The Mexican Band’s Rise to Touring Juggernauts – Billboard


On a scorching scorching mid-August day, six of the seven members of Grupo Firme file right into a hidden hacienda in Spring Valley, Calif., a small city simply east of San Diego. “Buenos días,” they greet the workers of this boutique resort, making their method towards the shade of the pool space. Sporting fundamental T-shirts and denims or fitness center shorts, they appear like the literal boys subsequent door. Nonetheless, the staffers wrestle to maintain their cool — that is the largest Mexican group on the planet, and so they’re all followers. (Later at the moment, they may get their photograph taken with the band.)



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Eduin Caz, the group’s charismatic 28-year-old founder and frontman, is the final to reach. He apologizes, explaining that he drove from his house in Tijuana, Mexico, and it took 4 hours to cross la línea, the Mexico-U.S. border in San Diego. That’s longer than ordinary for a seemingly uneventful Tuesday, however the Baja Seaside Competition passed off over the weekend within the city of Rosarito — the place Eduin joined Maluma onstage to sing their Regional Mexican Airplay chart-topping hit “Cada Quien” (“To Every Their Personal”) — which might clarify the visitors returning to the USA. “Aquí estamos a sus órdenes” (“We’re right here, something you want”), Eduin says with a shy smile and joins his bandmates, who don’t appear to thoughts his late arrival one bit; they’re simply lounging round, catching each other up on their weekends.

Clowning round collectively by the pool, talking fully in Spanish, they remind me of my rowdy cousins who always poke enjoyable at each other however clearly have an unbreakable bond. And whereas Grupo Firme could have skyrocketed to stardom over the previous two years — taking part in sold-out stadium exhibits and changing into the primary banda ensemble to ever carry out at Coachella — that bond has been within the making for almost a decade.

“After we had been first beginning, we performed each single day,” remembers Eduin, who formally assembled the act often known as Grupo Firme in 2014 (minus his brother Jhonny Caz, who joined in 2019) and is the band’s de facto spokesman. “However on a day that for some purpose we didn’t have a gig, as an alternative of claiming, ‘I’m going to relaxation and calm down,’ we’d name one another and plan a carne asada [barbecue]. We’ve got a whole lot of enjoyable once we’re collectively. We’ve constructed a solidarity between us that has been key to our success.”

Grupo Firme, Jhonny Caz

Jhonny Caz of Grupo Firme photographed on August 16, 2022 at Winery Hacienda in Spring Valley, Calif.

Koury Angelo

The enjoyable they’ve on these day-off hangouts suffuses each facet of Grupo Firme’s presence, particularly the music movies that put the band on the map through the coronavirus pandemic. Although their aesthetic was DIY — just about simply capturing the group hanging out, consuming, consuming beer, taking photographs straight from a tequila bottle and serenading their buddies with banda classics — the YouTube clips supplied an escape for the followers who watched them religiously whereas caught indoors and, within the course of, garnered a whole lot of hundreds of thousands of views (over 407 million for the most well-liked).

The success of these digital “exhibits” translated to large real-venue bookings as soon as touring restrictions loosened. “Nobody however Grupo Firme was promoting tickets through the pandemic,” says Nederlander Concert events Latin expertise purchaser Eddie Orjuela. “The present they had been purported to have on the Microsoft Theater in 2020, which saved getting postponed due to the pandemic, bought out. On the price they had been promoting, we took the chance to maneuver it to the Staples Heart, and ultimately, seven exhibits got here out of that call.”

Till very lately, taking part in these sorts of crowds was not the norm for Grupo Firme. Comprising lead singer Eduin; Jhonny (vocals); Abraham Hernández (vocals and tuba); Joaquín Ruiz (bajo sexto guitar); Christian Gutiérrez (bass); José “Fito” Rubio (drums); and Dylan Camacho (accordion), the band was first a well-liked native act, taking part in corridos and norteño music in its native Tijuana, often seven days every week, at nightclubs, birthdays, quinceañeras and weddings, incomes round $150 to $200 an hour. “At any time when the telephone rang, that meant we had a gig, and we’d say, ‘Ya picó’ ” (“We acquired it”), Hernández says. “We had been actually arduous employees,” provides Eduin proudly. “We by no means mentioned ‘no’ to something, and typically, we’d play 15 hours a day. Think about: If we solely labored 5 hours, that’s $1,000 that we must break up between all of us. It’s not loads. That’s why we labored a lot.”

Grupo Firme, Eduin Caz

Eduin Caz of Grupo Firme photographed on August 16, 2022 at Winery Hacienda in Spring Valley, Calif.

