PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Diana Reyes: Mis Mejores Duranguenses

Heartbreaking melodies belted over Hi-NRG beats of endless momentum -- only the beats are polkas.

Diana Reyes

Mis Mejores Duranguenses

Label: DR Promotions
US Release Date: 2014-10-28
UK Release Date: 2014-10-28
Artist website

In the title of her new career retrospective, Diana Reyes unapologetically invokes the "d" word. The album’s called Mis Mejores Duranguenses, a perfectly accurate title that nonetheless situates Reyes in a previous decade, out of vogue in today’s Mexican music world. But despite its nostalgic aura, that word, that genre -- duranguense -- is integral to what makes Reyes such a vital singer. Like Donna Summer, forever tied to a different dance music "d" word, Reyes transcends the style that made her transcendence possible.

For the past few years, being a duranguense fan in the norteño world has felt like being a scorpion set loose at a Sierra Club meeting. Everyone runs away when they see you coming, but once they’re safely across the room, they talk about you with condescending pity and acknowledge your Vital Role. Springing from the state of Durango and its satellite city Chicago around 2002-04, duranguense was, for a few years, the hot sound of regional Mexican music. That sound was a pared down take on banda with synth oompahs, ultra-speedy tempos, unhinged tambora (a bass drum with cymbals on top) acting like a lead instrument, and a ridiculous dance step all its own. Dancing el pasito duranguense was like "having gum stuck [on] the bottom of your shoe and trying to get it off," explained dancer Jaime Barraza to the radio show "The World".

By decade’s end, the genre itself had become stuck. Thanks to band infighting, legal wrangles, and the winds of popularity shifting from Durango to Sinaloa’s bandas and corridos, duranguense’s popularity dwindled. Maybe not down to the level of used chewing gum -- recent videos by genre stalwarts Grupo Montéz and Alacranes Musical still command around a million hits apiece -- but pretty far. Far enough that the annual Radio Éxitos compilation, which used to be one third duranguense, now shuns the genre. Even Los Horóscopos de Durango jumped ship; the band has sold its keyboards and bought tubas, and now it plays banda sinaloense.

Born in Baja California, with family from Sinaloa, Diana Reyes began her singing career recording traditional norteño. In 2004 she hopped aboard the Durango bandwagon and released six or seven albums for labels both major and minor, including DBC, the label she founded. To give you an idea how bankable this stuff was, that "or seventh" album was a Christmas record for Universal, Navidad Duranguense. She wasn’t alone. During those gold rush years, at least three other bands released Christmas albums with the same title.

Reyes was a welcome presence in the genre. Her husky voice was a powerhouse, and she could fray it at exactly the right emotional high points. Though you’d sometimes catch her chuckling, she sang with a gravitas that gave counterweight to her skippety-skip music. Look, let’s put our duranguense cards on the table. Lots of people hated this style and called it ridiculous circus music. They had a point. Most duranguense acts sounded like they were vying for Chintziest Synth Sound at the county fair. To overcome that handicap, musicians either had to own the chintz and become the wildest band in town and maybe cover "The Night Chicago Died", like the sainted clowns in Banda Lamento Show, or they had to use their genre trappings to make perfect pop songs, like Diana Reyes.

At her best, Reyes achieved what Hi-NRG singers like Laura Branigan and Exposé did in their own genres: heartbreaking melodic lines belted over beats of endless momentum. Since Reyes’s beats were mostly polkas, the 20 songs on Mis Mejores might take some getting used to. After a few songs, though, the oompah is so consistent it falls away, and you’re left with the tune and the unpredictable clatter of percussion, clarinet, and bargain basement synth presets (yikes) popping out like the cast of Laugh In. In Reyes’s two biggest hits, 2004’s "Rosas" and 2007’s "Cuando Baja La Marea", the band is so tight the players could be on autopilot, but their stop-on-a-dime breaks and complicated fills reveal otherwise. The melody to "Marea" takes advantage of the polka’s two-step feel to stretch and contract its phrase lengths like taffy. 2005’s "Mentiras" pulls the same trick. No longer tethered to predictable four-bar phrases, these melodies are free to start earlier than you expect, or extend longer than normal, giving them an emotional weightlessness. "Forget the beat," Reyes and the melody say, "this is how I feel."

What she feels is mostly sad, and then angry about the sadness. 2009’s album ¡Vamos a Bailar! opened not with an exhortation to dance, but with the post-breakup pine "¿Dónde Están?" A sub-Winwood keyboard fart reminds you this is a duranguense song. Reyes establishes the breakup in a thick purr, but once she hits the chorus, she and the snare drummer belt you with that string of questions: where are all those letters and flowers and visits and kisses? Our bodies, the ones that used to be close to one another -- where are they? Turn your attention from Reyes to the band, and you’ll realize the keyboards and woodwinds are still going, but they no longer sound cheesy. They’re simply adding to the bedlam.

In 2010 Reyes released her best album, Amame Besame, through Capitol Records. Half-duranguense, half-techno cumbia, and all exquisitely produced, it effectively marked the end of duranguense not just for Reyes but for regional Mexican music in general. Apart from duranguense Reyes has been less exciting. Her 2011 roots album Ajustando Cuentas took on traditional banda. Her voice sounded spectacular, but the banda arrangements were too perfect -- they were there to showcase her, not to be her sparring partners. Most recently, Reyes released a power ballad telenovela theme, “Yo No Creo En Los Hombres.” (Hey, me neither.) I won’t vouch for the song, whose horns read more "‘80s Chicago" than any horn-based music you’d actually wanna hear wafting from our fair city, but her voice remains a powerhouse. As for this new hits album, you’d think 20 straight duranguenses would be too many. And while some variety would be nice, the beats never quit, the new romantic melodies never flag, and the instrumentalists never stop finding new ways to go apeshit. Plus, Reyes’s voice might make people nostalgic for a time when they could reliably hear women’s voices on regional Mexican radio. Let’s hope so.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.