From left, Grupo Frontera band members Alberto Acosta, Julian Peña Jr., Adelaido Solis III, Juan Javier Cantú, Brian Ortega, and Carlos Guerrero. Courtesy of Grupo Frontera

Grupo Frontera is still trying to make sense of it all. Just a year ago, the six-piece Tejano band from the Rio Grande Valley was bouncing between weddings, quinceañeras, graduation parties, and uploading their first songs to YouTube. They were one of dozens of local acts trying to get noticed when they put out their cover of Morat’s “No Se Va” in April 2022. The song started racking up tens of thousands of views on YouTube and exploded in popularity a few months later after a couple in Mexico posted themselves dancing to the song on TikTok. Grupo Frontera had struck gold.

Now, they’re a whole world away from where they began: gearing up for the next four months of their international tour, putting the finishing touches on their debut album, and riding the high from an intense year that was even better than they could have imagined.

“This is something we never expected,” Julian Peña Jr, the band’s percussionist, tells Texas Highways just a few weeks after making their surprise appearance at Coachella in late April. Less than a week following the release of their viral collaboration, “Un x100to,” with Bad Bunny, the Grammy winner welcomed the group onto the festival’s main stage to perform. Everything about their performance, and the events leading up to it had been shrouded in secrecy. 

The group had been on Bad Bunny’s radar after the success of “No Se Va.” But his contribution to the track was kept from them until the day of the “Un x100to” music video shoot. With the song’s release a few days ahead of Coachella—during which Bad Bunny aimed to highlight the history and diversity of Latin music in his performance—it was the perfect time to invite them on stage with him. But their involvement had to fly under the radar. 

“It was such a nerve-wracking experience,” Peña recalls. “We flew out from the Latin American Music Awards, got there at 11 at night, and had to do soundcheck only using the in-ear monitors because they didn’t want anybody knowing we were going to be there.” 

Performing at Coachella is a major milestone for any artist, let alone a group this early into its career. But as they stood underneath Puerto Rican and Mexican flags, it wasn’t just a celebration of their ascent, it was also a triumph for the genre. Being endorsed by one of the biggest artists in the world right now, and performing alongside him at a festival as prominent as Coachella—it signaled to music industry executives, to the hundreds of thousands of people in attendance, and to the millions streaming it online that Tejano music was worthy of an international stage.

 

In early 2022, the group—made up of Adelaido “Payo” Solis III (lead vocals, bajo quinto), Juan Javier Cantú (vocals, accordion), Julian Peña Jr. (percussion), Alberto “Beto” Acosta (bajo quinto), Carlos Guerrero (drums), and Brian Ortega (bass)—was just beginning to take shape. 

Aside from Solis who was just graduating high school, each of them had spent years playing around the RGV in other bands. Both Cantú and Guerrero had experiences being overeager to sign to a label before things soured into a dead end. But at the time, music was still just a side gig for each of the members, whose ages range from early 20s to early 30s. “It was something to do on the weekends, for some extra money and because we love music,” Peña says. “It was just for fun.” 

They had recently recruited Solis as their lead vocalist, admiring his chops on the bajo quinto—a 10-string guitar that’s a staple in regional Mexican music—after discovering him through social media. Most of their early gigs were weddings and parties for Solis’ family members. “Once they found out I was in a band, they had to have us play,” Solis says. It didn’t take long for them to start getting other bookings, and soon, they were spending every weekend at Edinburg’s Arce Event Center, playing party after party, and preparing to record a self-released EP, En Vivo, Vol.1, in March of 2022.

At the time, the group was primarily performing their takes on different Mexican classics, tailoring them to fit the cumbia and Tejano musical stylings they’d grown up with. For their EP, they’d narrowed their selection down to six songs, including their homages to Vicente Fernandez with “Estos Celos,” and Diego Verdaguer with “La Ladrona.” 

Even for seasoned artists, engineering a hit record is a process that’s elusive and borderline nonsensical. While some artists agonize over the production and promotion of their first singles, “No Se Va,” came to be in the span of 24 hours—and almost never saw the light of day.

It was Acosta who suggested the song, rediscovering it on a Spotify playlist. The track was a bit of a departure for the group. The original version, released in 2019 by Colombian band Morat, is a straightforward Latin pop song, featuring a sparse guitar arrangement. Frontera’s version is a full-on reimagination, a vivid rendition that takes advantage of Peña on the conga drums, Cantú’s soulful accordion playing, and Solis’ silvery tenor vocals, with a rhythm that lands somewhere between Norteńo and cumbia. The band practiced it one night, and recorded it the next day. 

“Honestly, we didn’t like it,” Peña says. It was nowhere near perfect. They weren’t completely sold on their arrangement, and Solis’ voice had even cracked toward the end of the recording. They kept the video hidden for a month before releasing it. “We thought we wouldn’t lose anything by posting it, so let’s just see what happens. Now we’re here.”

 

“Here” is on top of the world. “No Se Va” has now amassed more than 400 million views on YouTube, and thanks in part to TikTok, it peaked at No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart, and spent 20 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 57. “Being five minutes from the border, this is the music that was always playing while we were growing up,” Peña says. “I remember my dad would always play it in the truck and it always stuck with me. It’s cool to know that the music that we grew up with is what’s getting to a global point at this moment. And that we might be one of the reasons for that.”

The song was gaining traction, and while the group was operating without a label or a manager, it wasn’t for lack of trying. A few years earlier, Cantú and Guerrero had tried reaching out to Edgar Barrera, a McAllen native and a Grammy Award-winning songwriter and producer who has worked with some of the biggest names in music, including Madonna, Shakira, Maluma, and Selena Gomez. 

