It’s been a record-breaking year for música Mexicana — the refashioned nickname given to the genre of regional Mexican music that, prior to these last few years, has remained relatively dormant in the mainstream American market. Leading its growing presence in the U.S. is a small pack of young inheritors of the folky countryside ballads of their parents and grandparents who have fused their heritage from both sides of the border to evolve the storied musical style — picking up thousands of new listeners in the process.
Such is the case for Eslabon Armado, a foursome of young 20-somethings who made Latin music history when their upbeat “Ella Baila Sola” (She Dances Alone) — a track about spotting, and then pursuing, a beautiful woman from across the dancefloor — soared to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart, becoming the first regional Mexican single to reach the top 10 of the all-genre-inclusive list. After having built a dedicated online following with viral hits like 2020’s “Con Tus Besos” and 2021’s “Jugaste y Sufrí,” Eslabon Armado has become synonymous with the subgenre dubbed “sad sierreño,” which compared to the trumpet-powered corridos of generations past, finds itself powered by sweet melodies and acoustic guitars like a requinto and six-string bass.
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Released earlier this March, “Ella Baila Sola,” which also features fellow música Mexicana star Peso Pluma, also became the first regional Mexican song to hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Global 200 (a ranking of top songs by digital sales and online streams) and was the most-streamed song globally this summer on Spotify (367 million streams).
The Northern California-based group started as a duo between siblings Pedro and Brian Tovar, managed by their mother, Nelly. Damian Pacheco, who plays the twelve-string guitar, and Ulises González, who handles acoustic guitar and backing vocals, joined the group just as the sibling duo had started to transition from playing in backyards to a small group of dedicated fans. They’ve since been busy building a repertoire that spans over five studio albums (in May, the group scored their second top 10 album on Billboard’s 200 albums chart with “Desvelado,” the second-ever regional Mexican set to enter the top of the charts following the act’s own No. 9 debut and peak of “Nostalgia” on the May 21, 2022-dated list) alongside indie label Del Records. The latter is one of the few regional Mexican-focused labels leading the progression of the genre in the U.S., and also a launch pad to long-standing Mexican music stars like Gerardo Ortiz and Ariel Camacho.
“We’re really lucky to be working with family — literally, with my mom as a manager and with a label like Del,” Pedro tells Variety. “I feel like had we signed with a Universal or Sony, I wouldn’t have the direct contact I have with [Del]. I can talk or call them up whenever I need them.”
Pedro’s mother Nelly had no prior managerial experience — or any music-industry experience, for that matter — before positioning herself at the forefront of her children’s careers. Her sons credit her business-minded approach to her intrinsic hustle. Before the boys became Nelly’s full-time job, she was in charge of collecting rent money for the six rooms she had commissioned out of their old home. She’s since gained a new level of notoriety, ensuring Eslabon gets the money they’re due and also handles day-to-day operations like counting in concert-goers and collecting tickets. Nelly was also the voice approval when it came time to field new members Pacheco and González into the group.
Adds Brian, “She’s super direct with all of us… even the promoters we work with are kind of scared of her in a way because she keeps everyone in check and makes sure we’re getting our fair share of the work. It’s been an incredibly beneficial aspect of what we do.”
A proud romantic, Tovar says he’s in no rush to be greedy with his fame. He credits the group’s success to the power of God and family and says he’s more than happy to have achieved this level of creative control at the ripe age of 21. “We try to stay consistent,” he says, responding to the unnerving question of the key to their evolution. “And not to depend on the song. Because after you get a No. 1, people expect more from you. I’m lucky to feel so grounded in what I’m doing and I just try to remind myself and everyone who surrounds me to keep level-minded about the quality of work [we’re] putting out. That’s the most crucial step in what we’ve managed to build so far.”
Still, being one of the very few leading groups of a growing genre can leave a lot of room for the unpredictable.
Shortly after the release of “Ella Baila Sola,” Pedro was quick to voice his concern over the lack of public credit he had received for the song — especially considering the featured artist on the track had gone on to perform it, sans Eslabon, on American late-night television as the first regional act to have ever claimed such a stage. Elsewhere, Eslabon’s peers, the Columbia Records-signed sibling trio of Yahritza y Su Esencia, natives of Washington State who recently received an unforeseeable amount of flack from the Mexican media after they opened up about the culture shock they experienced when visiting Mexico City for the first time. The topic has since brought up a conversation that has long plagued Mexican-American citizens for being “ni de aquí ni de allá,” (neither here nor there) — in other words, not fully American or Mexican enough.
“I felt horrible for her watching that happen — one because [Yahritza] is super cool and two because it was such a surface-level conversation… I just think coming from a Hispanic family, and having these roots… we try our best to be as authentic as we can be when we are performing,” says Pedro.
Eslabon is also gearing up to market itself to its massive fanbase in Mexico, where it hopes to spend the majority of 2024 touring. “I think a lot of people assume that we’re scared of going to Mexico and that’s why we haven’t toured or catered to our audiences there,” they say, “But there’s nothing to be scared of when the music we’re singing is, at its core, music about love.”
The group also got some inspiration from an unexpected source. Brian recently caught one of Taylor Swift’s massive “Eras Tour” stops at the SoFi Stadium, at first under obligation to his younger sister, though he quickly found himself envisioning and absorbing elements for an Eslabon set: “It was a 10/10 concert experience,” he says. “The costumes, the fans… and [most importantly], the songs are incredible.”
In recent weeks, the band put together their first showing in Los Angeles’ Crypto Arena for a one-night stop. Joined by a banda of more than 15 men dressed in matching silver suits, Eslabon Armado delivered one of their biggest headlining shows in the city with gusto. Flowery visuals were projected behind them, and Nelly would occasionally join the band onstage to chuck merchandise into the crowd of buzzing teenagers who had spent their evening lined up outside the arena.
“It was a total peda,” Pedro says, referring to the total party that ensued inside the arena walls. “We have the best memories in Los Angeles — even before our careers blew up, we’ve felt very comfortable by the culture here. It’s the place to be when it comes to Mexican music and community. We have plans of building something similar for future shows and just keep growing what we have going on now.”
Pictured above (L-R): Ulises González, Brian Tovar, Pedro Tovar and Damien Pacheco.
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