Meanwhile, Back at the Ranchera

Delia Flores has selected raspberry lipstick, a blue headband and six tiny gold hoop earrings for the evening. Although she still has to wear her khaki uniform and lug around a dustpan and broom, Los Temerarios, Mexico's hottest romántica band, is playing tonight, and she wants to look good. A native of Chihuahua, Delia's been a resident of the United States for three years and a passionate Temerarios fan even longer.

While the crowd gathers outside the Denver Coliseum, Delia sweeps up a cigarette butt here, a gum wrapper there, secretly scouting the arena for the perfect spot to stand once the house lights dim.

"Love," she explains, fanning her face. "Looove."

Last year, Los Temerarios easily sold out the Coliseum, and now, on a bill with Pancho Barraza, Los Terribles del Norte, Los Askis and Chavos Dun Dun, they're poised to do the same. The arena fills with hundreds of homesick dishwashers, construction workers, teachers, lawyers, housewives and cooks, who have each shelled out $40 to sway with the melody, bounce to the beat, savor a taste of Mexico. Dark-eyed women in miniskirts, red velvet gowns, stiletto heels and skin-tight jeans. Cologne-soaked men in white tejano hats, Our Lady of Guadalupe shirts, pegged jeans and turquoise ostrich-skin boots. Gold chains. Gold watches. Gold rings. Gold teeth. Beer. Cigarette smoke. Laughter. All riding a torrent of Spanish.

Even amid all the glitter, a man and woman stand out. He wears a tailored black suit, she an iridescent evening dress. They are an unlikely pair: a onetime street kid and a choir singer; meat cutter and an F-16 inspector; a cumbia fan and a ranchera devotee. Yet together, Federico and Olga Galindo have come to dominate Denver's Spanish-language concert scene. They bring the bands, and the bands bring the people. They are wealthy, controversial and powerful, the Latin versions of rock promoter Barry Fey. In the red-hot market of regional-Mexican music, they are royalty -- the king and queen most people have never heard of.

Nobody has it made. You always start at the bottom. And there's always a ladder to climb. -- Olga Galindo

In northern Mexico, people don't just listen to music. They dance. They sing. They swoon. In Chihuahua, Sonora, Coahuila, Baja California, Durango and Nuevo León, music is more than lyrics, melodies and rhythms. It's an integral part of their birthdays, weddings, quinceañeras, funerals. It's the sound of their lives.

Every year, more and more people cross the border looking for work. And when they do, they bring their music with them. Conjunto, meaning group or ensemble, a polka-like sound featuring button accordions, twelve-string bajo sexto guitars and drums. Norteño, a rural cousin of conjunto, but often laced with the poetic narrative of corridos. Tejano, the Spanish word for Texan, a traditionally-based big-city sound modernized with synthesizers and electric guitars and made famous by Selena. Banda, with its big and boisterous ensembles of tubas and trumpets. Cumbia, marked by tropical, hip-swiveling rhythms. Mariachi, the classic arrangement of horns, violins, guitars and choruses.

This is music of the factory worker and the farmer, the not-too-distant relative of folk and country-and-Western in the United States.

But Mexican music is also attracting younger, first-generation immigrants who have rediscovered their roots through narco-corridos, a gangsta-rap equivalent that applies traditional sounds and styles to heroic tales of drug-running and other exploits. In some families, it's not unusual to find teenagers with Eminem and Los Tigres del Norte on the same mixed CD.

Today, the music of the border is labeled "regional Mexican." Marketed primarily to recent immigrants, it's the hottest Spanish-language music in the United States. Last year, regional-Mexican acts accounted for over half of all Latin record sales, earning more than $300 million and outselling tropical, salsa, rock and pop acts combined -- including Ricky Martin and Enrique Iglesias.

Major record labels, including Sony and EMI, have taken note of regional Mexican's popularity, devoting entire divisions to the genre and expanding distribution to stores like Wal-Mart, which regularly stocks the hottest regional-Mexican acts at many of its outlets. A promoters' association that pushed Mexican music for years has gotten official, reorganizing as Promotores Unidos, USA, with annual conventions and a Web site.

In Denver, four radio stations are devoted to the format. Dozens of clubs host dances featuring regional-Mexican music each weekend. The Coliseum features major acts almost monthly. The sounds of Los Tucanes and Conjunto Primavera echo from mercados, taquerías and F-150s all over town.

It's a musical subculture overlooked by most of English-speaking Denver. The concerts and dances are like nothing rock, pop or rap have to offer. They're part senior prom, part rodeo fiesta and part anniversary party, during which entire families take to the floor. While rock-act ticket sales have slid, live Mexican music is growing stronger and shows no signs of stopping.

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Harrison Fletcher