Koury Angelo

All these “yeses” paid off. In two years, Grupo Firme has gone from native dwell favourite to recording and social media phenomenon, increasing its repertoire to incorporate banda covers comparable to “Perdóname” (“Forgive Me”), “Juro Por Dios” (“I Swear to God”) and “Cada Vez Te Extraño Más” (“I Miss You Extra and Extra”) and collaborating with superstars Maluma and Camilo in an effort to achieve a extra world viewers. The group has accrued 1.5 million U.S. on-demand streams, in line with Luminate, and have become the third regional Mexican group ever to attain an entry on the Billboard Hot 100 — with “Ya Supérame” (“Get Over Me”) — in addition to the primary banda ensemble to do a U.S. stadium tour — a feat solely a choose variety of Latin artists, together with Romeo Santos, Dangerous Bunny and Los Bukis, have completed. Final yr, Grupo Firme carried out seven back-to-back exhibits at Los Angeles’ Area (the previous Staples Heart). Solely Adele has completed extra, with eight.

Extremely, Grupo Firme has completed all this as an unbiased act, and, since signing with unbiased label Music VIP 5 years in the past, it has leaned into social media to energy its success. Eduin, who ran the group’s Fb and Instagram accounts, actually studied how you can leverage multimedia platforms: He majored in advertising at Universidad Autónoma de Baja California. Initially, he posted about exhibits on his private Fb web page. However he didn’t get the engagement he hoped for, so he opened a public fan web page, geotargeting his posts and paying to spice up them. “Digital advertising [now] is a factor, however again then, it wasn’t,” he says.

Hernández jumps in: “I bear in mind each time we’d receives a commission after a gig, Eduin would all the time put some cash apart to spend money on our social media accounts.”

“We don’t have to try this anymore,” interjects Eduin. “Every little thing is now natural.”

Grupo Firme, Christian Gutiérrez

Christian Gutiérrez of Grupo Firme photographed on August 16, 2022 at Winery Hacienda in Spring Valley, Calif.

Koury Angelo

Whereas Sinaloan bands like Banda el Recodo and Banda MS have discovered success, none in current reminiscence have moved the plenty like Grupo Firme. As Pepe Garza, head of content material growth and A&R for media firm Estrella Music Leisure, says, that’s partly as a result of “the area of interest group of those that hearken to regional Mexican has grown exponentially” over the previous few years. “However I additionally suppose that each era chooses the artist that can characterize them, and this era selected Firme,” he provides. “What makes them so particular is that they’ve prioritized the standard of their live shows. That’s the world the place they stand out from the remainder.”

A Grupo Firme live performance is, certainly, an expertise: anticipate fireworks, outfit adjustments (from vaquero to urbano suits), folkloric dancing by Eduin and Jhonny (who be part of a troupe of dancers from Tijuana), many tequila photographs downed onstage and beer-soaked scenes that could possibly be straight out of the band’s movies. “They’re simply so uncooked and actual,” says René Contreras, the Goldenvoice expertise purchaser who booked the act for Coachella’s 2022 version after seeing simply one in all its dwell exhibits. “It looks like a kick-back celebration,” he says of these performances. “The best way they work together with individuals makes followers really feel a part of the celebration onstage. After I noticed the group, I felt like I used to be simply hanging out with my family and friends.”

For Eduin, who grew up watching artists like Larry Hernández, Gerardo Ortiz and Jenni Rivera command phases, placing on that type of present is private. “They all the time discovered a solution to entertain their followers, and never simply by singing,” he says of his influences. “Watching them carry out, I noticed the kind of artist I needed to be. I knew I didn’t simply need to be a singer — I needed to be a star.”

Isael Gutiérrez was at Las Pulgas, a well-liked nightclub within the coronary heart of Tijuana’s bustling downtown, when he first noticed Grupo Firme. It was 2017, and the then-manager of some regional artists was mesmerized by Eduin’s power and character onstage. He requested a gathering, and the following day, they talked enterprise over Cokes and peanuts, deciding shortly after to easily begin working collectively — no official contract wanted.

From the beginning, Gutiérrez (no relation to band member Christian) made two recommendations: that the group pare down its efficiency schedule, shifting its focus to recording music and movies, and that it increase its repertoire from simply corridos to incorporate norteña and banda ballads. “There’s a lot extra to Eduin’s voice that’s stuffed with colour. He can hit all of the excessive notes, which is completely the other when singing corridos,” says Gutiérrez. “So I advised he begin singing different genres to assist them increase their viewers. We additionally began recording covers as a result of we’re followers of older bands, however we additionally needed to attach with individuals, and you are able to do that by singing songs they already love. And the brand new era that hasn’t heard these songs found them by means of Firme.”

