Pepe Aguilar is a best-selling, award-winning Mexican singer, songwriter, and producer. The son of multi-platinum singing icons Antonio Aguilar and Flor Silvestre, he has won four Grammys, five Latin Grammys, a whopping 19 Lo Nuestro awards and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His album sales top 15 million globally and his concerts have been consistent sellouts for more than two decades. Aguilar's voice is rooted deep in the mariachi tradition, a romantic, lonesome, haunting baritone that underscores the charro (cowboy) in Mexican culture which has been all but lost in the confusing 21st century narcocorrido era. While his love songs have consistently topped the charts, his bandas, polkas, and pop tunes have registered as equally successful. His commercial breakthrough occurred with his fourth album, 1992's Recuérdame Bonito. Written and produced by Joan Sebastian, it included traditionally styled songs that highlighted Aguilar's singular vocal technique which straddles history and modernity. Likewise the aching title track to 1998's Por Mujeres Como Tu; with its meld of Anglo and Mexican cultures (also known as "mestizaje"), 1999's Por una Mujer Bonita scored him his first Grammy and sold more than four million copies. In the 21st century, Aguilar issued a series of albums in tribute to the iconic singers and songwriters who preceded him, including 2004's number three hit Con Orgullo por Herencia; it offers a homage to the music of his parents. Aguilar founded his own studio and label and has continued to work the mines of tradition while throwing curveballs in the process: The genre-blurring No Lo Habia Dicho from 2016 offered his takes on everything from Colombian vallenato and cumbia to Latin pop, banda, and ranchera.
Aguilar was born San Antonio, Texas while his parents were on tour, but he was raised in Zacatecas, Mexico. He made his singing debut at age three when his father brought him on-stage at Madison Square Garden to perform. While the younger Aguilar was steeped in the history of Mexican folk music from birth, it didn't stop him from absorbing the sounds he heard on the radio. A major fan of Pink Floyd and the Who, he formed the rock band Equs as a teen and wrote and covered new wave and classic rock hits. The band didn't last long, however, and by age 20, Aguilar had returned to singing the Tejano music of his youth. He signed to Musart and made his recording debut in 1989 with Pepe Aguilar con Tambora, a banda album with drums. Two more volumes followed in 1990 and 1991. Sebastian heard him at a concert and offered to produce his next album. The great mariachi wrote all of the songs on Recuérdame Bonito, gearing them specifically toward the qualities in Aguilar's voice. The set hit number eight on the Mexican Regional Albums chart and got massive airplay in the north of Mexico and Southwest Texas. While he continued to record, Aguilar was building his reputation through his widely celebrated stage show, which showcased hits from Mexico's past as well as his own music. Aguilar was a master showman, playing for hours at a time all the while involving his audiences at every turn whether playing in Caracas, Mexico City or Laredo, Texas. This constant touring set the stage for 1998's classic, Por Mujeres Como Tu. Its title track single topped the charts, and the album reached number four and spent 81 weeks on the chart. Not one to argue with success, Aguilar promoted the album on television, radio, and on stages. The set became the first entry in a trilogy that also included chartbusters Por el Amor de Siempre, and Por una Mujer Bonita. The latter also won a Grammy, and its tour took him from Chile to Alaska.
In 2000, Aguilar issued Lo Grande de Los Grandes, a collection of covers by historic songwriters who included Javier Solis, Jorge Negrete, Pedro Infante, Miguel Acevez Mejia, and Vicente Fernandez. In 2001, Lo Mejor de Nosotros netted the chart-topping single "Me Vasa Extranar," while the album peaked at number four and spent 26 weeks on the chart. In 2003 he left Musart and founded his own studio and label, Equinoccio Records that produced the charting full-length Y Tenerte Otra Vez. It became his first number one album. He followed it some months later with Con Orgullo por Herencia. It was a tribute comprised of 12 ranchera classics made popular by his parents and hit number three. Aguilar penned "Miedo" in 2004, which became the theme song for the TV series Big Brother México. It marked the first time he'd sung an original in 15 years and audiences ate it up. It landed in the Top Five on Latin Pop and Top Ten on Mexican Regional Songs.
As previously mentioned, Aguilar was a known experimenter. Now that he was working for his own label, he could take more chances. To that end, he cut the album No Soy de Nadie that reveled in pop ballads. It peaked at number four, but more importantly, established him in new markets such as Puerto Rico and even Cuba. Though Aguilar toured almost incessantly, he did find time to record, releasing Historias de Mi Tierra in 2005 and Enamorado in 2006 -- both walked the line between mariachis and deeply romantic pop ballads. The former landed at number 14. 2007 saw the release of 100% Mexicano (number 16 and a Grammy winner). It featured exclusive songs in mariachi- and Sinaloan-style banda penned by Marc Antonio Solis, Martin Urieta, Leonel Garcia (of Sin Bandera), and Reily Barba, among others. The following year, Homenaje proved a collection that viewed his late father as "more than a father, but also a colleague, and a Zacatecan artist who opened countless doors in his exemplary passage through this world." In 2008 Aguilar participated in a Grammy U SoundChecks event in Los Angeles. He performed live and was asked questions by students.
At the beginning of the century's second decade, Aguilar released the self-produced, Grammy-winning Bicentenario, whose purpose was to celebrate Mexico through some of his own most representative songs in two fundamental genres of traditional Mexican music: ranchera and banda. The release of 2012's Con Mariachi was the vehicle for a concert tour and Aguilar brought his two-plus-hour show of traditional tunes to the North American continent, selling out many venues, including the Gibson Amphitheatre in Los Angeles for three consecutive evenings. Later that year, he released the Grammy-winning Mas de un Camino EP, a fusion of modern ranchera, pop, and mariachi that landed inside the Top 20 on the Top Latin Albums chart. The following year during a tour break, he participated in the Grammy Museum at L.A. Live "A Conversation With" series and discussed his career. To coincide with the moderated question-and-answer session, the museum unveiled the exhibit "Pepe Aguilar…La Leyenda Continúa," that gave visitors an in-depth look at the music and vocational trajectory of the regional Mexican artist. In October of 2013, he issued the Latin Grammy-winning Lastima Que Sean Ajenas, a magnificent collection of rancheras that peaked in the top spot on the Regional Mexican albums chart. He was also the focus of a wildly successful episode of MTV Unplugged, performing 13 of his best-known songs across several genres from ranchera to rock with his own group and a cast of illustrious guests that included Natalia Lafourcade, Miguel Bose, his children Angela and Leonardo (also professional singers), La Marisol (La Santa Cecilia) and others. The soundtrack album placed well inside the Top Ten at Regional Mexican albums, Latin Pop, and Top Latin Albums charts simultaneously and was certified triple platinum. Aguilar followed it by touring across North, South, and Central America. After a short break, he re-entered the studio with co-producers/co-writers Yamil Rezc and Chile's Francis and Mauricio Duran of Los Bunkers, and delivered a genre-blurring program of rock, pop, cumbia, vallenatos, romanticas, and banda, trusting his audience would follow him. They did. While the pre-release single "Maria" hit the top spot on streaming charts, the full-length peaked at number three on two different album lists. The same year he issued a tribute compilation Pepe Aguilar Interpeta Joan Sebastian. After intensive touring, Aguilar, deeply moved by the death of songwriter Juan Gabriel, became one of many Mexican artists to issue his own tribute in December of 2018 with Fue un Placer Conocerte: Gracias Juan Gabriel, Vol. 1. ~ Thom Jurek