“Juan basically kept spamming his phone, DM-ing him for a good year or two,” Solis says, laughing “When ‘No Se Va’ came out, Edgar answered.” 

Barrera says, on his end, the story goes a little differently. 

His family had been pushing him to work with local acts for years, but it just hadn’t happened. Grupo Frontera first came to his attention when one of Barrera’s brothers-in-law hired them for the grand opening of his tire shop. “They were the local band that performed at weddings and events,” Barrera says. “My brother-in-law said they wanted to work with me, and that they had a lot of potential, and had put on a really good show.” 

He was skeptical at first. Barrera had seen his fair share of local groups, all capable musicians who had mastered the traditional regional sounds, and who knew all of the standard songs, but none of them had really stood out. Plus, he didn’t like to mix family with work. His brother-in-law was persistent, though, and when Barrera relented and asked him to play their best song, he put on “No Se Va.” 

“They were performing melodies and lyrics that aren’t very common in regional Mexican music,” he says. “They took a pop urban song and did it as a Norteño or Tejano one. I thought, what if I gave them the songs I write for urban artists? What if I saw what they could do with them in their style? We could make regional Mexican a little bit different, a little cooler and younger.” 

By the end of August 2022, Peña says he knew his life had changed. They had started to get more gigs and he told the group he planned to quit his job of five years as a finance manager at a car dealership. “Juan called me and told me not to do it yet,” Peña says. “But as soon as I went through with it, we got a call from Edgar to meet up. We started to think we could actually do this for a living.”

Finally responding to Cantú’s DMs, Barrera set up a meeting with the group at a McAllen Starbucks to talk over their dreams and goals. “For the first time, I kind of felt like someone was finally speaking the same language as me,” he says. Though Barrera’s career is littered with hits and collaborations with some of the world’s biggest pop stars, he says working with a group from his hometown provided a whole new level of satisfaction. “On my end, I’ve always been working to try to get the regional Mexican music out into the global charts and to the world,” he says. “And there are things only people in the Valley understand. Working with them was like reconnecting with that.” 

Partnering with Barrera opened the group up to a whole new world of possibilities. He helped them land one of their first collaborations, a duet with Mexican singer-songwriter Carin León called “Que Vuelvas” that secured them their second Top 10 hit on the Hot Latin Songs chart by the end of 2022. “He opened our eyes,” Solis says. “We were stuck locally, but he told us we could go global. We thought we couldn’t, and we were wrong.” 

The group has since signed to Barrera’s Sony imprint, BorderKid, and together, their chemistry has been undeniable. Since joining forces, the group has continued to rack up hits, collaborating with some of the hottest Latin artists in the world, including Bad Bunny and Peso Pluma. Not since the Tejano boom of the 1990s has the genre stood a chance of capturing national attention. “We’re scared we’re going to wake up tomorrow and none of it ever happened,” Peña says.

 

As the band has blown up, Barrera has taken a thoughtful approach to their features. For him, it’s not about what artist might generate the most hype, it’s about who fits, and who they can provide with a fresh perspective. He’d been dying to work with Bad Bunny years before “Un x100to,” but he reasoned that there was nothing he could bring to the table that was better than what Bad Bunny was already doing. 

It wasn’t until he met up with the singer’s producer at the BMI Latin Awards in March of this year that he learned the Puerto Rican superstar had been exploring the Mexican music scene. “When I got to sit down with him, he told me he was a big fan of Frontera,” Barrera says. “He showed us drafts on his TikTok of him dancing to their songs, he showed us his tour playlist with ‘No Se Va’ on there, so when I sent him ‘Un x100to,’ it felt natural because of the respect he already had for them.” 

Though Barrera jokes that working with the group in the studio is like being a chaperone on a high school field trip, he says their energy is one of the keys to their success. Taking a page from their first EP, Barrera insists on continuing to record their songs live, “no metronome, no nothing.” This way, it’s almost truer to the genre as well. These are songs that are meant to be sung along to and danced to at parties. “They project that in their sound when they play together,” Barrera says. “Whenever they focus and they all hit the note, it just feels really special. It’s always raw, and pure.” 

The band still can’t process how much has happened to them. In their rise to the top, they’ve leaned on each other, becoming like brothers. They roast each other, and often exchange glances between interview questions in reference to some inside joke or embarrassing story that leads to an outburst of laughter. “We’re so close right now, you’re not gonna see us apart from each other,” Peña says.

In the months since Coachella, the band has been hard at work on their debut album, El Comienzo, out August 3. Originally slated for release in May, the group followed Barrera’s example, keeping details about their debut under wraps in the run-up to its release. Rather than rush to put something out, they decided to take things slow, paring the album down to 12 tracks, featuring collaborations with artists like Norteño legends Grupo Firme, and trap corrido star, Junior H.

Their success may take them far away from home as they embark on their tour. But their dreams, their pie-in-the-sky ideas for the future? They’re relatively simple: “We just want to be Frontera,” Peña says. “We want our legacy to be that 20, 30 years from now, people are still singing and dancing to our music. They’re still playing us in their barbecues and their family gatherings. We want to have the kind of legacy where people can say we did what nobody else could do. We showed everyone what we can do, and where we’re from.” 

Grupo Frontera’s debut album El Comienzo comes out on Aug. 3. Catch them on tour around Texas, starting Aug. 18 in Austin.

The June 2024 cover of Texas Highways: Treasures from the Coast

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