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Meet Pepe Aguilar, The Son Of Two Mexican Cultural Icons, Who Stays True To His Mariachi Roots

Pepe Aguilar sits on a white chair in a collared shirt with rolled up sleeves over a T-shirt. He wears jeans and a watch and sunglasses. A tattoo is visible on his left arm.
Pepe Aguilar wears his mantle as the scion of a cultural dynasty comfortably. His new album, his 24th, pays tribute to his father Antonio Aguilar's rival Vicente Fernandez.
(John Rabe
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About this story
  • For 11 years and over almost 600 episodes, Off-Ramp explored Southern California on the radio at 89.3 KPCC. The show explored the people, places, and ideas that make up this "imperfect paradise" we call home. Now, every week on the Off-Ramp podcast, from LAist Studios, host John Rabe is dipping into the archives to bring these stories to a new audience.

In 2013, I headed to the Calabasas studios of Pepe Aguilar, who had just scored a #1 on iTunes with his latest independent release, a tribute to his father's rival, the late Vicente Fernandez.

Pepe, now 53, is the son of the late Flor Silvestre, a star of Mexico's Golden Age of Cinema, and the late Antonio Aguilar, probably Mexico's most famous mariachi.

Instead of being daunted by his family history, Pepe embraced it, forging his own path but staying, as he told me, true to his roots.

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Relationship Tip: If you have a Mexican suegra (mother-in-law), have Pepe Aguilar sign an album for her. Thanks, Pepe.

Here's the original story published on Oct. 16, 2013:

For many of you, he needs no introduction, but the rest of you have been missing out.

Pepe Aguilar sings Mexican ranchera music, and has sold more than 12 million records. He was born in San Antonio, Texas, 45 years ago, but he was brought up on tour.

His father was the late Antonio Aguilar, one of the greats of ranchera music, and his mother is Flor Silvestre, a singer and actor from Mexico's golden age of cinema. Last year, Pepe Aguilar got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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Aguilar's new album — his 24th — is a tribute to yet another of the greats, his father's rival Vicente Fernández. It debuted on iTunes at #1, and is called "Lástima Que Sean Ajenas," a joking reference to the Vicente Fernández song, "Lástima Que Seas Ajena," which translates roughly as "it's too bad she doesn't belong to me." The album's title, switching out "they" for "she," could be read as "I wish those were my songs."

"If you have grown up in the last three decades and you are a ranchera singer like me, Vicente Fernández has to be one of your idols," said Aguilar. "It's the Last of the Mohicans, that guy. It's a different story. People listen to many genres, not only one or two. For me it was important to close that era with my tribute to the last of the Mohicans."

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Many children of stars who follow their parents' footsteps are tormented because they can never measure up. You can hear in that quote that Aguilar doesn't seem to have that problem. If anyone is allowed to close a door, it's him.

Aguilar says music is all he ever wanted to do, whether or not he made money from it. And if changing times means he may never experience the cultural dominance his parents enjoyed, 12-million records and a #1 debut on iTunes — coming in his 13th year as an independent artist — is nothing to sneeze at. And, in my opinion, where his father's voice had character, Aguilar's is fuller, more soaring and beautiful.

Aguilar says he strives to make music that has no boundaries, and you don't need to speak Spanish to enjoy his music. The voice, the arrangements, the production values, the pure romance — they're all irresistible.

Pepe Aguilar dressed in “Charro,” a traditional Mexican outfit commonly worn by horsemen and cowboys. He is holding a white sombrero with his right hand.
Pepe Aguilar performs at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas in September 2006 in support of his album "Enamorado."
(Ethan Miller
Getty Images)

It's also worth noting that Pepe Aguilar puts on a hell of a show, in charro costume, with a full band.

Upcoming 2022 Concert Dates for Pepe Aguilar
    • Sept. 2, Honda Center | Anaheim | 8 p.m.
    • Oct. 14, Center | Los Angeles | 8 p.m.

Aguilar shared his favorite tribute songs with us. Listen to the Spotify playlist he created:

Updated March 11, 2022 at 6:00 AM PST
This story originally published on Oct. 16, 2013 and has been lightly updated.