After going global, Grupo Frontera’s genre-melding new album has no limits

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By MARIA SHERMAN | AP Music Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — A lot can happen in two years. Just ask Grupo Frontera, who released their highly anticipated sophomore album, “Jugando Que No Pasa Nada,” Friday.

The sextet began as a local band in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, playing events like quinceañeras — a hobby for its members who held very different jobs: wedding photographer, car dealership manager, gate repairer and so on. Then, viral fame arrived in 2022 when their spirited cover of “No Se Va” by the Colombian pop-rock band Morat made the rounds on TikTok and later, the Billboard Hot 100.

Eventually, they quit their jobs, and the hits — and accolades — kept coming. They linked up with superstar producer Édgar Barrera, who hails from their corner of Texas and worked on both their albums. Last year, Grupo Frontera released their biggest track to date, “Un x100to,” a collaboration with Puerto Rican reggaetón superstar Bad Bunny, peaked at No. 5 on Billboard’s all-genre Hot 100. That song earned them a Latin Grammy.

They’ve sold out arenas and by the time their debut album, “El Comienzo,” was released last August, they’d already established themselves one of the most exciting new voices in Latin music.

On the 12-track “Jugando Que No Pasa Nada,” they’ve continued to push boundaries.

“Every album, every song that we release, is like ‘Man, we gotta make a song better than the last one,'” says Julian Peña Jr., the band’s percussionist and hype man. “We have a lot of things that we’re exploring with, and we know a lot of people are going to like it.”

“We’re trying to pressure ourselves into expanding our horizons a little bit,” adds bassist Brian Ortega. “We have a little bit of everything.”

Ortega hopes that people connect with the diversity of sounds. And there is a lot to dig into.

Songs move from electronic music to R&B to bachata to George Strait-inspired country, with Grupo Frontera’s characteristic cumbias norteñas still very much at the center of all that they do, amplified by the difference in tastes across this band. Singer Adelaido Solís III, whom they call “Payo,” is the youngest, and loves tumbados. Older members love cumbia, a style of dance music from Colombia, says Juan Javier Cantu, accordion player and vocalist.

“It’s a mixture of modern and old school. So we’re, like, in between,” he says. “That’s why you have a lot of versatility on the album.”

That makes for an interesting mix, as does the collaborators they brought forth. Featured are Maluma and Morat — a full circle moment if there ever was one — from Colombia.

There’s also Christian Nodal from Mexico and a particularly wild cut featuring Nicki Nicole from Argentina.

On the club-ready “Desquite” with Nicole, Grupo Frontera found inspiration in late ’00s, early ’10s music, specifically the Mexican pop DJ group 3BallMTY. Cantu says they wanted to bring back that sound — but “make it fresh with the music we’re doing,” he says, and with “the lyrics of today.”

Thematically, “Jugando Que No Pasa Nada” is a romantic journey: From the kiss-off opener “F——— Amor,” which Peña Jr. describes as being from the perspective of, well, someone fed up with love — to “Ibiza,” which “tells you the story about a guy saying, ‘You know what? I already bought all the cars that I want. I bought my mom a house. I got everything I want, but I also got enough for you. So come on over,'” he says.

In cultural conversation, Grupo Frontera is often viewed as frontrunners of the growing global interest in regional Mexican music — a catchall term that encompasses mariachi, banda, corridos, norteño, sierreño and other genres — alongside their friends and collaborators Peso Pluma, Fuerza Regida, Carín León and so on. And they are. But it’s not only because they play music true to their geography — it is because they’ve modernized their genres, often weaving into other musical styles. And because people all over the world are listening.

“We are regional Mexicans because our instruments are traditional and the vibe we give,” says Cantu.

“It’s regional to us, but the people made it global,” Peña Jr. jumps in. “We’re playing our music, but now it’s global. And it’s an amazing feeling.”

That exchanging of ideas and cultures is at the heart of “Jugando Que No Pasa Nada.”

“This album is kind of like a buffet,” jokes Ortega. “There’s the pizza, there’s the fish sticks, there’s the chicken wings. But you know what? It’s a little bit of everything. … But what ties it all together is that we don’t leave the essence of the cumbia.”

For a band that’s managed to take deeply beloved music, modernize it and present it to the world — what’s next? They say they’d love to tour in Europe, headline Coachella and Madison Square Garden, go to the “gringo Grammys,” says Cantu.

But more than that, they want their fans to listen to this album and “feel their emotions, the instruments,” he says.