Since her emergence in the mid-’90s, Jenni Rivera has become not only one of the most beloved artists in banda music, but one of Latin music’s best-selling artists period, with over 20 million albums sold worldwide. Named Female Artist of the Year and Banda Artist of the Year at the 21st Univision Premio Lo Nuestro a la Música Latina awards last year, Rivera also recently released, Jenni, which debuted at #1 on the U.S. Top Latin Albums Chart.
As a major female star in the banda/corrido field, Rivera is a rarity in a genre that is resoundingly male-dominated. Her brass-infused music and controversial themes, coupled with intense media scrutiny of her private life, are the trademarks of the singer/songwriter and recording artist known to millions as “la Diva de la Banda.”
Rivera was raised in Long Beach, California, where her parents originally emigrated from Mexico. After her early marriage ended in divorce, she obtained a college degree and a real estate license before going to work for Cintas Acuario, the record label founded by her father, Latin-music magnate Pedro Rivera. And while her family also includes four brothers — Juan Rivera, Pedro Rivera, Jr., Gustavo Rivera and corrido star Lupillo Rivera — who all make music, Jenni didn’t plan to join the musical dynasty.
However, watching the musicians come and go from her father’s Long Beach studio — luminaries such as Graciela Beltran, Rogelio Martinez, Los Razos and, of course, her brothers — ignited her musical ambitions. With a degree in Business Administration and the experience she had gained at Cintas Acuario, Rivera decided to go for a career in the family business. Her debut, Chacalosa (a slang term for a party girl), was her auspicious introduction. Originally with Capitol/EMI’s Latin division, then Sony/Latin, in 1999, Rivera signed with Fonovisa, one of the top labels in the regional Mexican market.
She became the first female banda artist to sell out a concert at the world-famous Gibson Amphitheater in Universal City, California, and a series of steamy videos fueled the world’s growing fascination with the fiery bombshell. Television appearances, including a visit to her palatial home on Cribs plus this season’s hot music show Rock Dinner and mun2 Hook Up, all for MTV Tr3´s, continue to brand her vibrant music for new, multi-generational audiences.
As a songwriter, Rivera uses her well-publicized personal life for inspiration. Her electrifying 2007 release Mi Vida Loca, named Regional Mexican Album of the Year at the 2008 Billboard Latin Music Awards, related tales of her early marriage and pregnancy, domestic abuse, a nasty divorce, and ultimate personal triumph. She worked seamlessly within the framework of narrative corridos and spoken introductions. Patently unpredictable, the album even included a spirited banda version of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
An increasingly savvy entrepreneur whose empire also includes Divina Cosmetics, a beauty line specially tailored for Latin women, the artist also executively produced her latest release. But while the project buzzes with the brassy, unapologetic performances that her audiences expect, there is a new sense of nuance and complexity. Jenni includes some vulnerable moments like the ballads “Culpable o Inocente,” and “Tu Camisa Puesta,” and then bites back with “Fraude,” a humorous grievance bemoaning a lover’s lack of amorous technique.
Jenni Rivera remains one of a very small cadre of female corridistas, and more notably, the only one who writes her own songs and produces her own material. She has made a career out of trumping critics who accuse her of coarsening Mexican femininity; her bawdy themes, edgy image and earthy approach to her art do more than entertain — they inspire. Controversial and colorful, with her impassioned anthems and a new spirit of feminism, Jenni Rivera celebrates the power of a courageous woman tough enough to triumph in a male-dominated world. “I want to convey a message,” Rivera avows, “That women can be as bad-ass as men.”