In their matching suits of snug leather or ornate lamé, they play up their heartthrob credentials. Every member of the foursome is still in his 20s, and while Ramos recently became a father, Muñoz still lives at home with his parents. They have a playful social media presence, heavy on rascally memes, which has earned them 12 million Facebook followers, a base that skews teenage, female and bilingual.
“There was something about their entire package that felt right: the look, the sound, the attitude,” says Conan’s former music booker, Jim Pitt, who discovered Calibre 50 by scouring YouTube and Spotify before he left the show in early April. “They’re just sort of fun.” Because the band members speak little English, they confess to knowing almost nothing about Conan O’Brien before appearing on the March 1 episode of his TBS show, broadcast from Mexico City. Only after friends and relatives in the United States conveyed their delight did the group grasp the magnitude of being drafted by Team Coco. “We discovered that our friend — the high-foreheaded one, the crested-hair one — is very famous!” says Muñoz.
Like many top regional Mexican acts, Calibre 50 has an “owner” who not only manages and produces the band but also commands its recording and touring infrastructure. “These boys are like my sons,” says Andaluz Music president Jesus “Chuy” Tirado, who has guided Calibre 50 since the band’s founding and now oversees a 100-employee team that supports every aspect of its career.
Right now, Calibre 50 does about 150 to 200 events a year, its route often mirroring the migratory patterns of the Mexican labor force. Leading up to Vegas, the band had gone from Noble, Okla., to Shelbyville, Tenn., to Gardendale, Ala. But with live shows here becoming problematic, clouded by speculation about la migra, Tirado is already looking ahead — south, rather than north. This summer, Calibre 50 will for the first time tour Central America, even continuing down to Colombia.
“We’re opening new markets,” says Tirado, “precisely to avoid what’s happening in the United States.”
In “El Inmigrante,” the song that speaks most pointedly to its audience’s hopes and wounds, Calibre 50 tells the story of a 17-year-old boy who, determined to lift his mother out of poverty, risks his life sneaking into the United States: “They think, because I jumped the border, I’m a drug trafficker. Enough already with these countless humiliations, just for being an immigrant.” It has evolved, in the three-plus years since its release, into something approaching a Calibre 50 anthem, the one song the band never fails to play.