This is the beginning

Driving home from a baseball game, Emilio Ortega turns on the car radio to 101.9 FM and sings along to El Potro De Sinaloa’s classic “Chuy y Mauricio.” The trumpets in the chorus fill the air, and he begins to recite the next lyrics when his two-year-old son steers ahead, finishing the second verse. Unbeknownst to both of them, that car ride home marked the first of many performances by Emilio Ortega Jr.

After two years in the making, freshman Emilio Ortega Jr. independently released his debut Spanish album titled “Así Empezó,” featuring two originals, “Corazón” and “Hermosa Mujer,” and eight covers, including “Vas a Llorar por Mi,” “30 Cartas” and “Te Metiste,” in July 2017. In association with Ink Notes, a music company that digitally distributes music on streaming platforms, Ortega Jr. also released a music video to accompany his first single, “Corazón”.

“I was really excited because it was my first album, and I kept looking on Spotify to see how many people were listening. I was nervous if people would like it,” Ortega Jr. said. “I was happy and filled with joy after because I saw people posting on Instagram about my first CD.”

Ortega Jr. finds influence from the older Spanish music his father and mother would listen to at home. Mainly, Ortega Jr. draws inspiration from Gerardo Ortiz, who originated from Sinaloa, Mexico where Ortega Jr.’s father is from, and Pepe Aguilar, who comes from Zacatecas, Mexico where Ortega Jr.’s mother originates. Sinaloa is the birthplace of banda music, a genre that relies on brass, woodwind and percussion instruments, and Zacatecas is home to norteño, a northern Mexican folk style that features accordion and polka, and mariachi styles.

“You have to be proud of where you come from. It’s our music, and it’s my roots — it represents me. I just feel happy and proud seeing it on stage that I can share where I come from with a lot of people,” Ortega Jr. said.

The marriage of norteño, banda and mariachi offers a distinct impression on Ortega Jr.’s artistry; when performing, he is commonly referred to as “Zacaloense,” an amalgam of the names of natives from Zacatecas and Sinaloa. Furthermore, Ortega Jr. incorporates these musical elements in his covers, originals and YouTube videos.

After a day of house maintenance, Ortega Jr. recalls casually drumming his hands to a beat and singing a random tune when his father encouraged him to jot it down in his journal. From there, they spent several writing sessions at the kitchen table where the rhythmic hand beats and melodies made their way into 2015’s “Corazón” and 2017’s “Hermosa Mujer,” both of which follow a norteño style.

“We both work our butts off to make music. He works overtime everyday and is always on me which I appreciate because without him I wouldn’t be where I am. He’s an awesome dad and my best friend. I can’t thank my parents enough for helping me,” Ortega Jr. said. “I’m the only one that sings in the family, so they really trust me to use the God-given talents I have.”

All of the covers on “Así Empezó” are banda songs that Ortega Jr. and his parents listened to when growing up. He selected each cover based on the instrumentals, lyrical content and personal attachment. Occasionally, Ortega Jr. updates his YouTube page (Emilio Ortega Jr) with mariachi covers, live performances and fan interactions.

“I feel that banda is something that is connected to me. When I’m performing, I feel excited and happy because I’m sharing with these people my music.” Ortega Jr. said. “I’m meeting my fans because these are the people that make [me]. It’s truly awesome to thank them.”

Following his debut album, Ortega Jr. aims to release his sophomore album with more originals and covers accompanied with him playing the accordion before the end of 2020.

As his debut translates, this is just the beginning.

By Sherman Wu, Print editor-in-chief
Photo by Tristan Gonzalez

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