuff because everybody wants me to play with them.

You know, he's recorded with everybody in Mexican music, and he's recorded for films, soundtracks and so on. So basically, it was all about, you know, how much time he had to put into this record. So the record really took a couple of years for him to finally finish it.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: Betto, what an amazing piece. You've got a new selection from someone else now. A lot of people consider this artist to be, I guess, Mexican music royalty.

Mr. ARCOS: I've been listening to her for as long as I can remember. This is a song called "Tierra Brava" or "Brave Land" by Eugenia Leon.

(Soundbite of song, "Tierra Brava")

Ms. EUGENIA LEON (Singer): (Singing in foreign language).

Mr. ARCOS: She's so deep and soulful and just really exciting to see on stage. She's a fantastic vocalist. And she can sing anything you want. She'll sing boleros, rancheras, bossa novas, cha-cha-chas. This is sort of a cha-cha-cha music.

I think a lot of people forget sometimes that Mexico has a Caribbean side to it. And this is that kind of music from the Caribbean, from Vera Cruz.

(Soundbite of song, "Tierra Brava")

Ms. LEON: (Singing in foreign language).

RAZ: I'm speaking with Betto Arcos. He's the host of KPFK's "Global Village," and he brought us a stack of records in honor of the 200th anniversary of Mexico's independence. Is that right? Are we doing this in honor of Mexico's independence?

Mr. ARCOS: Yes, we are. In fact, the big date is really September 15, when everybody at 11 p.m., you know, screams their heart out and celebrates Mexicanness, if you will, around the world, too, wherever Mexicans are. All you need is a bottle of tequila and some good Mexican music and that's it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: Well, you brought some good stuff. And this next one, we've talked about her before. She is the legendary, and I should add, what, she's, I believe 91-year-old Chavela Vargas.

Mr. ARCOS: Yes, indeed. She just turned 91 in April, and this is, in fact, a celebration of her life with friends. It's an album of duets.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. CHAVELA VARGAS (Singer): (Singing in foreign language).

RAZ: What a voice, Betto. I mean, you can hear the age, obviously, the experience. But it's still so powerful.

Mr. ARCOS: Guy, when I listen to Chavela Vargas, I'm sorry to say, but I cry. I mean, this is the blues. You know, this is the Mexican blues. This is the stuff.

RAZ: And this record is actually a personal narrative, a personal story about herself. And she's had so many ups and downs in her career. I mean, she basically battled and tackled her alcoholism in her 80's, in her late 80's, right?

Mr. ARCOS: That's right. She there's a great story that I like to tell. Let's see if I can make it brief. She showed up at the funeral of Jose Alfredo Jimenez, the father, of Cancion Ranchera, and she sang all his songs that she knew before his coffin, all night, and just sang and sang.

She had a bottle of tequila next to her, and she sang and sang and sang because she just couldn't bear to let him go.

And yes, she battled she disappeared for years and years, and then somebody found her in a club one day, and pretty soon, it was Pedro Almodovar who kind of helped to bring her back.

RAZ: The Spanish director, obviously.

Mr. ARCOS: Yeah. That's right. If I were to tell anybody, you need to have some Mexican music, I would say, please get Chavela Vargas.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. VARGAS: (Singing in foreign language).

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: Finally, Betto, you have some music that you brought from a 16-piece band from the Oaxaca region in Mexico. Who are they?

Mr. ARCOS: This is Banda Regional Mixe. Their new record is called "Re: Mixes." And this piece is a traditional piece called "Los Huenches."

(Soundbite of song, "Los Huenches")

RAZ: Okay, this starts out, you know, a bit like a march, but then it turns this really sharp corner about a minute into the song.

(Soundbite of song, "Los Huenches")

RAZ: It almost sounds like a Vulcan gypsy band.

Mr. ARCOS: Funny you should say that because they did a concert with the Mahala Rai Banda, this fantastic band from Macedonia. Yeah - so yes, this is exactly the idea. There are these brass bands in Mexico, just like there are up in the Balkans.

They got attention by this American musician, Steven Brown. He went up to this little village in Oaxaca and discovered the big park in the middle of the town, and he saw that there were, you know, brass musicians playing.

And he just was so moved and touched, and he wanted to do something interesting with them. He wanted to get them to improvise a little. And they taught the musicians, in a sense, how to play freer. And so they are playing, in a sense, traditional music with a jazz approach, if you will. They're reinventing their own traditional music, and it's just fantastic.

RAZ: Such fun music.

Mr. ARCOS: Yes, it is.

RAZ: That's Betto Arcos. He pops in from time to time to talk about some of the music he's spinning on his show. It's called "Global Village," and you can hear it on KPFK in Los Angeles.

Betto, thank you so much.

Mr. ARCOS: Thanks for having me, Guy.

(Soundbite of song, "Los Huenches")

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