Family band Los Ángeles Azules are the progenitors of "future Cumbia." Their sound, categorized as "Cumbia Sonidera," is an urban, gritty, working-class expansion of the Cumbia Colombiana style that exploded in Mexico during the 1970s.
Their adaptation relies on rich harmonies, call-and-response vocals, and a meld of organic and electronic instruments/treatments. Los Ángeles Azules' 1982 debut album, Ritmo... Alegría... Sabor!, Vol. 1, united Cumbia rhythms with romantic ranchera melodies executed in perfect five-part vocal harmony. The group recorded constantly through their early years, adding more urban production to their recordings. The 1996 single "Como Te Voy A Olvidar" from Inolvidables, marked their Hot Latin Songs and Latin Airplay chart debuts. Three years later, the number four single "El Liston de Tu Pelo" earned a Premio Lo Nuestro award for best Cumbia song. In the 21st century, Los Ángeles Azules became Cumbia royalty. They toured the world playing sold-out concerts everywhere from clubs to soccer stadiums. 2003's Alas Al Mundo netted a Mexican Oye award. In 2006, Interpretan Excitos de Juan Gabriel was the first Cumbia tribute to the songwriter; it topped the album charts at home. 2013's Como Te Voy A Olvidar for Sony found the band recording with a new generation of Latin indie musicians, including Lila Downs, Carla Morrison, and Toy Selectah. 2016's charting De Plaza en Plaza: Cumbia Sinfonica was comprised entirely of musical collaborations (Natalia Lafourcade, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Miguel Bose, and Gloria Trevi among them) and registered the band's profile with the Coachella festival. Los Ángeles Azules were subsequently booked for the 2018 festival, making them the first Mexican band to ever perform there.
Los Ángeles Azules were formed in the early '80s by brothers Elías, José, and Jorge Mejía Avante. Playing a Latin style known as onda grupera, the band became a chart-topping act after issuing Inolvidables in 1996, soon achieving platinum status in Argentina, where they successfully performed live in 1998. Later, singer Carlos Becíes decided to leave the group, forming his own band called Los Ángeles de Charly. In 2001, Los Ángeles Azules were nominated to the Billboard Latin Music Awards; that same year, they toured the U.S. to celebrate their 20th anniversary and released Historia Musical, which peaked at number two on the Latin albums chart and hit number 161 in the Top 200. In 2002, the group introduced audiences to Becíes' replacement, singer Erick de la Peña, via the charting single "Por el Amor a Mi Madre," from the album Alas al Mundo. The full-length peaked at number six on the Latin albums chart and hit number three on the Regional Mexican Albums list. A live album and two compilations followed over the next two years, each placing on the charts.
Though Los Ángeles Azules drew large audiences wherever they played, their next studio offering, 2004's Nunca Te Olvidaré, didn't resonate as well and peaked at number 49 on the Latin albums chart. They continued to tour, playing soccer stadiums in Mexico and South America, and even at Yankee Stadium. When they reentered the studio in 2006, they recorded their first all-covers disc at the suggestion of Disa. Because of the similarity in pitch and timbre of de la Peña's voice to Juan Gabriel's, they cut ten of his songs for the album Interpretan Éxitos de Juan Gabriel. It was their last album for Disa. More personnel changes occurred and the band signed with Discos Musart/Balboa Records. Their debut, Tu Juguete, was issued in 2008; two singles followed, but neither the album nor its track picks charted. Citing lack of promotion, Los Ángeles Azules left Discos Musart immediately thereafter. They toured the United States and Argentina, and the South American nation became a second home for the band due to the popularity of their particular style of Cumbia.
In 2009, Los Ángeles Azules were invited to perform at the first El Paraíso de la Cumbia, where they shared a stage with Mexican Institute of Sound (Camilo Lara) and Argentina's El Hijo de la Cumbia. The meeting with Lara would prove fateful. Without a label, the group continued to tour, but they had difficulty finding a home label in the music industry, given the difficulty of the latter's ever-changing nature with narcocorridos, hip-hop, merengue, and pop emerging as dominant forms. The band cut the independently released album A Ritmo de Cumbia in 2012 for the production and distribution label Casete Mexico, but given limited distribution and little promotion, it didn't sell. Los Ángeles Azules refused to surrender, though they probably felt like it.
In 2013, they were invited to play the Vive Latino festival. That performance proved a rousing success, and a reversal of their (mis)fortunes. They were signed by the Sony-distributed Ocesa. The label enlisted Lara and Toy Selectah to produce a new album. Entitled Cómo Te Voy a Olvidar, it showcased Los Ángeles Azules re-recording their hits in duet with guest vocalists including Carla Morrison, Lila Downs, Ximena Sariñana, and many more. A television program called Cumbia Fuzion followed, which featured the group in performance backed by the Mexico City Symphony Orchestra. The previous album was re-released as Cómo Te Voy a Olvidar Edición de Super Lujo and included a bonus disc with the symphony performance. It eventually landed at number five on the Regional Mexican Albums charts.
In 2014, the band went to Cuba to record, with Lara and Toy Selectah co-producing. They released Viernes Cultural. Its title track single featured Haydée Milanés in a duet. Other guest vocalists included Gilberto Santa Rosa, Gustavo Parisi, and Banda Bastón. Its success in the Caribbean and Mexico, and throughout Latin America, offered them an opportunity to perform in Cuba and tour with its national symphony. Various American dates were booked and recorded as Los Ángeles Azules re-signed with Disa. The album De Plaza en Plaza: Cumbia Sinfonica was issued in September 2016, debuted at number 12 on the Hot Latin Albums chart in October. The group's compilation album Vision 20 20 Exitos arrived in 2018, as did studio outing Esta Si Es Cumbia, which included appearances from Lafourcade, Fito Paez, Ha*Ash, Pepe Aguilar, and Los Claxons. The charting set was celebrated by Anglo and Latin critics for its seamless integration of modern styles -- indie pop, nuevo ranchera, rock, nuevo canción, et al. -- with a particularly electronic brand of Cumbia Sonidera. 2020 saw the May release of the concert offering En Vivo Desde Phoenix. ~ Drago Bonacich, Rovi