Regional Mexican Music

By Vail, Chris | ReVista (Cambridge), Winter 2016 | Go to article overview

Regional Mexican Music


Vail, Chris, ReVista (Cambridge)


MEXICO'S PORT CITY OF VERACRUZ WAS ALIVE with music the week before Carnaval. Musicians, dancers, and audiences popped up on street corners, parks, and in driveways. Maybe it was the final stage of rehearsals. Or maybe the performers could not contain their pent-up excitement. The scheduled parades and ensuing revelry were still a week away, but the flurry of activity already felt like one big delightful street party.

Having escaped a New York City winter and landed in the middle of this creative melange, I was surprised to see how often the audiences joined in the singing and dancing. That certainly didn't happen with musicians on New York subway platforms. But in Veracruz, performance quickly morphed into a communal gathering. I wondered if all these people actually knew one another or if there was something else at work. As I wandered around, I asked people that question. Often the scene seemed to suggest that everyone was someone's cousin but people also told me "this is our culture and this is how we share it."

A few years later I returned to Mexico to live and work as a photojournalist. An early assignment took me back to southern Veracruz, this time into the rich world of traditional Mexican music where I witnessed a similar communal vibrancy. With Veracruz as a starting point, I began visiting musicians in different parts of Mexico. I was curious to see if the communal magic in the music existed elsewhere in the country.

The results were mixed. In some places the traditional music was a lively multi-generational cultural experience. In others it was barely hanging on, with performers in their 80's and 90's. It felt more a like a vestige of a fading past.

Depending on whom I spoke with, explanations for this discrepancy ranged from the degree of musical complexity to volume (louder is better) to the 1940s bracero program sending workers to the United States, where Mexicans from different regions mingled for the first time. …

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