Chartbreaker: How Grupo Frontera Turned a Hobby Into a Massive Following in Less Than a Year

In May, regional Mexican act Grupo Frontera performed at Houston nightclub El Rodeo Disco to approximately 300 people. Three months later, in August, the act returned, and this time, much to the surprise of 19-year-old vocalist and bajo quinto player Adelaido “Payo” Solis III, the crowd had increased to 3,000. “I had to take off my in-ear to listen to everyone sing with us,” he remembers. “This was a dream come true.”

The experience would have been unfathomable a year ago, when Grupo Frontera was a local band from the Texas border town McAllen, creating music merely as a hobby. After recruiting Solis, fresh out of high school, into its now six-man ensemble — also comprised of Juan Javier Cantú, 29 (vocalist and accordionist), Julian Peña Jr., 26 (percussionist and animator), Alberto “Beto” Acosta, 30 (bajo quinto), Carlos Guerrero, 28 (drums), and Carlos Zamora, 32 (bass) — the group officially launched this March with an independently released debut EP that contained four cover songs, including Diego Verdaguer’s “La Ladrona.” “When choosing our covers, we decided to focus on timeless pop songs,” says Peña.


But it was a one-off released just one month later — their norteño rendition of “No Se Va,” a 2019 single by Colombian folk-pop group Morat — that catapulted them to fame. “We practiced that song just 16 hours before recording it,” says Peña. “Payo began singing it, then I added rhythms with the congas, and then Beto followed with the bajo quinto, and we all stared at each other thinking, ‘Wow, this sounds cool.’ We practiced it three times on a Wednesday, and the next day we recorded it live in one take.”

Following its release on April 28, its music video gained steam on YouTube on the heels of the EP, though at first the band still “didn’t understand why” it was performing so well, says Peña. “Then we went on TikTok.” Its engagement has sustained momentum on the platform, ultimately exploding due to a video from September that shows a suave man named Elmer and his dance partner, Erika, moving in rhythm to the song in Chihuahua, Mexico. The clip, which has now amassed more than 12 million views, “gave the song the push it needed to get to another level,” says Peña.

“No Se Va” debuted on Billboard‘s Hot Latin Songs chart in September and has since climbed to No. 4. Meanwhile, the track became only the fifth regional Mexican song in Hot 100 history, reaching a No. 57 high after entering the all-genre songs chart in early October. “Honestly, I think it was the seasoning that we put with the congas,” Cantú says of its runaway success. “It doesn’t sound like your typical norteño song; in fact, it sounds like something fresh with that reggaetón vibe.”

Despite Grupo Frontera’s success with its cover version, Morat’s original “No Se Va” has yet to appear on any Billboard charts (though the band did reach the Billboard Global Excl. U.S. chart in June with “Paris,” a collaboration with Argentine rapper Duki). While Grupo Frontera has not had any communication yet with Morat, Cantú insists the act deserves all the credit. “We wanted to pay tribute to a group that many of us admire,” he continues.

Amid all of its recent success, Grupo Frontera has added indie record label VHR Music founder Victor Ruiz as its manager. Ruiz — also the vocalist of Grupo Zaaz and manager of a handful of other Texas-based groups — additionally serves as the band’s booking agent and has already secured various performances in Texas, Arizona, North Carolina, New York, California, Florida and Mexico. Plus, he’s worked with the group to help boost its visibility, insisting on the importance of vlogging for each member. “I want them to get to the point that everyone can identify who’s who in the group,” he says. “People love seeing the intimacy of an artist, how they prepare for their shows and how they are behind the scenes.”

But beyond touring and vlogging, Grupo Frontera wants to keep testing its success as an independent act — even after multiple record labels have made generous offers, according to Ruiz. Adds Cantú: “I’m not saying that we won’t ever sign with a label but for now, we’re very happy this way. We want to see how far we can get as indie artists.”

Grupo Frontera Julian Peña Jr. Juan Javier Cantú Adelaido Solis III Alberto Acosta Carlos Guerrero with manager Victor Ruiz
Clockwise from top: manager Victor Ruiz with Grupo Frontera band members Carlos Guerrero, Alberto Acosta, Adelaido Solis III, Juan Javier Cantú and Julian Peña Jr., photographed on October 19, 2022 at Houston Warehouse Studios in Houston. (Not pictured: Carlos Zamora.)

The band plans to flood the space with new material, starting with a recent song titled “Vete.” Grupo Frontera aims to release at least five more original tracks before the end of 2022, with some help from reigning Latin Grammy producer of the year winner — and fellow McAllen native — Edgar Barrera. “I’m worried that they’ll become a one-hit wonder, and that’s why I tell them they need to release music constantly because if not, the momentum fades away,” Ruiz says.

“​You’d think we’ve been playing together for 10 years, but we’ve only been out for eight months,” Cantú adds. “I still can’t believe everything that’s happening to us.”

A version of this story will appear in the Nov. 5, 2022, issue of Billboard.

Josh Glicksman