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Regional Mexican music is having a moment on the world stage

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Surely you've heard by now Beyonce's gone country.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TEXAS HOLD 'EM")

BEYONCE: (Singing) This ain't Texas. Ain't no hold 'em. So lay your cards down, down, down down.

SIMON: With "TEXAS HOLD 'EM," Beyonce became the latest pop star to turn to country. NPR's Eyder Peralta says this kind of genre jumping is also a cross-border phenomenon, with musicians far and wide actually turning to Mexico's regional music for inspiration.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: For around two decades, Mexican country music was out in the wilderness. The dembow reggaeton had taken over the world. And it had essentially made Mexico - its guitars, its accordions and violins irrelevant.

(SOUNDBITE OF BANDA MS AND SNOOP DOGG SONG, "QUE MALDICION")

PERALTA: But a few years ago, some of the biggest hip-hop acts started experimenting with Mexican sounds.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUE MALDICION")

BANDA MS: (Singing in Spanish).

PERALTA: Snoop Dogg teamed up with Banda MS, the biggest big band of Mexico, for a lovelorn ballad punctuated by his signature rhymes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUE MALDICION")

SNOOP DOGG: (Vocalizing) Ven aqui, ay, mami. Holla at me.

PERALTA: More recently, and for the first time ever, Regional Mexican reached the top of the pop charts in the U.S. And Bad Bunny, the man who is arguably the biggest pop star in the world, traded in his baseball cap for a cowboy hat. And in her latest release, the Colombian artist Karol G included an unapologetic Texas cumbia in her reggaeton album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MI EX TENIA RAZON")

KAROL G: (Singing in Spanish).

PERALTA: All of this feels surprising, but it's not really.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MI EX TENIA RAZON")

KAROL G: (Singing in Spanish).

PERALTA: Mexican culture has always been central to the Americas. Anyone who speaks Spanish grew up watching Mexican soap operas, and every birthday, we sang "Las Mananitas." Every funeral we played "Amor Eterno." Even country music - especially the one that comes from the American Southwest - has always been influenced by Mexican corridos.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEASHORES OF OLD MEXICO")

MERLE HAGGARD: (Singing) I left out of Tucson with no destination in mind.

PERALTA: There's a whole genre of country music about escaping to Mexico. Everyone from Tim McGraw to Carrie Underwood to Merle Haggard have a song about Mexico. Oftentimes, it's about running from the law, but it almost always involves finding love across the border. Merle Haggard used to talk about how Mexican music was in his veins, and you can hear it in the swing of his country music, in the wail of the violins.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEASHORES OF OLD MEXICO")

HAGGARD: (Singing) But she loved a gringo, my red hair and lingo. That's all I needed to know.

PERALTA: For a long time, and a lot like American country music, Mexican regional strayed from its roots. The bands grew larger, the sound slicker. But over the past few years, a younger generation has suddenly embraced the basics.

(SOUNDBITE OF PESO PLUMA SONG, "POR LAS NOCHES")

PERALTA: They've rediscovered the requinto, the deft fingerpicking that old Mexican musicians used to turn into raw melancholy.

(SOUNDBITE OF PESO PLUMA SONG, "POR LAS NOCHES")

PERALTA: And the world felt it. The music of Peso Pluma was suddenly streamed as much as the music of Taylor Swift.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "POR LAS NOCHES")

PESO PLUMA: (Singing in Spanish).

PERALTA: The writer Octavio Paz argued that no one does sadness better than the Mexicans. A whole country orphaned by the state, perhaps even the cosmos, he argues, finds solace in booze, death and music. Sure, it's a simplistic argument, but I can't help think that Octavio Paz is explaining this very moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FRAGIL")

YAHRITZA Y SU ESENCIA: (Singing in Spanish).

PERALTA: This world we're living in is a mess - war, famine, climate change and few easy answers. At the same time, Mexican music is in the middle of a renaissance.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FRAGIL")

YAHRITZA Y SU ESENCIA: (Singing in Spanish).

PERALTA: It's a genre coming to terms with the cartel violence ripping Mexico apart. It's a genre looking inward, seeking answers, dealing with the loss of love, or the impotence of being sensitive in a cruel world.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FRAGIL")

YAHRITZA Y SU ESENCIA: (Singing in Spanish).

PERALTA: "I wish I was like you without feelings," Yahritza y Su Esencia sing, that my soul wouldn't ache when you lied to me. In her song, Beyonce heads to that country dive bar, trying to find some sincerity. In those old country songs, the gringos came to Mexico to find refuge. I think the same is happening today. The world is trying to understand its pain, and nothing can explain that better than Mexican music. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Mexico City.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FRAGIL")

YAHRITZA Y SU ESENCIA: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.