Pepe Aguilar on His Family’s Legacy and the ‘Growing Pains’ of Música Mexicana
Pepe Aguilar knows a thing or two about continuing a legacy. The son of the greatest ranchera singer of all time, Antonio Aguilar, and a star of the golden age of Mexican cinema, Flor Silvestre, Pepe built a career by successfully carrying the heavy, storied history of the Aguilar last name and turning it into a now-growing dynasty.
With songs like “Por Mujeres Como Tú” and “Directo Al Corazón,” Pepe married the traditionalism of rancheras with the pop modernity of the mid-2000s to build a career in his own right. Now in his fifties, Aguilar is passing the baton to his own children, Ángela and Leonardo, via the family-focused Jaripeo Sin Fronteras tour. At 18, Ángela has already dropped four albums, including one of Selena Quintanilla covers, and released Latin radio staple “Dime Cómo Quieres” with Christian Nodál.
Headlined by a horse-riding performance by Pepe, the tour features performances from his children and brother Antonio, Jr., along with featuring dancing horses prevalent in in Zacatecan charrerías and theatrics inspired by Aztec gods.
“Not even my father’s show in the Sixties was like this,” Pepe says. “He had horses and charros and it was something else because he was Antonio Aguilar. Mis respetos.” He makes a salute motion with his hand. “I won’t even go there. But I guarantee you that my father would have been extremely happy with a show like this, because he wouldn’t have been able to make it happen. I want people to leave the show proud and mesmerized by their roots.”
Pepe logged onto Zoom from his Nashville hotel room after kicking off the tour there. “It was wonderful!” he says. “We were astonished by Music City. Honestly, it couldn’t have been better to come to a place where there hasn’t been a Latino show this big.” Answering questions in Spanglish, he caught up with Rolling Stone about the future of música Mexicana, the traditions of jaripeos, and the advice he’s given his daughter Ángela.
Why do you think it is so important to bring shows like yours to places like Nashville, especially with the “Sin Fronteras” (“without borders”) name?
I don’t believe in borders. I think borders are a bad idea. I think that all human beings, if we were seen under a microscope, we would realize that we are exactly the same. All of us: no matter our color, our beliefs, or where we live. I believe in the artistry and the possibilities and capabilities of other people. That’s how I live my life and I translate that to the show.
It is very special to see that your children are part of this tour, representing a new generation of Mexicans. How is that for you, as a father, and as someone who followed your parents’ legacy?
There is so much love. It is a blessing to work as a family. But it’s also a big challenge. The coexistence is complicated. You have to find strategies based on respect and morals. We’re not inventing those ways, but it’s complicated to make them happen. Life is about nonstop learning at every level. As a father, I’m continuing to learn. And my children are too.
This is a career of resistance. This is a marathon, not a 100-meter race. There are some artists in this new generation that don’t see it that way. They say, “I’m going to get in the car and see how long it lasts. I will go as fast as I can.” No one is telling them to go all over the country and bring back that car. I think that not many people are thinking of a career, they are just seeing the moments, or living history in the moment. I am not made like that.
I am teaching my children about this as a profession, not a hobby. Real artists don’t have a choice. They are going to be artists for the rest of their lives. In my experience, I developed my trade, my way of making art, at a level where all the things I do on a daily basis have to do with music, or show business. I love that and I won’t change a thing.
It’s interesting to see your daughter Ángela, as a Gen Z Mexican, mixing Spanish and English at shows, but also singing the music of the past. As a child of Mexican immigrants myself, I feel represented by her.
It was very difficult 20 years ago to have the pride in your roots that there is now with the youth. I think that being bicultural opens your outlook, when, in the past, that was something to be ashamed of. In Angela’s case, she connects really well with everyone because she doesn’t only live on the ranch and spend time with cows and horses, but she is a perfectly well-adapted young lady that’s confident in her roots in any environment.
Like a good Gen Z, she does what she likes. She’s doing Mexican music, surely because she saw it in me and was born in this environment, but also because she saw that reality from the freakin’ bottom of it. She was born in the intensity of mexicanidad.
