The Untold Wealth of Traditional Mexican Music

It is not possible to make a history of the traditional music of Mexico in such brief lines. Here is a small sketch to point out the complexity of this process and to show the diversity of instruments and musical genres played today.

The Untold Wealth of Traditional Mexican Music
Discover the unknown richness of traditional Mexican music. Photo by Providence Doucet / Unsplash

During Mexico's social-historical process, influences from other peoples have enriched the musical tradition. Before the arrival of the Spaniards to America, the Mesoamerican area had great cultural diversity. This was intertwined with the Hispanic culture, which also corresponded to a mixture of different cultural traditions, especially those of Arab origin. As if that were not enough, the arrival of black slaves to these lands determined a third great influence.

By the end of the XVIII century, a sonorous mestizaje had already been formed in Mexico. The Sonecitos de la Tierra emerged as the voice and emblem of a mostly mestizo society. This genre toured our country despite being condemned by the Inquisition on several occasions. The Sonecitos de la Tierra was taking a natural way in the different regions, acquiring particular characteristics that over time would conform to the mosaic of the son, a unique musical genre.

During the independent era, the French influence was a determining factor in Mexico. Musical fashions were incorporated that were transformed little by little until they became popular expressions. The polkas, the waltz, the chotis, the rigodón, and the cuadrillas are some examples of the different genres that were adopted in the different regions of Mexico, both in the Mexican ballroom dances in the European style, as well as in numerous indigenous dances.

The maritime trade of western America, which stretched from Valparaíso to San Francisco, passing through Acapulco, was responsible for the South American migratory waves to Mexico. The chilena, a musical genre from the Costa Chica, is deeply related to South American genres such as the marinera, the zamba, and the cueca. The Chilena from Guerrero entitled El vapor chileno is a clear example that recreates this port context, whose protagonists are Afromestizos:

When the Chilean steamer
comes whistling "jay!
the black women in the port
they swing and swing and swing and swing
Look black girl, don't faint
Where are you going with such a nice waist?
Where are you going with such a nice waist
a black woman of the soul, who gives and gives...

Mexico has more than fifty ethnic cultures, whose musical practices are rich in both genres and instrumental endowments. Hundreds and hundreds of traditional instruments are still in use today, such as violins, rabeles, vihuelas, guitarrones, harps, guitars, teponaztles, different versions of huéhuetl, chirimías, reed flutes, mirlitón flutes (very similar to oriental flutes), large and small drums, square drums, redoblantes, and tamboras, just to mention a few.

Also worth mentioning are the jarana huasteca, jarana jarocha (in its different sizes), jarana colorada or guitarra de golpe, jarana blanca or also known as guitarra panzona, sirincho, guitarra séptima or Mexican guitar, bajo quinto, bandolones, tricordios, mandolinas, guitarras concheras, requintos jarochos, guitarras de son. And as if that were not enough, there are also marimbas, tortoise shells, rattles, tenábaris (butterfly cocoons with pebbles inside), and friar's elbows, among others.

The same is true of musical genres. In addition to mariachi sones, sones jarochos, huastecos, ranchera songs and corridos, there are many other genres. Suffice it to mention the chilenas, colombianas, polkas, chotis, mazurcas, jarabes, zapateados, bolas surianas, sones de tarima, acaxacados, saludos, corridas, cardenche, jaranas, columbianas, valonas, ensaladas, alabanzas, alabados, vinuettes. In order not to tire the kind reader and cram him/her with a number of names of instruments and musical genres unknown for the moment, we shall leave the above list unfinished.

Sources: This is a brief excerpt from an essay by Gonzalo Camacho Díaz via Correo del Maestro No.24.