One of the most influential bands in Latin music, La Mafia, with roots firmly planted in Tejano, celebrates 40 years in the business in 2020, and the multiple GRAMMY-winning group has risen to the top by ignoring the rules and bounding beyond genres from Tejano to grupero to regional Mexican and more.
While touring is currently at a standstill due to the pandemic, fans can next catch vocalist Oscar De La Rosa and La Mafia in a virtual July 4th performance with the Houston Symphony during Freedom Over Texas, airing on ABC 13 Houston. De La Rosa posted on social media that he will perform a tribute to country icon Kenny Rogers with a performance of the late crooner’s hit “Lady.”
An ABC 13 interview with De La Rosa and producer/musician Armando Lichtenberger, Jr. aired June 27 on the Houston affiliate and recounts La Mafia’s musical legacy. Viewers can watch the interview on the group’s Facebook page or on ABC 13.
De La Rosa and Lichtenberger first met at a cantina owned by De La Rosa’s father and formed La Mafia in the 1980s, playing hardcore Tejano tunes.
“In the 80s, we had several hits,” De La Rosa told ABC 13. “(The) 80s was all Tejano for La Mafia.”
As times changed, so did La Mafia’s style and the 1990s brought listeners a fresh sound that proved a massive success.
“We were trying new things, trying to give the younger generation something new,” De La Rosa said. “‘Estas Tocando Fuego’ opened doors for us worldwide. That was the beginning of what we created. The Tejano industry did not approve of it.”
“We were accused of abandoning our culture,” added Lichtenberger.
“At the end of the day, this album sold more than a million, 1.5, when it came out,” said De La Rosa. “I said, ‘We’re not doing anything wrong. If we’re doing something, we’re doing it right.'”
The album, released in 1991, became the first Tejano album to receive platinum status. La Mafia followed it up with the album, “Ahora Y Siempre,” with the monster hit, “Me Estoy Enamorando,” released in 1992, which spent nine weeks on top of the Billboard Latin Albums chart.
“To be honest, we didn’t think ‘Me Estoy Enamorando’ would be the hit that it turned out to be,” De La Rosa said.
“That song is probably the reason we’re still around right now,” Lichtenberger said.
The group went on to record several GRAMMY-winning albums, such as “Un Millon De Rosas,” in early 1996, break records at the Houston Astrodome performing at the Houston Stock Show and Rodeo in 1992, 1996 and 1998, and the two La Mafia founders even discussed De La Rosa’s trademark bolero-style black hat that fans adored.
“I remember doing that tour with ‘Rosas,’ and I decided I was going to do the tour without the hat,” De La Rosa recalls. “Oh man, by the middle of the show, I was putting the hat on.”
Then, enter Mexico and La Mafia’s fame soared even higher.
“We started going to Mexico,” De La Rosa said. “It was a new market for us.”
“We’d been to borders,” Lichtenberger said. “El Paso, McAllen, Brownsville, and we’d always wondered…”
“Why aren’t we performing over there?” De La Rosa interjected. “And we started opening the doors for Selena, for Emilio, for every artist that came out of Texas.”
La Mafia then talks about the group’s influence on genres of all types and that spanned across generations.
“La Mafia has influenced a lot of generations,” Lichtenberger said. “Our music has been covered in salsa, in Norteno, in banda.”
“When you see someone else singing your song, you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s my song,’ but it’s playing to a whole different generation,” De La Rosa said.
The band’s 2018 release, “Vozes,” marked another milestone as the group collaborated with major superstars from various genres, including Cristian Castro, Pedro Fernandez, Shaila Durcal and Ricky Munoz of Intocable.
In 2019, La Mafia released a live album, “Live in Mexico,” and the playlist includes the band’s signature songs, such as: “Me Estoy Enamorando,” “Un Millon De Rosas,” “Vida,” “Ahora Y Siempre,” “Nuestra Cancion,” “Alas De Papel,” “Nadie,” and “Como Me Duele Amor.”
“Last year, we recorded a live album in Monterrey, Mexico but the amazing thing is that (the audience) is singing the songs,” Lichtenberger said.
“A whole new generation of fans is singing our songs in other countries,” De La Rosa added, summing up the impact that La Mafia and fans are celebrating after 40 years.
“I didn’t even think we would last 40 years,” De La Rosa said. “But here I am, 40 years later, and still the front-man for one of the greatest bands, not only to come out of Houston, but one of the greatest bands out of Texas.”
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