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October 02, 2008

Vicente Fernandez: Ranchera's Elder Statesman

Vicente Fernandez
Ranch dressing: FernŠndez
in a traditional charro outfit.

Photo: Sony BMG Norte

by John Oseid

If Elvis was the King, Mexican ranchera singer Vicente FernŠndez does him one better. To his compatriots he is both el Rey and el Õdolo. Now he's on tour in the U.S.--elaborate charro (horseman) regalia and all--through November (dates below).

Like mariachi, ranchera has its roots in the western state of Jalisco. Following the Mexican Revolution, the music grew of age in the twenties and hit its stride in the forties and fifties as a staple element in the golden age of Mexican cinema. Generally performed with mariachi bands, folk-based ranchera songs are deeply emotional tales of love, pride, and country life. And they're often lachrymose. After the jump, see FernŠndez long for lost love.

In the above video to "Volver, Volver," the mid-seventies hit song that launched his career into the stratosphere, a young and remorseful FernŠndez pines for his woman to take him back. And in the ranchera world, even the horse gets a close-up.

FernŠndez's rise from modest origins and his struggles in the early sixties to make a name for himself are legendary. Now 68, he has nearly 80 albums behind him and he has performed in dozens of movies. The younger generation appreciates him perhaps as much for being the father of heartthrob Alejandro FernŠndez, one of the biggest pop stars in the entire Latin world, as for being the famed el Rey.

This Saturday, October 4, FernŠndez plays New York's Madison Square Garden (and I guarantee a full house), followed by shows at American Airlines Arena in Miami, as well as stops in Dallas and Houston. On November 7, he launches a nine-night gala in LA at Universal Studios' Gibson Amphitheater, finishing up in Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay on November 29. (All shows can be booked on Ticketmaster.)

More music:
* FernŠndez's latest album, Para Siempre, is the best-selling Latin CD of the year and has been nominated for a Latin Grammy
* My real introduction to the star came from last year's three-CD boxed set
Vicente FernŠndez: The Living Legend. NPR profiled him at the collection's release
* TV channel Univision sponsors the popular Premio lo Nuestro awards. Witness the audience's fevered reaction to a FernŠndez medley at this year's show
* Before FernŠndez, Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete were two of Mexico's mega ranchera stars. Here they sing "Pelea de Sones" in the classic 1953 film Dos Tipos de Cuidado
* A few years ago I had one of the most wonderful music experiences of my life at Guadalajara's annual International Mariachi Festival. The show is generally held in late August or early September
* A mariachi craze is brewing in the U.S. The New York Times recently profiled Linda Ronstadt's role as champion of the genre


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