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Los Pingüinos del Norte have a special place in the history of Arhoolie Records. Their 1970 LP Music of La Raza Vol. 1 was the first by a Mexican group to appear on the label. Inspired partly by this powerful conjunto from Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Chris kept returning to South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley throughout the 1970s in search of that raw and vital Tex-Mex sound. Comprised of Rubén Castillo Juarez on accordion, Antonio Perez Rodriguez on bajo sexto, and Jose Rodriguez De La Cruz on string bass, Los Pingüinos later appeared in Chris and Les Blank’s film Chulas Fronteras and on the 2000 Arhoolie release Trovadores de la Frontera.

For this month’s Deep Dive, we take a closer look at Los Pingüinos del Norte through the years, starting with a 2020 interview and photo gallery in which Chris discusses his first encounter with the group. Next we will premiere the full, uncut performance video which Chris filmed during the recording of Trovadores de la Frontera in 2000. Finally, we look forward to sharing the Rubén Castillo Juarez segment from our recent Arhoolie Awards production for those who missed it.

During a trip to the Rio Grande Valley in 1970, Chris decided to check out a popular conjunto he’d heard about: Los Pingüinos del Norte (“the Penguins of the North”). With the singer and activist Rumel Fuentes as his guide, Chris found the group in a little bar in Piedras Negras. Blown away by their strong harmonies, the down-home flavor of their corridos, and the participatory shouts of the crowd, he knew then and there that he had to record them. In this 2020 interview, Chris talks about that memorable day in Piedras Negras and shares his thoughts about what made Los Pingüinos so extraordinary. Along with the interview you’ll see the wonderful photos Chris took that day, along with photos of Los Pingüinos from the filming of Chulas Fronteras a few years later.

2000 Performance © Arhoolie Foundation

On a cold day in Piedras Negras in late 2000, Chris Strachwitz set up a microphone outside the home of Rubén Castillo Juarez and recorded Trovadores de la Frontera (“troubadours of the border”) in one long, continuous take. Rolling effortlessly through 16 songs despite the biting cold, Los Pingüinos showcased their seasoned musicianship and the enduring power of their repertoire of regional corridos. Luckily for us, Chris also filmed that day’s session, and we are excited to share the uncut video with you for the first time today. Please watch, share, and enjoy this front-row seat to one of the great Tex-Mex conjuntos at the top of their game.  

See the album at The Smithsonian Folkways Collection

2000 Performance © Arhoolie Foundation

This March, we were proud to honor el Pingüino mayor (the top Penguin) Rubén Castillo Juarez as part of our annual Arhoolie Awards. Rubén remains active after 50 years of playing, and continues to entertain local and visitors alike at the community market in Piedras Negras. In the award show segment, Chris and Frontera Collection curator Juan Antonio Cuéllar discuss the history and impact of Rubén and Los Pingüinos del Norte as , and we also feature classic footage of the group from the film Chulas Fronteras. If you missed the Arhoolie Awards, we hope you will enjoy the segment.

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