Notes on Mexican Rock

By Delgado, Humberto | ReVista (Cambridge), Winter 2016 | Go to article overview

Notes on Mexican Rock


Delgado, Humberto, ReVista (Cambridge)


SINCE THE 1960S, THERE'S BEEN A BOOMING underground rock scene in Mexico. It defines itself as countercultural, but not in absolute opposition to the mainstream- although sometimes it indeed is. Rather, the underground rock scene developed to seek inclusion in the midst of political and economic backwardness. It was and still is also a way of resisting the strict yet worn imposition of official values carried out by the state since the Mexican Revolution.

Rock, like other social phenomena, includes "simulations of social interactions," as Laura Martínez Hernández, following Néstor García Canclini, points out in Music and Alternative Culture (p. 29). In this way, the Mexican underground rock scene-beyond its musical quality which is much criticized by specialists like Hugo García Michel-needs to be looked at as a parallel construction of the Mexican identity, this time, however, one that is elaborated from the periphery. The stories told by rockeros make them visible, and in the process manage to show what the status quo promotes and what it renders invisible and even causes to disappear. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), a hegemonic party that has controlled Mexico's political system for many decades, produces and successfully imposes an unambiguous construction of a national identity of a country that has leftbehind the era of social injustice for a new age of development. The still current triumphalist discourse generated by those in power suffered its first great rupture in the 1960s, when the first economic crises began to affect large sectors of the population. People began to react to the political erosion and the consequent and increasingly authoritarian and censorial attitudes of a party that could no longer sustain the illusion of being an agent for democracy and social equity.

The first years of rock in Mexico demonstrated the capacity of the power structures of the authoritarian state and media to control and manage culture. Facing the inevitable advent of rock and roll, the system responded not so much by rejecting but by absorbing it and taking away any dissident undertones. Among other strategies for exerting cultural-and with it, political-control, the PRI systematically created a media strategy in which the decision was not to nationalize the media, but to give it over to entrepreneurs who had ties to the government. In this way, in 1955, precisely during the birth of rock and roll, the first-and for many years, the only-private television company, Telesistema Mexicano (which would later be called Televisa, and whose owner named himself a soldier of the PRI in a polemical interview), was established. The television station, whose scope gradually extended to all sorts of musical shows, radio stations and movie productions, acted during the first years of the rock phenomenon as a filter that let in those aspects of the new musical movement that aligned with the official interests of the time, in this way getting rock to lose its subversive capacity and become a model of the modernity it was entering. Including this musical novelty was even considered a gesture of democratic acceptance of the new phenomenon that some conservatives accused of being a foreign threat to the national identity. The system, however, was prepared to neutralize these and other attacks. The Mexican media managed to control the phenomenon during its first years, making space for politically correct musical groups and singers, who then turned into soap opera and sitcom stars. Covers and bands that were noticeably copied from bands in the United States-even in their skin tones- dominated in this initial period. The Teen Tops, the Locos del Ritmo or the Rebeldes del Rock allowed Mexican youth at the end of the 50s and beginnings of the 60s to get the eternal adolescent sensation of the modern and the different with a light touch of rebellion. The initial mainstream strategy continued during the following decades. It was only well into the 80s, when the underground movement was unstoppable, that transnational record companies first attempted to promote artists under the slogan "Rock in your language," selecting groups that were more or less independent yet still followed the same old initial model: white artists who catered to the apolitical middle class, with fundamentally romantic songs and rhythms that were more sophisticated yet still very close to pop. …

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