Keeping It in the Family: A Conversation with Mario Quintero
Mario Quintero is a legendary singer/songwriter, who exemplifies creative vision and perseverance. Since first forming his hugely influential norteño band, los Tucanes de Tijuana, as a teenager in his native state of Sinaloa in Mexico, Quintero has remained focused on writing, recording, touring and sharing his music with his worldwide fans. Suffice to say, his efforts have been amply rewarded. Quintero has written over 500 songs, including chart-topping favorites like “Mis Tres Animales,” “La Chona,” “El Tucanazo,” “Mundo de Amor,” “La Chica Sexy” and “Secuestro de Amor,” among many others. He’s earned 34 gold records, 30 platinum records and over 36 BMI Awards, including Songwriter of the Year. Additionally, he won a Latin GRAMMY in 2012 and was honored with BMI’s President’s Award in 2019 for not only his success, but also for raising awareness of regional Mexican music on a global scale. In observance of Hispanic Heritage Month, BMI reached out to Quintero to hear his thoughts on his career journey, creative process and his roots in Mexican culture. Here’s what he had to say.
In the context of Hispanic Heritage Month, and as one of the all-time greats of regional Mexican music with musical works played around the world, what do your Mexican roots mean to you and what influence do they have on your compositions?
Hispanic heritage means a lot to me, as a large part of my achievements come from the upbringing and teachings that my parents instilled in me – respect, honesty, hard work, gratitude and discipline in everything I do in life. That allowed me to think things through, informed my being, my thinking. Somehow it informed my compositions. I’ve always said that the best inheritance that your parents can leave you is a good education, and thank God I was fortunate to have parents that taught me the fundamentals of being a human – principles. That’s why much of what I write is based on my upbringing, my farm-boy roots. I’m a person who was born in a small ranch in Mexico’s Sinaloan Sierra. So I’m very proud to be Hispanic and to have the gift of writing and making music that keeps bringing couples tighter and brightening hearts.
Do you remember the first time you performed with Los Tucanes de Tijuana in the U.S.? What do you remember from that night?
We have many cool and funny stories from when we got our start. I remember an occasion when we went to play in Los Angeles at a place called El Farallón Night Club in Lynwood. It was an incredible, emotional night, but I remember we couldn’t get to the place because the line of cars to get to the Farallón reached back to the freeway. We didn’t know the traffic jam was because all those people were going to see Los Tucanes de Tijuana at the Farallón. In fact, by that time, the club was already completely full. Thousands of people were unable to enter. It was unforgettable for us, the first time we saw that kind of crowd trying to see Los Tucanes de Tijuana.
What was the hardest thing about moving to the U.S.? How did you communicate before learning English?
Learning the language was definitely the hardest thing because I only took high school English when I moved to Tijuana – so when we moved to the U.S., we didn’t speak a word of English and didn’t know our way or the rules about living in the U.S. My children had a difficult time adapting to the change of schools, the language. Little by little, we adapted, learned the basics and thank God it’s not that complicated now. Fortunately, we live very close to the border with Tijuana and everyone speaks Spanish here.
You come from a musical family and began composing and performing at the age of 12. Is your distinctive storytelling style something that comes naturally to you? How did that creative process emerge?
Yes, I inherited it from my Dad’s side. My uncle Mariano Quintero from Los Incomparables de Tijuana gave me my first six-string bass guitar and they taught me to play. My uncle Mariano would give me tips on how to write songs and corridos. He gave me my first lessons on how to structure a song, work the rhymes. Music was my first love. From the time I was in elementary school, then through high school, I would love to write verses and rhymes. So with the guide and help from my uncles Mariano and Lupe Quintero, I began to write and compose my first songs.
Your songs have been featured in countless movies and TV shows, covered by hundreds of artists and earned gold and platinum records. You’ve been nominated to the Latin GRAMMYs 12 times, winning it in 2012. To date you’ve received 36 Latin BMI Awards. You’re considered a legendary performer of Mexican music. Looking back, what achievement are you most proud of?
Without a doubt, I’m proud of all the awards I’ve received thanks to God, the public and Los Tucanes de Tijuana. They’re all very precious to me and my bandmates. But I believe what makes me most proud is the family I have. I love my family. They’re the ones who give me the strength to move forward. I always dreamed of having a family like mine, and I’m proud to instill in them my Hispanic heritage.
What advice would you give aspiring songwriters just starting out in their careers?
May they never lose faith and hope, because one day they’ll have the satisfaction of seeing their dreams come true. But it’s very important not to despair – they must be very patient and work hard. It’s not enough to just dream it. You have to go after those dreams, you have to hold on, follow your instincts and believe in yourself. And always say to yourself, ‘Yes I can.’
What’s the secret to staying inspired and creative?
In my case, I think the secret is that I’m a very dedicated person – I love writing and composing songs. I’m always thinking about music. I write down ideas that suddenly come to mind all the time, because inspiration can come at any moment, sometimes even when I’m trying to sleep. I can’t turn my mind off because I’m unconsciously making arrangements in my head and keeping the rhythm on my pillow, on my chest or my stomach. Suddenly I’m moving my feet or tapping the rhythm on the bed’s headboard – all of this at midnight or dawn. Without wanting to or realizing it, I wake up my wife, and she just says: “There you go composing again! Why don’t you get up and go to the studio or your office to compose comfortably and let me sleep! Please go to sleep, you need to let your head rest; turn off your mind and follow up tomorrow!” I apologize, promise to let her sleep and that’s when I grab the phone and record the idea before trying to rest.
Because that’s how many of my melodies and lyrics were born. It’s a curious thing, but that’s how inspiration works. Ideas come suddenly and you can’t let them get away because they don’t return. That’s why you have to show dedication and be on the lookout for the moments when ideas or inspiration come to you. Sometimes I even dream songs while sleeping. The moment I wake up, I get up and record the melody and write some verses that occur to me out of the blue. There’s been times that I’ve been too lazy to get up to record or write what came to my mind, telling myself that I’ll do it tomorrow. But that’s a big mistake, because the next day you don’t remember anything, everything’s completely forgotten, the ideas never to return. So now I don’t let it get away, and at whatever time something comes to me, I get up and record it immediately on my phone.
What role has BMI played in your journey so far?
BMI has been a great step in my career as a writer and composer. I’ve received 36 BMI Awards and was also fortunate enough to receive other accolades from BMI such as 1999 Songwriter of the Year, the 2019 Presidential Award and a special recognition for musical contribution to La Reina del Sur 2.
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