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Mexican music
 Page updated on 03.10.2015
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"Every Mexican is a musician himself".

Different songs

ballet Amalia Hernandez Mexico CityAll these fiestas, whatever the reasons, have a common element : music.
Music as well as pictorial art has a rich and diverse history. It looks like Mexicans have a musical accompaniment for every act in life. The driver of a car runs his radio on high volume while the guitarist gets into a bus playing his instrument. The singer in rags and tatters with a worn sombrero recites his old songs on the market place. A Marimba group set their instruments under the shade of a residential avenue, play a first air and wait for someone to ask for another one.

A few instruments teach us about the Pre-Hispanic music : high notes from the chrimia, tones of the conque, or tinkling of the huehuetl. These, among hundreds of other wind or percussion instruments, prove the ingenuity of the musicians in prehispanic time. Spaniards introduced new musical forms and a big diversity of stringed instruments that quickly spread out to the most remote areas of Mexico. Sometimes they were modified depending on the genius local craft. Look at the rustic Huichols violins and the Lacandóns mandolins made from gourds. During the Colonial time, Spanish musicians and dance bands toured Mexico. The romances, the malagueñas, the fandangos from Old Spain took root and throughout the years a new music developed.

   Photo above : ballet Amalia Hernandez Mexico City

musicians band in Tlen Huicana of Veracruz (harp Jarocha) Every State owns its own music as well as its cooking or craft.
Five of them stand out by the treasures and popular repertories :

State of Jalisco,
Tierra caliente — hot land, close to the coast, at the border of the state of Michoacán,
State of Guerrero,
the coastal area in the state of Veracruz, called the Jarocha,
The Huasteca, in the northeastern part, vast land composed with parts of the states of Veracruz, Hidalgo, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, Quéretaro and Puebla. Everyone has its « sones », airs, which accompany poems or coplas and often also a dance —usually a rhythmical zapateado. The orchestration, the rhythm, the musical themes and the execution of the dance vary according to the place.

      Right picture : musicians band in Tlen Huicana of Veracruz (harp Jarocha)

The "sone" jalisciense, from the state of Jalisco, is known outside Mexico. It evokes mariachis bands with their charro costumes adorned with silver buttons and their loud and dazzling trumpets. In fact this instrument came recently. The orchestration is also composed of violins, the guitarra de golpe, the small vihuela with four strings (from 4 to 6 strings depending on the areas) and the guitarrón — bass guitar with four strings.

The word mariachi, from French “marriage” evokes the vocation of the group at the beginning, i.e. music in wedding celebrations. A lot of soldiers from the French Expeditionary Force in 1863-1867 didn’t go home for different reasons. When marrying local girls, they wanted a wedding like in their country with violins. A lover wanting to give a nocturnal serenade to his girl friend at the expense of the neighbors’ sleep, also asked the mariachi bands ! The custom of the mariachi started in Guadalajara. The harp was replaced by the guitarrón. The trumpets were added around 1935. Now, they characterize the mariachis. Click here in order to consult their site and listen to their music.

You can see mariachis on the main place in almost every big city. In Mexico City, the meeting place is Plaza Garibaldi. The traditional costume of the mariachi is the charro (hat, soft tie, bontonaduras –buttons that adorn the costumes - botin –boots – and belt). You can see them every night in the Capital.

Pirekua, traditional song of the P’urhépecha

Inscribed in 2010 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Pirekua is a traditional music of the indigenous P’urhépecha communities of the State of Michoacán, Mexico, sung by both men and women. Its diverse mix of styles draws on African, European and indigenous American origins, with regional variations identified in 30 of the 165 P’urhépecha communities. A Pirekua, which is generally sung with a gentle rhythm, may also be presented in non-vocal styles using different beats such as sones (3/8 time) and abajeños(6/8 time). Pirekua can be sung solo, in duets or trios, or accompanied by choral groups, string orchestras and mixed orchestras (with wind instruments). Pirériecha (Pirekua singers and interpreters) are renowned for their creativity and interpretations of older songs. Lyrics cover a wide range of themes from historical events to religion, social and political thought and love and courtship, making extensive use of symbolism. Pirekua acts as an effective medium of dialogue between the P’urhépecha families and communities that practise it, helping to establish and reinforce bonds.Pirériechas also act as social mediators, using songs to express sentiments and communicate events of importance to the P’urhépecha communities. Pirekua has traditionally been transmitted orally from generation to generation, maintaining its currency as a living expression, marker of identity and means of artistic communication for more than a hundred thousand P’urhépecha people. Extract from Unesco website. See the slideshow and the video on their website.
portait of a mariachi

The "sone" from tierra caliente (hot land), in Michoacán, is the precursor of the jalisciense son. The rhythm, the orchestration and the themes are similar. The Jalisco and the Michoacán might have formed an only one cultural ensemble. The typical element of these “sones” is a big rustic harp whose sound box is used as a drum to give a rhythmic and loud accompaniment to the melodic lines of the violins, vihuelas and guitarras de golpe.

Left picture : portait of a mariachi

The "sone" guerrerense is different from the others « sones » by adding a drum to the stringed instruments. Its origins are numerous and according to the legend it could have been influenced by the songs of Chilean shipwrecked sailors off the coasts of Guerrero. These songs, a variation of the « son », are called chilenas. The gusto, another variation, is typical from the Coast where, during the fiestas, dancers tap in rhythm the ground of an upraised stage, or artesa.

The "sone" jarocho, from the coast of Veracruz is the richer, the most spread out of all the forms of Mexican popular music. The mixture with the African blood of the inhabitants of this area shows through the complex rhythms coming from Spain. The poets are improvising and new verses modernize constantly traditional songs.

The "sone" huasteco and the regional dance called "huapango" come from the Spanish fandango. The brisk rhythms of the jarana violin and the huapanguera with eight strings accompany a fast zapateado danced on a wooden upraised platform that sounds like a drum under the feet of the dancers.

Danza de Viejitos - Jarácuaro, Michoacán - The dance of the little old men (viejitos), very popular in Mexico, is danced with masks in the Michoacán state.

The Corrido

The Corrido, national more than regional, is a storytelling ballad emerged out of the Spanish romance. It is spread out of almost whole Mexico. Before the development of the ways of communication, the singers of corrido gave a kind of bulletin of musical information; they transmitted from a village to another one the current news. The corrido went essential during the Mexican revolution. At this time, event followed event with a fast pace and every exploit from Pancho Villa served as a theme for a new ballad.

group of young callejoneadas    Right picture : group of young callejoneadas









folkloric group from San Cristóbal de las Casas 

Left picture : folkloric group from San Cristóbal de las Casas








For all the friends of the indigenous music of Mexico, look at the project of the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples which tries to make known, through the web, the voices of the cultural and musical diversity from every part of Mexico : .


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