Few would argue that Azucena de la Torre—better known as Azucena “La de Jalisco”—is Jalisco’s contemporary queen of the canción ranchera. Azucena was born 32 years ago in Guadalajara, and for the past 18 years she has been an untiring champion of Mexican song in the mariachi genre.
A longtime favorite of San Antonio audiences, Azucena recently spoke with MariachiMusic.com, in preparation for her upcoming return to the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza.
“Soy orgullosamente tapatía y exponente de la música más bonita que existe, que es la música mexicana”.
MM.com: Do you come from a musical family?
Azucena: No, I don’t. My father has a beautiful singing voice, but I’m the first one in my family to pursue a musical career.
MM.com: How did you begin singing?
Azucena: I attended Catholic elementary school, where I sang in the choir. The nuns were the ones who discovered my voice. I loved to sing, and I performed for school events on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc., but it never occurred to me until much later that I could become a professional singer.
MM.com: So how did you begin singing professionally?
Azucena: At around age 11, I started performing in various venues that presented Mexican music in Guadalajara. I was the youngest of the female ranchera singers on the scene in those days, and I got a lot of attention because my voice sounded more like that of an adult than that of a child. I eventually had the opportunity to sing in some of the better Guadalajara restaurants, and one day, to my good fortune, Vicente Fernández attend one of those performances.
Don Vicente is a central figure in my musical career. He believed in my talent from the beginning, and he’s been my musical godfather. Thanks to his recommendation, I made my first record for Discos Sony in 1998, when I was 15 years old.
MM.com: Have you studied singing formally?
Azucena: I started without a teacher, but once I began performing at age 13, I realized I needed professional guidance. My vocal teacher, the only one I’ve ever had, is Moises Vallarta, a great maestro and singer in his own right. Vicente Fernández recommended him to me. Don Vicente explained to me that if you jump from one teacher to another, you can get confused and develop a style that’s not really your own. My teacher has provided me with techniques that have allowed me to improve the way I express my own personal style. And thanks to him, I can sing for one, two, or even three hours without getting hoarse.
MM.com: Do you play a musical instrument?
Azucena: Not really. I know enough basic piano to accompany myself in vocalization exercises, but that’s about it. I’d like to learn to play the guitar and study composition.
MM.com: Tell us about your many tours.
Azucena: I’ve performed all over Mexico and in almost every state and major city of the USA. In addition, virtually all of the Central American republics have declared me their “Embajadora de la Canción Mexicana,” and in 1998, Switzerland honored me with that title as well. From 1999-2000, I toured Mexico, the United States, and Central America opening shows for Vicente and Alejandro Fernández. Several times I’ve been ambassador for my hometown’s Encuentro Internacional del Mariachi, and in 2004, I performed with members of Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlán at the International Song Festival in Viña del Mar, Chile. I’ve had the honor and privilege of sharing the stage with some of the most important names in ranchera music, including Juan Gabriel, La Prieta Linda, Aída Cuevas, Juan Valentín, Ezequiel Peña, and other greats.
MM.com: How did you get involved with television?
Azucena: I made my first TV performance when I was 13, and since then I’ve been on a large number of Televisa programs. Since 2011, I’ve been part of a weekly musical program called Noche a Noche Contigo, where Carlos Cuevas, Ricardo Caballero and I are co-conductors. It’s the only television show in Mexico where they give artists two full hours to showcase their talent. You can watch it in the US on the SKY network (DIRECTV).
MM.com: Tell us about your recordings.
Azucena: I’ve put out five CDs to date: La de Jalisco (1998), Corazón Romántico (2000), Demasiado Herido (2001), Rezaré (2009), and Para Dejarte de Amar (2014). The first three were on the Sony Music label. The last two are private productions, and I was in charge of production and the selection of all the songs for both. Interestingly, the last two have been the most successful and well-received.
MM.com: Which of your songs are the best known?
Azucena: From my first CD, Nazario’s “Auxilio, Me Estoy Enamorando.” Many people first became aware of me thanks to that song. Rigoberto Alfaro wrote the arrangement. From my second disc, Omar Alfano’s “Debe Volar el Amor,” arranged by Pedro Ramírez. On my third disc, “Demasiado Herida,” by Argentinians Ángel Roberto Galetto and Miguel Ángel Valenzuela, is the song people most identify with. From my fourth disc, Arturo Mejía’s “Rezaré,” arranged by Juan Ramón González, opened a lot of doors for me. And on my latest CD, by far the most popular song is Manuel Alcaraz and Pepe Martínez’s “Para Dejarte de Amar.” Maestro Pepe asked me to record that song, and he even wrote the arrangement for me as a gift.
MM.com: Have there been occasions where you’ve been obligated to sing songs you didn’t like?
Azucena: No. I’ve always taken a very active role in the selection of my repertory. For me to interpret a song, it has to strike a chord within me. I’m very open to song suggestions, as long as that song awakens something within me when I sing it. In fact, almost every song on my last CD was chosen with the public in mind. But if a song, no matter how beautiful it is, doesn’t inspire me, I won’t record it.
MM.com: Are there certain types of songs that you refuse to sing?
Azucena: I won’t sing narcocorridos. I prefer love songs—even if they’re about love’s disenchantments—or songs that have some kind of positive message. Far from being positive, narcocorridos paint a distorted image of our society. There’s already too much violence and corruption out there, and I don’t believe in glorifying it!
MM.com: Do you have other activities outside of music?
Azucena: Yes. I’m also a psychologist, and at one time I worked at one of the largest hospitals in Guadalajara. I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and more than once I’ve wanted to enter a master’s program, but music and the artistic scene have always kept me from doing so. I have a passion for psychology, but my passion for Mexican music is even greater!
MM.com: Has your training in psychology helped you in your musical career?
Azucena: Absolutely. I use those skills all day long, whether I’m interacting with others or performing onstage. Among other things, it’s taught me how to listen to others—and how to make others listen to me!
MM.com: To what do you attribute your artistic success?
Azucena: I attribute it to persistence, hard work, and the love and passion I put into each concert and each song. When I’m on stage, I try to give the very best of myself. I think the public senses this, and that this has given me credibility.
MM.com: Is there anything more you want to say to conclude this interview?
Azucena: I just want to express how excited I am to be returning to Texas, to thank Cynthia Muñoz for bringing me back, and to thank everyone there who has supported me over the years. San Antonio is a town where mariachi music is truly appreciated, and one of the places I’ve experienced the warmest audiences. I can’t wait to embrace the San Antonio public once again!
Azucena will perform with San Antonio’s very own Mariachi Los Caporales on Saturday, November 21 at 7:30 p.m., at the Lila Cockrell Theatre. Tickets are available at ticketmaster.com.