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Los Macorinos, the unsung heroes of Latin and Mexican music

Miguel Peña and Juan Carlos Allende, Los Macorinos. Photo by Alejandra Barragán.
Alejandra Barragán
Miguel Peña and Juan Carlos Allende, Los Macorinos. Photo by Alejandra Barragán.

You know their sound when you hear them. They've been around for decades.

Now, Los Macorinos, comprised of guitarists Juan Carlos Allende and Miguel Peña, have released their first instrumental album called Nosotros.

As a guitar duet, Los Macorinos have a singular style. Peña plays the rhythm base, some harmony and a few flourishes. Allende plays the melody. Sometimes their sound is a confluence of South American musical traditions, as in the song Sombras. Other times their sound is steeped in the Mexican ranchera guitar style, as in the classic Cruz de Olvido.

"With their music, they elevate our feelings, always fun and always conscious of beauty in every note that they play, says singer Lila Downs.

Allende and Peña started playing as a duet when Chavela Vargas recruited them to accompany her on a legendary comeback tour in 2003. They adapted to her needs with a sparse and intimate style. Peña says Vargas did not just sing, she transmitted.

"Every word had an intention. When she said 'Drink this bottle with me!' she would say it in such a way that she would transfer her intention to the audience," he says. Their working relationship lasted 10 years, until her death in August 2012.

But long before they started accompanying Vargas, Allende and Peña had separate and remarkable careers. Allende was a cellist in a symphony orchestra in Argentina (he later switched to classical guitar). Peña had a full-time job as the guitarist for Mexico's superstar pop singer José José.

Over the years, they have worked with several artists who admire their sound. In early 2017, Allende and Peña were invited to record two albums with pop singerNatalia Lafourcade. That year, Lafourcade's first album with Allende and Peña, titled Musas, Vol 2.,won a Latin Grammy.

Singer Eugenia León, who executive produced Nosotros attribute Pena and Allende's success to having a particular stamp.

"Their work gathers a significant period in the history of Mexican music which has its pinnacle with their work as Los Macorinos", Leon says. "And with this album, I'm sure many young musicians are going to follow their school."

Violinist, guitarist and singer Ernesto Anaya agrees. He says Allende and Peña are the unsung heroes behind many projects, but at the end of the day, what matters is who they are as musicians.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Betto Arcos
Betto Arcos is a freelance music journalist. He writes stories about music from around the world, with an emphasis on Latin America. He has been a contributor to NPR programming since 2009, when he began reviewing music for All Things Considered on the weekends.