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On the music of mexico:history,diversity,song and dance
By Michelle Liew
Like any country in the world, Mexico boasts a diverse range of genres, musical forms and sub cultures that existed traditionally and still do today. Mexico is a country of vibrancy, culture and of course, passionate music. Mexican music has always set the heart aflutter, gotten the toes tapping and those bodies dancing.
Indeed, the music of this country boasts richness of history and culture. The beauty of its diversity constantly amazes listeners and visually, the dances evoke the senses with much strength.
This article will explore the diversity and the history of the music of mexico, visit some popular mexican singers that have made a difference to the world of music and, for a little fun at children’s parties, explore how to do the mexican hat dance!
Mexican Music - a true representation of religious and cultural diversity
As it is with many ancient civilizations, the musical history of Mexico is long, rich, vibrant and diverse. While fine arts flourished in pre-conquest Mexico, it gave way to music with more Spanish influences. It has its own distinct jazz tradition and today, Mexican music retains many of its traditional elements while embracing the impact of other cultures and influences.
The music of the Aztecs
We begin most aptly with Mexico before Spanish conquest. Music played a tremendous, influential part in Aztec ceremonies and religion. It was a way of passing on Aztec tradition and culture, with music considered an important subject to be learned in school. Music was a way for people to make emotional connections with important events in life. It would amuse many to find that the nobles had their own “bands” and “studios” in the comfort of their own homes!
Types of Aztec Music
There were many types of Aztec music. Some were sacred hymns that commemorated the Gods, asking them for the flourishing of crops or for success in battle. These were known as cantares. The idea of the “rain dance” probably came from the Aztecs, with dances accompanying rituals asking for rain.
Aztec music, of course, included lighthearted songs and songs of everyday life. The cantares were for religious rituals and ceremonies, but there were many universal songs.
Characteristics of Aztec Music
Aztec music had a poetic, metaphorical and symbolic nature, characteristic of the nahuati language. Each word, God or thing would have multiple names and each line boasted of clever poetry. Both religious and secular songs boasted brilliant word play.
Indigenous Traditional Music
Aztec music was preserved, thanks in large part, to nomadic tribes like the Yaquis and Seris. The Yaquis, the tribal people of Arizona and Sonora. The most famous of their songs would be related to the beauty of the deer. Characterized by flute accompaniment and the use of percussion instruments, Yaqui music was largely responsible for making Aztec hymns extant.
Traditional Mexican Music
One has to truly explore to appreciate the true diversity of Mexican Music. The traditional music of Mexico was an integral an irremovable part of Mexican history and boasted many diverse forms.
These were bold ballads that were the highlight of the Mexican revolution. Usually about oppression, the life of the peasants and other socially important information, it is narrative in nature. Singers of the Corrido were, and still are, wonderful story tellers. As with a narrative, corrido usually contains a prologue to the story, the story itself and the moral viewpoint of the singer. Usually accompanied by guitar and played by Mexican musical ensembles, the corrido has a rhythm similar to that of the European waltz. Modern Corridos have now broach issues pertaining to modern times, like immigration and drug trafficking.
Unlike the Corrido which is performed by ensembles, the ranchera is performed by only one singer accompanied by a guitar. A response to the growing aristocracy, the ranchera was a symbol of Mexico’s new awakening. Usually about politics or nature, the rhythm of the ranchera can be played in 2/4 (ranchera polkeada)3/4 (ranchera valseada) or 4/4 (bolero ranchero). A shout, known as the grito mexicano, is usually given in interludes within the song.
The diversity of Mexican Music
Mexican music boasts diversity in its forms, performance and the instruments used. Listening to the music alone is embracing a truly rich culture. Different regions of Mexico have, as with all countries, their distinct forms of music.
Mexican Musical ensembles
I have approached the discussion of the diversity of this music by addressing the different types of musical ensembles that can be heard playing in Mexico. Each of these can be considered a sub culture of its own.
In order to truly appreciate the diversity of Mexican music, one has to mention Son music, music that is a mix of Spanish and indigenous influences. It is music that covers a variety of styles that vary by region, but are similar in terms of rhythm, lyrics and dance. There are three main varieties played by characteristic ensembles, which I shall mention.These are Son Jarocho, Son
Huasteco and Son Jaliscience, which has morphed and known as Mariachi music. It is characterised by a specialized percussive element-the stomping feet of dancers.
This is an ensemble that specializes in the music played in the Mexican state of Velacuz. The Jarocho form has evolved over the last two centuries in the coastal regions of Velacruz and Tamaulipas. The term “Jarocho” is used to refer to things from this region. The music has characteristics of indigenous, African and Spanish culture. A mainly humorous form, Jarocho are largely songs about sailors, love and nature.
This is a musical ensemble specializing in the music of Son Huasteco, originating in the North Eastern area of Mexico known as Huasteca. The music is usually played by a Trio Huasteco of a guitarra quinta huapanguera (an eight stringed guitar) a jarana huasteca and a violin. The form is noted for its lively violin accompaniment.
This is a musical ensemble that specializes in the playing of the marimba, a percussion instrument with a set of resonators. The ensemble consists of a marimba, double bass and drums.
