5th March, 2005

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Two Mexican regional songs in a row in the #1 spot might suggest that 2005 is seeing something of a return to traditionalism; but although certainly there was and is overlap between the Conjunto Primavera's fanbase and Intocable's, they're also very, very different bands with different approaches to their material.

Part of that is just the difference between conjunto chihuahuense and a tejano ballad band; although they both feature prominent accordion, square rhythms, and romantic vocals, Primavera's Tony Melendez is a squarely traditional singer in an almost bel canto tradition, perfect at making itself heard in unamplified plazas, while Intocable's Ricardo Muñoz is, well, Texan: his vocal technique is derived from African-American soul and the longstanding intimacy of US pop recording.

And that's the real difference: between Mexican regional music and tejano, which is marketed as Mexican regional music (and is quite popular in many regions of Mexico), but is also part of the larger North American pop universe. Intocable (whose name means Untouchable; the Clint Eastwood movie was five years old when they first started using the name) is as much a U.S. band as a Latin one; they're just so wildly popular in the Latin market that they don't need recognition from the Anglophone portions of the U.S.

That "Aire" is our first encounter with them is due to chance more than to their popularity; they've been million-sellers since the late 90s, and it's not even necessarily one of their most popular songs. But it is a great song: straightforward and beautiful, with enough rhythmic shifting to remain interesting (the underwater half-time middle eight is a remarkable effect in a #1 song) and such a lovely, vulnerable central performance from Muñoz that even the rather hackneyed lyrics of the chorus ("tú eres aire que respiro," you are the air I breathe) sound invested with emotion and, thereby, truth.

Intocable's ability to invest traditional tejano instrumentation and structure with North American pop gloss and soul emotionalism have made them so wildly popular for forty years that it's a shame this is the only time we'll meet them on this travelogue, at least as of this writing. I wouldn't be at all surprised if they somehow gamed the streaming era too, though.

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