International superstar Pepe Aguilar needs no introduction in the Spanish-speaking world.
The 46-year-old singer-songwriter has sold 13 million albums worldwide, won four Grammy Awards and four Latin Grammy Awards and earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But for those unfamiliar with Aguilar’s popular brand of ranchera, mariachi and pop music, some quick introductions still may be in order.
The Texas native was born the son of two leading lights in the Mexican music and film world: Antonio Aguilar and Flor Silvestre. He grew up playing rock ’n’ roll, but soon began to delve into his Mexican heritage and record in Spanish. He broke out big with his 1998 release, “Por Mujeres Como Tú,” which spent 52 weeks on Billboard charts. His work now is being celebrated with an exhibit spanning his career that opened in May at the Grammy Museum. It will be on display until February in Los Angeles.
Booking Aguilar for his sold-out Thursday show at the Gallo Center for the Arts was a three-year effort, said Gallo Center CEO Lynn Dickerson. The performer regularly packs arenas and stadiums around the world.
“We were really thrilled because this is the equivalent of a John Legend in the Hispanic community,” Dickerson said. “It puts us on the map with that patron, which we have been trying to do for a long time. It’s a real feather in our cap.”
The show sold out the second day tickets were on sale to the general public and has a wait list of more than 500. Dickerson said the center easily could have sold out a second show with Aguilar if he had been available. So perhaps no introductions are needed after all.
The performer took time from his touring schedule to answer an email Q&A with The Bee to speak about his music, his passion and those beautiful charro outfits he wears on stage.
For people unfamiliar with ranchera, how do you describe the music to them?
I think the best way to describe it would be as the soul of Mexico. The expression of its people and the time when life was simpler and maybe even richer.
You are so associated with ranchera music, but have also done pop and other genres. Do you feel more comfortable in one world or the other?
Growing up, both worlds were as important! Even though the bigger part of my career has developed in the ranchera/mariachi genre, I also had a rock band, we recorded an album and toured. Then I realized that even though making music was definitely my thing, the music that I was going to make would be to fulfill my own basic artistic needs, so my only concern was to remain truthful, regardless of the genre.
What do you enjoy about the different musical genres?
On Babel.fm – my radio station online – I always say that there are only two genres of music: the good one and the bad one. I have a very eclectic taste, as it shows in my station’s programming.
I enjoy artistic expression, and art has no nationality or language. The joy, the feeling and the conscience that goes into creating music is “universal.” Each genre brings its own special essence to one big global mix.
You recently did an “MTV Unplugged” with MTV Tr3s. What was that experience like, and why did you want to participate?
When the possibility was brought to me, it was very attractive, as it gave me the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone, to try new things, to work in a different way. It was a great experience, I’m very satisfied with the result.
Earlier this year, you also had an exhibit of your career open at the Grammy Museum in L.A. How involved were you in putting together the exhibit and what does it mean to you to be able to have a career display like this?
The Grammy Museum exhibit is a great honor and a big first for me! My wife and our office was 100 percent involved in choosing the pieces that were loaned to the museum and how they were displayed. Everything you see there is from my personal and professional history. From Grammys to infant charro suits.
In terms of meaning, this exhibit lets me share with my audience very personal items from my life, and that opens a new dimension in the contact that I already have with my fans.
For visitors to the museum, it opens a door to learn about a genre they may not be familiar with and it gives them a very thorough portrait of my career from its very beginnings to where I am now.
Among the exhibits are many of your beautiful charro outfits (the Mexican horseman attire he is known for wearing on stage). Tell me about them, and what does it mean to you when you perform in them? How many do you think you have?
I may have more than 200. The suits on display mark very specific moments of my career. for example the suit that I wore for the photo session of “Por Mujeres Como Tu,” which became a huge hit, staying on top of the Latin charts for over a year. There is also the suit I wore for the photo shoot of “Por Una Mujer Bonita,” the album which won my first Grammy, and there is also one of the suits that I wore for the shoot of the most recent album.
Performing in them, I bring the best of Mexico to my audience all over the world. As I mentioned earlier, it is an expression of the best of Mexico.
You may not know that I was a national champion of charrería (Mexican rodeo), so every suit I wear to perform, I wear it proudly, knowing the full meaning of the outfit.
Your new album, “Lástima Que Sean Ajenas,” came out last fall. I understand it was a tribute to singer Don Vicente Fernández. What inspired you to do that album?
I felt a lot of pain when I heard that Don Vicente was retiring from the stage. It’s like something inside you dies, like a story that you were part of. It made sense to do a tribute to this man. I did not think about it very much, the decision was somewhat impetuous. There were some moments of doubt, when I said to myself: Gee, I’m recording an homage to one of the best voices of the genre. But then I returned to my essence, realizing I was not doing this project for anyone but myself, beyond what critics or colleagues might think – including Mr. Fernández. This goes much further, its a tribute to an era, to a sound, to a concept that it’s here to stay.
What music are you working on now?
As you mentioned earlier, I have just finished what will be my 25th album: an “MTV Unplugged,” which will be released Oct. 21. Right now, I am working on how the “Unplugged” fits into my show and very probably will play something at The Forum in L.A. on Oct. 18. I am also producing the album for Omar Arreola, who won a singing competition I started a couple years ago on my social channels.
As you can see, “A charro’s work is never done.”