The mariachi is essentially the music from the western part of Mexico. It was played by the musicians wearing the white shirts of peasant farmers. The form has become more urbanized, and includes influences from the polka and waltz forms.
The evolution of Mexican Pop music
Traditional Mexican music has evolved into what is known as Mexican pop, mainly for Mexico’s teen listeners and youth. Mexico is the country that exports a the largest amount of pop music in the Spanish language.
In the 1960s and 70s, Mexican pop consisted of Spanish covers of English pop hits. In the 1990s, Mexican pop was given a boost in popularity with singers like Selena and boy bands Mercurio and Ragazzi.
Instruments used in Mexican Music
Instruments used by its musicians give Mexican music its unique quality. Some of these we are familiar with, others might be completely new!
The huapanguera guitar is an essential part of a Conjunto Huasteco ensemble. It takes on the role of the bass instrument of the ensemble. With a short neck, the huapanguero guitar usually only has 8 to 10 frets. The tuning arrangement has 8 to 10 nylon strings in 5 courses.
This is a dried gourd that has rough edges for a string to be drawn across. Today’s guiros can be fashioned out of metal, plastic or fibreglass.
The Vera Cruz Harp was brought to Mexico from Spain in the 1500s. Usually made from nylon, the strings are plucked with one’s fingernails. A rapid movement known as a tremolo creates its characteristic vibrating sound.
This is a five stringed guitar that is characteristic of a mariachi band. The sound is usually high in pitch, with the guitarron providing the low notes.
The violin is also characteristic of a Mariachi band, and provides the essential melody. Since the development of Jalisco in the 1700s, the violinist has become the proud member of a Mariachi band. The violin came to Mexico from Spain in the 15th century and has become a part of its culture ever since.
The marimba is a member of music’s percussion family and now commonly used in bands all over the world. It has a set of wooden bars with resonators. They are struck with mallets and arranged chromatically in semintones in a similar way to the keys of a piano.
Early marimbas were diatonic in nature, producing whole tones. The chromatic marimba with keys that represented accidentals was developed from its diatonic cousin later.
Famous Mexican Musicians
Featured here are some notable Mexican musicians and groups.The Mexican musicians here are separated into two groups- the traditional and contemporary.
Los Cadetes Di Linares
Popular Traditional Mexican Musicians or groups
Los Cadetes De Linares
This is a famous Corrido band formed in 1960, which played ballads discussing social issuesThey are also known for appearances in many classical Mexican films. It was put together by Homero Guerrero, who had a dream of attending a military academy. Due to economic pressures, he decided to devote his time to his other passion - music. They became famous around the city of Linares.
Jose Alfredo Jiminez Ella
Jose Alfredo Jiminez
Jiminez, born in 1926, was a famous ranchera singer whose songs are considered an integral part of Mexico’s tradition. Not formally trained in music and not knowing what a waltz was, he nevertheless composed more than 1000 songs. Among is most famous are "Ella", "Paloma Querida", "Tu Y La Mentira". Many of his songs have been covered by recording artists famous in the Spanish speaking world.
Rodrigo Gonzalez distante instante
Contemporary Mexican Musicians
Some Mexican musicians have helped to shape the face of Mexican pop, encompassing a diversity of styles in their respective genres.
The singer songwriter founded the movimento rupestre or Cave Movement, a pop-folk music movement that greatly influenced Mexican rock. Playing in bars, cafes and on the streets of Mexico City, he slowly began to develop existentialist music based on his experiences as a street musician. The form became known as Rockdrigo, which discussed mainly the issues of the Urban poor.
Otherwise known as Ignacio Chavez, his music is inspired by the brass banda and accordion elements of norteno music. He is famous for his infusion of jazz and electronic elements into his music, and is a founding member of the nortec collective.
Carlos Santana Smooth
I did not think I could possibly write a that delve into the genre of contemporary Mexican or Latin American music without mentioning Santana. By far one of the most famous Latin American Musicians we know, Santana became famous with his band, Santana, in the 1960s. They pioneered a fusion of rock and Latin American music, and infused the African percussive elements of congas and timbales. The Rolling Stones magazine listed Santana on its list of 100 greatest guitarists of all time.
Teaching children a Mexican Hat dance
If you are organizing a children’s party or are a music teacher looking for a new dance to teach the kids, this is a simple dance you might be interested in, though it requires the making of a few props. Here is how you would teach the Mexican Hat Dance to children.
Make simple “dancing sticks” out of the cardboard of toilet rolls or kitchen towels, adding colored paper streamers to the end.
Find a sombrero!
Find a sombrero and put it in the centre, surrounded by the dancing sticks.
Form a circle
Form a circle with the children around the hat and dancing sticks.
Walk round the hat.
Have the children walk round the hat. They can do a simple dance step to the left or right, depending on their age.
Call out individual children.
Call out individual children to dance around the hat. Encourage a little creativity by asking them to move and use the colored sticks in their own ways. Continue calling out names until each child has finished.
The music of mexico is varied, rich, passionate and sensual, certainly to be enjoyed by everyone. Till the next time, Adios Amigos!
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