Arts, Culture & Media

Jenni Rivera: Notes on her plane crash, and her music

Mexican-American diva Jenni Rivera keeps grabbing media attention after her fatal plane crash over northern Mexico.

The latest update: Mexican officials on Thursday identified the singer's remains and sent them to her family.

And yet, if you're like most of us at GlobalPost, you probably had no idea until this week about the megastar in our midst.

The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi depicted that utter ignorance in his article, “Mainstream media’s ignorance of Jenni Rivera raises image of parallel Americas.”

“Chances are, this was news to you. Chances are, you’d never heard of Rivera until you learned that she died in a plane crash in Mexico on Sunday,” he wrote in the Post’s Style section Tuesday.

Neither Rivera nor the popular Mexican music world that looked set to crown her queen are well-known in America’s non-Spanish-speaking homes. But among Latinos, particularly in the Western and Southwestern US and across Mexico, that girl was on fire.

Rivera rocked the Latin charts and sold at least 15 million records, according to a report by El Diario newspaper in New York.

Born in Long Beach, California, she was the mother of five and owner of an "international business empire," according to The Los Angeles Times. The LA Times has been tracking the story closely now, but, as Farhi wrote, it's one of a long list of anglo media that had never uttered Rivera's name.

Day by day more details have emerged about the woman and the accident. Here’s an update — first the news, then the music.

The singer reportedly died between show dates. On Saturday, she performed in Monterrey, Mexico, and on Sunday was flying en route to Mexico City, from where she was to travel southwest to the town of Toluca for her next performance, Reuters reported.

The plane practically nosedived” 28,000 feet, probably faster than 600 mph, The Los Angeles Times reported, citing wire reports and Mexican police.

CNN’s Mariano Castillo reported Wednesday that investigators found human remains near the wreckage. It must have been a horrific sight — they said they could not identify the number of victims.

Media reports say Rivera and six others aboard the plane were killed.

Another story by ABC News/Univision journalists aimed to reveal a possible shady undercurrent to the accident. A Mexican businessman linked to the company that made the jet is convicted of falsifying aircraft records, counterfeiting government inspection stamps, and drug-trafficking charges.

And, segue to the music.


This gem comes from Rivera’s 1999 album “Que Me Entierren con la Banda,” meaning “let them bury me with ‘la banda,’” her musical genre of choice. It’s a broad category — “bandas” play anything from old-school tequila-fueled rancheras to synth-heavy Mexican pop. In this number, “Las Malandrinas” (bad girls), the almost polka-sounding staccato horn lines may be a little hokey to the uninitiated, but this stuff can really get the fiesta bouncing. As for polka, the Mexicans have Europeans to thank for it. Mexico began to embrace polka and waltz the 19th century.

The video opens with young shoplifters making off with CDs in their bras, and later features women brawling. "I wrote it in homage to my female fans. The type of girls that go clubbing, drink tequila and stand up for themselves,” Rivera told Billboard last year.

But let’s back up a bit. There’s a big family legacy behind “La Diva de la Banda,” as Rivera was known. The LA Times’ Sam Quinones paints the backdrop nicely in this article, “Jenni Rivera’s musical family helped popularize Mexican narco-ballads.” Her father Pedro Rivera was "among the first to release the records of Chalino Sanchez, a skinny young immigrant from Paramount, who, in death, would become the godfather of the Mexican narcocorrido or narco-ballad," writes Quinones.

These ballads, as GlobalPost readers may recall, are musical odes to drug lords and their antics. We’ve reported on the genre several times, including this story by David Agren and an earlier piece by Ioan Grillo. Agren's dispatch came after a government crackdown on the popular genre.

Fast forward to 2012, and watch the evolution of a diva.


Over the years, Jenni Rivera grew her talents and performing prowess, and traded that bad-girl getup for the maturer, more glamorous look seen above. Here she was earlier this year singing “Lo Siento Mi Amor” (I’m sorry my love), a well-known tune from the “copla” song tradition. The light-FM sound of electric guitar over orchestral strings may seem a tad schmaltz, but there’s something bluesy about the lyrics. She’s sorry because the thrill has gone away: “It’s been a while since I felt anything while doing it with you,” opens the chorus.

The thrill for Jenni Rivera has certainly not gone — the mobs of fans paying homage in Mexico and the United States and her 2.2 million-strong Twitter following are a testament to that. And those record sales will likely soar, sadly, after Rivera's death.