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US-born banda singers find success in Mexico, US

MEXICO CITY -- Banda music is the soundtrack of modern Mexico, with its thumping polka beat and trumpets blasting everywhere from rural fairs to working-class Mexico City weddings. And it's increasingly made in the USA.

Once the equivalent of country music, with lyrics about rural life sung by men from Mexico's western badlands, it is more and more being produced in the suburbs of Phoenix and Los Angeles, and sung by Mexican-Americans who grew up speaking English and listening to rock and rap.

And as U.S.-born singers gain prominence, it's becoming more akin to gangster rap, with a slicker sound, lyrics that praise drug traffickers and videos with guns and expensive cars filmed on Los Angeles' palm-lined streets.

This month, two U.S.-born banda singers have had Top 10 hits in Mexico and the United States.

Billboard's No. 1 Mexican regional song is “Quien Se Anima,” or “Who Will Dare,” a tune by baby-faced, 24-year-old Pasadena, California-native Gerardo Ortiz that asks who will dare enter a business where “there is lots of money, pleasures, banda music and women.”

Ortiz's “Damaso,” about a leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, has for weeks topped the playlists in Mexico. Its video, with a lion, briefcases full of cash and flaunted pistols, has been viewed on YouTube more than 61 million times.

“The King of the Drunks” by Lupillo Rivera of Long Beach, California, has also been among Mexico's top 10 songs.

It is reversal of musical direction for a genre in which Mexican bands traditionally sang tunes popular with immigrants in the U.S. nostalgic for their homeland. Young Mexican-Americans have embraced banda and many musicians now first gain success in the United States before heading south to sing in dirt-floored rodeo arenas and auditoriums in Mexico.

“These singers were born (in the U.S.) but their parents instilled the love for Mexico in them,” said Stephanie Himonidis, morning prime-time DJ for La Raza, a Los Angeles radio station that plays Mexican music.

Ortiz spent his childhood in the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa, the birthplace of both banda music and many of Mexico's top drug traffickers. But it was upon his return to Southern California that he found fame and fortune after self-promoting his ballads and “narcocorridos” on YouTube. “Narcocorridos” are songs about drug traffickers that often glorify them and their lifestyle.

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Fans watch Gerardo Ortiz perform during a concert at the Ventura County Fairgrounds in Ventura, California on June 13. (AP)

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