If you make Mexican music at the skill level that she does, it’s like any other genre. I have always asked my children, “Why are you singing? What is the motivation behind it?” There are a lot of people that sing because they want to be famous or make money or need approval because they have emotional deficiencies. But the ones who do this career because they are convinced in their artistry stand out. People notice. Angela is so convinced of her talent, her culture, her roots. It is not about what she is doing, but how she is doing it, which is a totally different thing. She’s doing it at the top level. Her music isn’t regional, it’s universal.
Speaking about the term “regional,” we have changed a lot about how we talk about Mexican music. How do you see the trajectory of música Mexicana?
I think we are going in the right direction. In the history of Mexican music, I had never seen people playing the guitar, drums, bass, or accordion with such virtuosity. Guys and girls that are playing right now are at a level that is truly admirable. That hadn’t happened before.
I think that there are growing pains: The lyricism needs to reach the level of the talent they’re playing. I think we are going through a catharsis as a society, and that escape valve that is the Mexican music for youngsters is working, but it’s also an escape valve. The profanity, the drinking, el desmadre, is unsustainable. That’s not our culture. If you drink like that, you’re gonna freaking die. There are a lot of people watching you and using you as an example. If I ever saw a young man become an alcoholic because he saw me drinking or because of my music, I wouldn’t like that. There are certain things that I think are going to shape into something that is more universal. Less for one type of crowd.
But do I see a future like I’ve never seen before in Mexican music? Without a doubt. New voices, new musicians playing Mexican music appear daily. When had you ever seen that? Oh my God! This is at all levels, the stadiums that Mexican music is filling for the first time in history. I’m optimistic about it.
I don’t like bad words that much or drinking that much — but that’s not the music. The music they are doing is freaking awesome.
The tour is built around something so traditional as jaripeo. What does the tradition of it all mean to you?
I had a blessing and a curse while touring with my parents in such a huge show. A blessing because I understood that there are many ways to make a show. A curse because I learned how to make massive shows, and big shows are very expensive and very difficult to make happen. It took me two years to make this show happen. There are a lot of people involved, like a Cirque Du Soleil producer, for example. Lights that hadn’t been used before in this kind of show. This is not only going out to sing while horseriding, which on its own is really difficult. But we also wanted to do, like, a Broadway show and at the same time something that had lots of emotion, like the rodeo. But also a very traditional show with a different perspective.
The Jaripeo Sin Fronteras tour goal is to make you proud of who you are and where you come from. This is a show not only for Mexicans, this show is for anybody that enjoys mariachi. This show is an experience. I think that’s why we’re having so much success, because it is not only a concert. It’s wild because it’s made by a family, which makes it more unique. It’s just my family and nothing more. It’s about tradition presented in a dignified way. In a 21st century way.
Jaripeo Sin Fronteras tour dates:
Aug. 13 – EagleBank Arena @ Fairfax, VA
Aug. 14 – Prudential Center @ Newark, NJ
Aug. 19 – Gas South Arena @ Atlanta, GA
Aug. 21 – Amway Center @ Orlando, FL
Aug. 26 – Golden 1 Center @ Sacramento, CA
Aug. 28 – Pechanga Arena @ San Diego, CA
Sept. 2 – Honda Center @ Anaheim, CA
Sept. 4 – Save Mart Center @ Fresno, CA
Sept. 17 – El Paso Coliseum @ El Paso, TX
Sept. 18 – El Paso Coliseum @ El Paso, TX
Sept. 23 – AT&T Center @ San Antonio, TX
Sept. 24 – Sames Auto Arena @ Laredo, TX
Sept. 25 – Toyota Center @ Houston, TX
Sept. 30 – Allstate Arena @ Chicago, IL
Oct. 7 – Maverik Center @ West Valley City, UT
Oct. 9 – SAP Center @ San Jose, CA
Oct. 14 – Crypto.com Arena @ Los Angeles, CA
Oct. 21 – Bert Ogden Arena @ Edinburg, TX
Oct. 23 – American Airlines Center @ Dallas, TX
Nov. 4 – Gila River Arena @ Glendale, AZ
Nov. 5 – MGM Grand Garden Arena @ Las Vegas, NV