There was a time when La Mafia, arguably the greatest Tejano group in the genre’s history, spent very little time in Houston. Though its roots are in the city’s Northside (still home to La Mafia’s expansive studios), touring and promotional commitments kept them on the road.
“A few years ago, we’d be gone two to four weeks in a row,” says producer Armando Lichtenberger Jr., who also handles keyboards and accordion.
The frantic scheduling, however, has changed. The band now does five or six shows a month, including casinos, a purposeful choice that allows them time to focus on other projects.
“It feels easier,” says singer Oscar De la Rosa, who released two solo singles last year. “We get to spend more time at home.”
La Mafia’s show this weekend at Miller Outdoor Theatre is its first local appearance since a New Year’s Day performance. Though fans frequently run into band members at coffee shops, clubs and concerts, they limit Houston shows to twice a year. (The same goes for San Antonio, too, where the healthy Tejano market could accommodate much more.)
“It’s just a system that we’ve kept throughout the years. It works for us,” Lichtenberger says. “When we come home, it makes it extra-special.”
“We want our fans to be excited when they see us again,” De La Rosa adds.
Excitement indeed seems to be building for Saturday’s show. A post on La Mafia’s Facebook page asking fans which song they would like to hear drew close to 200 comments. (Popular choices included “Un Millón de Rosas,” “Vida” and soul classic “Oh Girl,” featured on the band’s “Live in the 80’s” disc.)
De La Rosa in particular has taken to social media, posting his thoughts on traveling, music and even politics on a regular basis.
“It’s about keeping up with what’s going on. Keeping up with the times. We try to keep up with everything on the Internet — Twitter, Facebook,” he says.
“We have noticed a young following. It’s a new generation of fans that are coming out to see us, that have heard a lot about us, but that have never been to one of our shows.”
It’s almost impossible to overstate the impact and influence of La Mafia. De La Rosa and Lichtenberger founded the group in the early ’80s and honed in on a unique sound that combined traditional elements with the melodies and polish of pop. La Mafia became one of the first Mexican-American groups to tour throughout the U.S., Mexico, Central and South America. They’ve scored countless radio hits, won Grammys and were recognized by Billboard magazine as one of the top 25 Latin artists of the past 25 years.
The current lineup includes De La Rosa, Lichtenberger, David De La Garza (keyboards, vocals) Tim Ruiz (bass), Joe Gonzales (drums) and Viktor Pacheco (guitar).
“The industry has changed a lot. It’s a little more difficult today than it was five years ago,” De La Rosa says. “I feel good about what we’ve done and am proud of what we’ve done. I would have never imagined it, to still be successful at what we do. To actually say I sold 2 million, 3 million copies of one album, it’s something that’s never going to happen again in this genre. It feels good to know that we’ve come a long way, we’re still around and still love what we do.”
A new album is indeed in the works, and single “Amor Escondido” was offered free to fans in July. (It’s currently available on iTunes.) The sound is familiar but fresh enough to not feel completely like nostalgia. Lichtenberger says the band has been courted by major labels but is comfortable sifting everything through its own Urbana Records, which they’ve been recording under since 2004’s “Para el Pueblo.”
“It’s kind of like back to the beginning,” Lichtenberger says. “It creates a different world, a different way of marketing. We can go in the studio, record a song and have it out the next day. Until we hear an offer that is better than we can do on our own, we’re gonna stay on our own.
“The band right now is in a very good moment. It shows in what we’ve been doing lately. This is what we love to do. My dad’s 74, and he’s a drafting engineer, and he still does it because he loves to do it. That’s what we do.”
7 p.m. Saturday at Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park Drive. Free (tickets for covered seating available 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday at the box office); 281-373-3386 or lamafia.com