A year ago, Mexican accordionist, singer and songwriter Remmy Valenzuela was little known in the U.S. save for the fact that at 22, he’d foiled death twice. Back in 2013, Valenzuela was wounded after being caught in a crossfire between government agents and an organized crime syndicate following a private performance in Nayarit, Mexico. Prior to that, he survived a bad car crash. Fast forward to reaching No. 32 on Billboard’s Regional Mexican airplay chart with the single “Te Olvidaré.”
Last fall, everything changed when Valenzuela debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart with De Alumno a Maestro (From Student to Teacher), his sophomore album on Fonovisa Records. The set is a mix of corridos, rancheras and romantic fare, set to norteño/banda arrangements and Valenzuela’s trademark accordion.
“I like corridos and my fans like corridos,” Valenzuela told Billboard, referring to the danceable, accordion-driven songs that tell all sorts of stories, real and made up, but that in Valenzuela’s case are often narcocorridos, dealing with the exploits of drug dealers. “I record corridos to keep my fans happy, but my thing are [romantic] songs.”
Valenzuela (real name: Remigio Alejandro Valenzuela Buelna) was born in Sinaloa and got his start in music as a drummer before switching to the accordion at 13. While he had some success with narcocorridos early on in his career, he really broke to mass audiences with heartbreak songs like “Te Tocó Perder” (Your Turn to Lose). Traction on YouTube garnered attention from labels, and Valenzuela signed with Fonovisa, Universal’s regional Mexican imprint, releasing Te Olvidaré in 2013. De Alumno a Maestro came in June, 2014, and included “Te Tocó Perder,” which Valenzuela had never officially released, as a first single.
“People on social media were asking for that song, which I wrote, so we decided to please them,” said Valenzuela. A subsequent album that compiled Valenzuela’s romantic hits, Mi Vida En Vida, was released in September and debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Regional Mexican Albums chart.
As far as his two brushes with death, Valenzuela concedes they may have made his name familiar to some people, but in the end, what’s pushing him forward is his music — not his notoriety.
“I sing, I do music,” he says. “When people go to hear me play, they go for my music, not to see the scars on my body.” As for eventually writing a song about his experience, it may happen, but not now. “Maybe in a few years I’ll give it more importance, but not right now.”