Gutiérrez began within the music business within the Nineteen Nineties, working at his father’s recording studio in Guerrero, Mexico. He’s a famous person in his personal proper; followers ask him for photographs and autographs as a lot as they do Grupo Firme’s members. However earlier than he grew to become a hotshot supervisor and label government, he hustled for a few years creating regional Mexican bands like Los Buitres de Culiacán Sinaloa by means of his indie label, Music VIP, that he launched in 2007. “It was the shortage of alternatives for regional artists that motivated me to start out my very own firm and actually concentrate on serving to them develop on social media to advertise their music,” he says. “The web was actually the one useful resource we had as an indie label.”

Grupo Firme, José “Fito” Rubio

José “Fito” Rubio of Grupo Firme photographed on August 16, 2022 at Winery Hacienda in Spring Valley, Calif.

Koury Angelo

When Grupo Firme first began working with Gutiérrez, Eduin gave the chief an album of principally unique songs the band had already recorded, hoping he would launch it on Music VIP. “ ‘What album,’ ” Eduin remembers Gutiérrez telling him. “He mentioned, ‘I would like you guys to file a music video for “Perdóname.” ’ I used to be like, ‘What do you imply, “Perdóname”? That’s a canopy. Why not file one for an unique music?’ And he mentioned, ‘You tried to do it your method and it didn’t work, proper? Now let me strive my method.’ Since then, all the things Isael tells us to do, we do. If he desires me to put on a crimson shirt, I put on a crimson shirt. If he says, ‘Don’t go onstage,’ I don’t go onstage. I belief him unconditionally.”

Gutiérrez’s enthusiasm for Grupo Firme’s covers hasn’t restricted its output; he has additionally introduced in famend songwriters like Horacio Palencia to collaborate on originals. “He defined that the blokes had been large followers of mine, so I invited them to my house in Mazatlán [Mexico] to see if there was a method I might help them,” remembers Palencia of when Gutiérrez first reached out to him in 2018. “As a songwriter and producer, I’m not solely trying to see if a brand new artist has potential, however I’m being attentive to their angle. I like working with proficient individuals, however in addition they should be humble. After I met them, I didn’t suppose twice.”

Palencia has since change into one in all Grupo Firme’s largest supporters, penning hits for it like “Ya Supérame” (a co-write with Edgar Barrera and Nathan Galante). “Eduin nearly didn’t file this music,” Palencia says. “The dwell exhibits had been simply returning, so he was targeted on that. However I instructed him, ‘It’s a must to make time to file new songs since you make a residing off music.’ Eduin understood and shared an a cappella model of it on social media. Folks went loopy, asking when the music would come out. They recorded the music, a music video, and the remainder is historical past.”

Grupo Firme, Abraham Hernández

Abraham Hernández of Grupo Firme photographed on August 16, 2022 at Winery Hacienda in Spring Valley, Calif.

Koury Angelo

By early 2019, the group had launched 4 albums, toured Mexico and constructed a stable sufficient following there that it might flip its consideration to the following territory to beat: the USA. The band obtained a visa in February of that yr. After taking part in large venues like Auditorio Telmex in Jalisco, Mexico, it at first appeared just like the act must downsize to the type of rooms the place it had began: Its first U.S. present, at a San Diego nightclub, drew all of 40 individuals. However by November, it pulled 9,000 to L.A.’s Pico Rivera Sports activities Area; two years later, every of its particular person sellouts on the Staples Heart doubled that quantity. These Staples exhibits had been a part of a tour that, over 25 dates, grossed $27.4 million and bought 279,000 tickets, in line with Billboard Boxscore, and was aptly named Nos Divertimos Haciendo Lo Imposible (We Have Enjoyable Doing the Unattainable).

“This isn’t the ‘conventional’ touring path for a regional Mexican group that usually begins out in nightclubs, then radio festivals and theaters. It’s one thing we’ve by no means seen in regional Mexican,” says Tony Larios, founding father of Grupo Firme’s distributor, TuStreams. “What usually takes [those] artists 10 years to realize in touring, they did it in two years. We work with a few acts that did arenas final yr and now need to do stadiums. If it wasn’t for Firme, I don’t suppose the likelihood would’ve been there. They inform us, ‘If they’ll do it, we will additionally do it.’ ”

In Could, Grupo Firme made historical past as the primary Mexican banda act to launch a U.S. stadium tour, stopping at storied venues like Levi’s Stadium within the San Francisco Bay Space, Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and Yankee Stadium in New York — and, like all the things else the group does, it did so with little outdoors assist. “To at the present time, we’ve produced area and stadium excursions in-house by Music VIP and Grupo Firme,” says Gutiérrez. “Among the best selections we’ve made is to make offers instantly with the arenas and stadiums in Mexico and the U.S. We oversee each single element, and that has been key. I imply, it’s wholesome to have partnerships, however it’s very cool to do no matter we wish. We don’t should ask anybody for permission or their opinion.”

