To judge the degree of influence wielded by Kumbia Kings, one need only look at the numbers.
Earlier this year, the Texas-based band had simultaneously two albums on the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart. At the same time, the act was competing against a host of spinoff groups, including K1, DJ Kane and Frankie J, all of which count among their ranks former Kumbia Kings members, and boast a sound similar to that of their former group.
One has to wonder: Could the changes within Kumbia Kings and the competition hurt the original band?
“Fuego,” the latest Kumbia Kings album for longtime label EMI Latin, debuted last month at No. 2 on the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart. As the project enters its sixth week in the chart’s top 10, the group’s popularity shows no sign of abating.
The Kumbia Kings’ sound is crafted by bass player A.B. Quintanilla III and keyboardist Cruz Martinez, who launched the band in 2000. The group — which includes guitarist Chris Perez — plays a unique style of contemporary cumbia, reminiscent of the material that Quintanilla wrote and produced for his sister, the late Selena. But mixed in are elements of R&B, rap and funk.
Despite relatively limited airplay — the highest a Kumbia Kings song has reached on the Billboard Hot Latin Tracks chart is No. 5, with last year’s “No Tengo Dinero”-the act has proved to be an extraordinarily strong seller.
Since 2001, three of their six releases have hit No. 1 on the Top Latin Albums chart. Their success has been fueled by relentless touring and a large fan base that has expanded beyond the group’s native Texas.
“There was a point in time when it was thought that if I lost my lead vocalist, we would break up,” says Quintanilla, who chastises naysayers on “Fuego.”
“But if you have the potential to put things out, or you have a way to market yourself, you keep going forward,” he continues. “It’s like [P. Diddy]. He keeps moving. I believe that’s the key to success, and knowing the public and gaining their respect.”
Kumbia Kings have managed to expand their image in ways that go beyond their own albums. Because the two anchors of the band, Quintanilla and Martinez, are instrumentalists, the group’s sound, like that of Carlos Santana, is built not upon distinctive vocals, but grooves, beats and melodies.
For this reason, the spinoff acts tend to sound, to some degree, like Kumbia Kings. By the same token, outside material produced by the Kings also takes on vestiges of their sound. Martinez, for example, produced “Cuando el Amor se Cruza” (Universal) the new album by his wife, Mexican star Alicia Villarreal. The influence of Martinez and the Kumbia Kings is undeniable on tracks like “La Suegra.”
Quintanilla and Martinez are also partners in King of Bling, a joint venture with EMI Latin whose acts, including Big Circo, are produced by Quintanilla and Martinez.
Their newest signing, La Pura Neta, will soon release a single with guest crooner Ricardo Montaner, which plays into the Kumbia Kings’ strategy to incorporate different musical styles into their mix.
Bringing in acts from other genres is one way in which the group is specifically targeting Mexico. “Fuego,” for example, features duets with two Mexican pop acts: Teen singer Belinda and Noel Scharjis of duo Sin Bandera. Kumbia Kings have also toured Mexico more extensively than ever before.
At the same time, Quintanilla seeks new brand extensions. In the works, he says, is a film that covers his life after Selena, and is a mix of fiction and reality. The script is already written, and Image Entertainment will distribute the film. Also on tap is a clothing line, called Brown Boi Ropa.
Excerpted from the Nov. 27, 2004, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.
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