During a recent trip to Los Angeles, the four members of Los Alegres del Barranco said the regional Mexican band is ready to expand after seven years in the music business, hoping to reach a larger audience.

Despite a challenging economy and a new Mexican president, Enrique Pena Nieto, about to take office, the group known mostly for singing about the drug trafficking world feels the time is right to take its music in a different direction.

"We're a relatively young band," group leader Jose Pavel Moreno says. "We're going to spend time in California, Miami, Texas and Washington in hopes of meeting fans and promoting our music in those areas."

The band from the Mexican region of Sinaloa formed when Moreno and his cousin began playing cover versions of music they heard on the radio. Later, the band took its name from the little town where its members grew up, San Jose del Barranco, with the word "Alegres" translating to "happy."

As the group wrote songs and began playing at local bars, eventually a small record label signed the act. Today, it has five studio albums and two live albums. According to a band representative, a self-released CD, "La Amanecida," has sold about 15,000 copies in Mexico. Sales have been mostly limited to that country, which is why the band is now hoping to reach U.S. audiences.

The controversial group performs music that chronicles the drug cartels and crime lords of Mexico, with its fan base growing steadily despite - or, perhaps, because of - the fact that some Mexican cities ban the music.

Moreno says, "We make it clear that we don't promote drug use or violence. We really do write and perform music based on what we hear in the news or what people are taking about. And we don't do drugs, which is what people often think, because of what we sing."

As for performing narcocorridos in Mexico, the band has yet to be fined or told to vacate a venue due to its lyrics. One way that bands get away with singing the banned music is by performing at private events.

"To pin violence and drug warfare on music isn't fair," Moreno adds. "We have yet to be kicked out of a concert hall. People really like this type of music and, even if we were kicked out, people would still play this material in their cars, houses and parties."

The band, currently promoting its single "Me Dan Celos," has already performed or opened for other established Mexican bands in the narcocorrido genre, from Los Tigres del Norte to Banda el Recodo. (Tigres most recently released a new album and has collaborated with mainstream Latin artists, including pop star Paulina Rubio.)

The members of Los Alegres del Barranco hope to grow as artists while its native country transitions with a new government. And the music, Moreno says, hopefully won't be blamed for the ills of the nation.

"We remain optimistic," Moreno says. "But we also know about the realities of our country. We hope the incoming president can make inroads and improve things."

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