Sometime, Gutiérrez realizes, he could have to contemplate “a strategic partnership [with a major label] to achieve new followers and take Firme to the following degree.” He says he has already “sat with all of” the majors and turned down some presents; when the time comes, he’s keen to “sit with them once more and listen to them out.” However for now, “We need to do that on our personal. Not as a result of we’re grasping, however in order that we will say we did this on our personal. That’s priceless and gratifying.”

Grupo Firme, Joaquín Ruiz

Joaquín Ruiz of Grupo Firme photographed on August 16, 2022 at Winery Hacienda in Spring Valley, Calif.

Koury Angelo

He did make one exception to that rule. Over the summer season, he signed a take care of Inventive Artists Company for the corporate to characterize Grupo Firme worldwide in all areas of enterprise (together with touring, although Gutiérrez will proceed to execute sure offers on his personal). “Greater than something, they’re an vital associate as a result of they’ll assist us with sponsorships — that’s actually what they’ll concentrate on,” Gutiérrez says, calling it a “key alliance” for that purpose. CAA agent Rudy Lopez Negrete, a member of Grupo Firme’s new crew there, vividly remembers his first assembly with Gutiérrez — at his Anaheim, Calif., house. “We sat there for 3 hours, drank tequila and talked about life and his imaginative and prescient,” says Negrete. “Then we introduced him into the company, and we did the speech about what we do and who we characterize, like Beyoncé and Harry Kinds.” It wasn’t till a 3rd assembly — one which took 4 hours at a pizza parlor, with Gutiérrez’s whole household current — that the supervisor mentioned, “ ‘OK, I need to work with you guys. This is sensible to me now,’ ” Negrete remembers.

“Rudy and I are each Mexican and communicate Spanish, so we had been capable of establish with him culturally and understood the place he was coming from,” says CAA’s Omar García, noting that Grupo Firme’s deal can embody something from launching a beer to doing a TV collection or a movie centered on the band. “We’ve by no means had the chance to work with one thing so distinctive with regards to Mexican music at such a large degree. As an company, this is a chance for us to maneuver on to the longer term.”

On the night time of April 15, as Eduin rode the elevator to the Coachella most important stage, he closed his eyes tightly. He feared the worst: that nobody would present as much as see Grupo Firme carry out.

“Tickets go on sale with out asserting the artists that will likely be performing. So individuals can’t actually say, ‘Oh, Grupo Firme will likely be there, let me purchase a ticket.’ No matter who had purchased tickets — People, individuals who don’t communicate Spanish or know our music — we’d should go up and sing,” Eduin explains of his worries. “Not with the ability to management who was shopping for tickets was terrifying.”

Grupo Firme, Dylan Camacho

Dylan Camacho of Grupo Firme photographed on August 16, 2022 at Winery Hacienda in Spring Valley, Calif.

Koury Angelo

However when he opened his eyes, he noticed a sea of individuals masking each inch of grass — cheering, waving Mexican flags, some even carrying cowboy boots and tejanas to indicate their Mexican satisfaction.

René Contreras, who booked Grupo Firme for the pageant, wasn’t stunned the band might pack the primary stage. In 2021, he had seen it carry out in Fresno, Calif., the place the group had invited him onstage and instantly handed him two beers. “I noticed the gang from that perspective, and everybody was simply so completely happy,” he says.

He pitched the act to Goldenvoice president Paul Tollette, who referred to as reserving the band a “no-brainer,” says Contreras. Just like the CAA brokers, he, too, needed to journey to Anaheim to speak enterprise with Gutiérrez. “He invited me to his home, and personally, I had by no means been to a supervisor’s home. I met his entire household there as a result of they’d a celebration occurring. They even invited me to bounce in la rueda [the middle of a dancing circle].” Bringing Grupo Firme to Coachella was, he says, a giant assertion. “Artists of that style have by no means had a stage at a general-market pageant. Firme simply chain-sawed a door open,” he says. “That second proved to the music business that we will blur the road between completely different markets and alternatives. Grupo Firme elevated Mexican music generally.”

