Brothers Raul and Mexia Hernandez. (Nacional Records )
If your dad advises you not to go into the family business, it's perhaps understandable when the family business happens to be fighting fires or window-washing skyscrapers.
But it might seem odd that Raul and Mexia Hernández's dad urged his sons not to become musicians. Music, after all, has been very good not only to their father, Hernán Hernández, but also to his brothers and cousins who make up the superstar Mexican norteño band Los Tigres del Norte.
"One thing my dad always mentioned to us was the sacrifices you have to make, being away from your family, and kind of missing those things, the graduations, the soccer games," Mexia recalled recently.
"Those were the type of things that any dad or parent wouldn't want their kid going through, the life on the road," his younger brother Raul chimed in.
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Well, father doesn't always know best.
After following separate musical paths for years, the brothers last week released their first album together, "Arriba y Lejos" (Up and Away), on the Nacional Records label. The disc, an uptempo, electro-pop helium balloon, synthesizes Mexia's penchant for percussively aggressive urban/hip-hop with Raul's solo leanings toward ballad-driven musica romantica. Guided by the innovative Monterrey, Mexico, producer Toy Selectah, the record splices traditional with contemporary textures, four-on-the-floor dance beats and 12-string bajo sexto guitars.
Despite his previous reservations, their dad approves of the results.
"I think this type of dance music is something that is very up-to-the-moment," Hernán Hernández said via phone from a recent tour stop. "I'm very proud, I'm very emotional."
Naturally, the siblings hope the record will attain the kind of success that results in concert dates, movie-TV-video game placements (one tune, "Las Escondidas," already has been tapped for two feature films), and, yes, lots of time spent on the road. What's making that prospect more palatable to their dad, not to mention themselves, is that now they're turning music-making into a family affair.
"Now that we're working together I think he has more peace of mind," Raul said of their father. "It's family on the road, and I think that's a big part of why Los Tigres had such success."
Born and raised in San Jose, where both still live with their own families, Raul, 25, and Mexia, 30, have spent their lives in the borderlands, culturally and linguistically. At home, their father, raised in the northwest Mexican state of Sinaloa, and their Mexican American mother spoke almost nothing but Spanish.
Like many children of immigrants, the brothers, who have dual U.S.-Mexico citizenship, sometimes struggled to reconcile the rival claims of ancestral values vs. assimilation.
"We both grew up in a predominantly Latino neighborhood, but then all of a sudden our dad decided to move us into a better neighborhood," said Mexia (pronounced mex-EYE-uh), whose real name is Hernán Hernández Jr. "The majority of the guys I hung out with were white. And then my dad would roll up and he'd be in a sombrero or boots, and they'd be like, 'Is that your dad?'"
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At the same time, the boys were very proud of their papa and uncles' work, attending concerts from an early age.
"We'd be on the side of the stage," Mexia recalled, "and he'd look over and give us a little wink, or pick his bass, slap on it or something and do a crazy little tone or whatever. It made it really cool. So that's what we wanted."
The brothers entered the business from opposite directions. Mexia, a rapper, poet and break-dancer, shouldered his way in through hip-hop culture, busting rhymes with DJs and sonically scrutinizing every groove by A Tribe Called Quest, EPMD and their ilk. Later, he went to school to study sound engineering and worked as a gofer for Los Tigres for seven years.
Raul was an aspiring soccer player, good enough to earn a spot with L.A.'s professional Club Deportiva Chivas USA. "During that time I just started picking up the guitar and playing piano," he said. "When I started writing my own music, that's when I was like, 'OK, I want to do this.'"
The brothers are used to people assuming that their family connections threw open doors for them. In fact, they insist, they got no special breaks. Everyone from record label heads to producers told them they'd have to make it on their own. So did their dad.
"He wasn't there calling his friends, 'Hey, check this out, you've gotta support my son,'" Mexia said. "He was more in the background: 'I'm going to be here to support you guys. If you fall, you're going to have to get up on your own.'"