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The Music of Mexico - Mariachi Bands

"...born of the traditions of the states of Sinola and Jalisco, where the countryside is rough and the people rougher."

K.L. Moore

To understand and love Mexican culture you must know the music of Mexico. Contrary to popular belief, the music you hear from the strolling musicians is not 'mariachi' music, 'mariachi' is a term used to describe a band of five or more musicians that wear the traditional costume of a 'charro' or Mexican cowboy, not the music itself. A 'mariachi' band consists of horns, violins, vihuelas, guitarrónes, regular guitars, harps, and some guitar variants. When I first came here I too equated all Mexican music as mariachi music. So what do you call the men you see strolling the beaches and restaurants of our fair city? They are músicos, romanceros, dúos or tríos. These men play the same type of music as a large mariachi band. You can find groups of them strolling through the beach restaurants, adding much to our ambiance.

Last week, several friends, Faby, Bertha, Juan Carlos, and David, accompanied me on my research mission of Latin music. At Casa Arcadia, on Playa Principal, we were serenaded by the best duo here in Zihuatanejo, the brothers, Tomás and Rogelio (to spot them, look for one man wearing glasses dressed uniformly with his look-alike brother). Both play guitars and sing beautifully. They, like most of the musicians here, know all types of Mexican music and were much obliged to give us all a little lesson.

My favorite type of Latin music we heard that night, the 'corridos', are sort of like sonnets set to music. Not sonnets of unrequited love. Oh no. They are legends of the people in the mountains and countryside fighting for their people, literally. The heroes are drug traffickers, violently killing for vengeance, others are local robbers and bandits stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, much like modern day Mexican versions of Robin Hood. These 'corridos' are born of the traditions of the states of Sinaloa and Jalisco, where the countryside is rough and the people rougher. Some of the 'corridos' tell the stories of the Mexican Revolution. If you are in the mood for one of these, might I suggest "Simon Blanco". It is the story of a violent bandit of Sinaloa fighting for the farming rights of his people; the best part of the story is when he dies at the end with a .30 caliber gun in his hand, shot by Martinez. There is no refrain in these songs, just a continuous recount of the legend. So, now we needed an upbeat happy song, right? Thomás suggested a 'huapango', this is a type of upbeat high tempo guitar playing that can brighten any mood. We heard the song "Orgulloso", which means 'proud'. This is a story of one man so proud of his love for a woman that it can span through the hands of time.

Then, it was time for some love songs. There are some Mexican love songs that can make even the hardest of heart get a little teary-eyed. A 'bolero' and a 'balada' are very similar types of Latin love songs. A 'bolero' is a bit slower than a 'balada'. There were no lovers in our group the night of my research project. But, as we were serenaded by the 'bolero', "Usted", (a story of a man struggling to overcome his deathly fear of kissing his love) and the bolero, "Cielo Rojo", (a story of a sad lost love), all of us were thinking of past loves, future loves, and loves that could never be. Other good 'boleros' include the popular " Bésame Mucho", "Reloj" and " Amor Eterno".

OK, so after all these sad but hauntingly beautiful love songs, it was time for a switch. Time for a 'paso', another upbeat song filled with a quick playing guitar, "Luz de Luna". A 'norteña' is a song from the north of Mexico and also has a faster paced tempo. A good one to request is "La Puerta Negra". Another fast paced type is 'ranchero', a type of music usually from the state of Jalisco. Try out the song "Ella" for a typical 'ranchero' song. A good example of the music of the state of Veracruz is a 'guerachuta' a fast paced happy song. One that is a must next to the ocean is "En el mar la vida es mas sabrosa". End your serenade with a typical mexican 'vals' (waltz). An excellent example is "Perdóname".

OK, so what if you do not speak Spanish. This is a good way to learn, and not only learn, but glimpse a little of the Mexican culture while here. And, please ladies and gentlemen, if you are going to request "Juan Tanamera", not "One Ton Tomato", know that it is song from Cuba, telling the story of a Cuban revolutionary, not about a Mexican tomato. Another popular request from English speaking tourists is "La Bamba", a 'huapango' made popular by Ritchie Valens. And the other favorite is "Rancho Grande" a good example of a 'ranchero' song. All of these are good songs, but it is time to branch out and find a new favorite. Make a request of your 'músicos' to play any of the above or ask them for their own examples of love songs and stories of legends. Live a little.

December 2000

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