Joaquín Ruiz, Abraham Hernández, Dylan Camacho, Eduin Caz, José “Fito” Rubio, Christian Gutiérrez and Jhonny Caz, Grupo Firme

From left: Jhonny Caz, José “Fito” Rubio, Eduin Caz, Abraham Hernández, Christian Gutiérrez, Joaquín Ruiz and Dylan Camacho of Grupo Firme photographed on August 16, 2022 at Winery Hacienda in Spring Valley, Calif.

Koury Angelo

In the present day, Grupo Firme’s mission goes far past globalizing its style. It’s creating an area inside it for a brand new era of followers, one which embraces outdoors collaborations and applauds the band’s trendy style decisions, which don’t all the time embrace conventional vaquero fits. “Who mentioned that regional Mexican artists couldn’t put on gold chains? Who mentioned we will solely costume a sure method?” asks Eduin, incredulous. “We’ve been attempting to interrupt these stereotypes and boundaries slowly.”

The group can be breaking down a distinct type of barrier: making a protected area for the LGBTQ+ group inside a realm of Latin music that hasn’t all the time felt welcoming to it. Jhonny, who was a schoolteacher earlier than becoming a member of Grupo Firme (the “imply sort,” Eduin provides with amusing), is overtly homosexual and, in truth, proposed to his boyfriend onstage at one of many band’s live shows late final yr.

“I by no means imagined that expressing my sexual preferences would have such a big impact on our style,” he says enthusiastically. “You’ll be able to go to one in all our live shows and see rainbow flags, trans flags — one thing you’ve by no means seen at some other regional Mexican live performance. Seeing everybody dressed nevertheless they need, residing as they’re and having fun with the present like everybody else is particular. It’s a message to the business that regardless of the way you need to dwell your life and the way you specific your self, all of us get pleasure from music the identical method: We’re all there to sing and dance, all of us have completely happy moments, all of us undergo, and all of us prefer to drink.” Eduin jumps in, reminding Jhonny of “that one woman” in Texas. “Oh, yeah,” Jhonny continues. “At one in all our exhibits, this girl got here onstage with us to have the ability to inform her household that she’s homosexual. She was capable of construct that braveness to come back out as a result of she felt so protected and guarded by us.”

That’s only one purpose that the group sees itself as the way forward for not solely its personal style however, extra broadly, of Latin music — and is setting objectives accordingly. “Changing into the primary Mexican group to carry out at a Tremendous Bowl is our subsequent large aim, and we’re already engaged on that,” says Gutiérrez, who can be increasing Music VIP’s roster to incorporate non-regional Mexican acts. (Grupo Firme stays his main focus.) No matter comes subsequent, although, “I’ll by no means decide with out consulting with Eduin and the remainder of the members,” he says. “What we’ve created is magic. It’s one thing that broke all boundaries and paradigms within the music business and confirmed others that it’s potential.”

Joaquín Ruiz, Abraham Hernández, Dylan Camacho, Eduin Caz, José “Fito” Rubio, Christian Gutiérrez and Jhonny Caz, Grupo Firme

From left: Joaquín Ruiz, Abraham Hernández, Dylan Camacho, Eduin Caz, José “Fito” Rubio, Christian Gutiérrez and Jhonny Caz of Grupo Firme photographed on August 16, 2022 at Winery Hacienda in Spring Valley, Calif.

Koury Angelo

With that type of success comes extra accountability and strain, after all. “We’ve achieved a lot that now we’re simply attempting to up that final accomplishment, and persons are anticipating extra,” says Eduin. “As indie artists, we will’t simply present up and sing — we go to the venue to verify the sound system is up, that now we have police permits. We deal with all the things. However the reward is in contrast to anything.”

He pauses, imagining what the following aim posts may be. His bandmates have a couple of concepts. “To carry out in Europe,” says Abraham Hernández.

“And extra worldwide festivals,” Jhonny provides.

“To have the ability to develop previous collectively and reminisce about previous occasions, consuming espresso as an alternative of tequila,” presents Christian Gutiérrez. They chuckle, however it’s clear they hope that in the future, it’ll come true. Lastly, Eduin speaks up.

“I’ve been dreaming of doing 360-style exhibits at stadiums,” he says. “But additionally to maintain collaborating inside and outdoors of our style and maintain opening doorways for different teams. It’s not about working alone and being egocentric anymore — that’s out of fashion. We will all have a slice of the cake.”

Grupo Firme, Billboard Cover

This story will appear in the Sept. 17, 2022, issue of Billboard.

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