How Mexico's Musical Past Finds Its Voice in the Present

Unlocking Mexico's musical secrets, “The Past That Sounds and Resonates” revives forgotten treasures, recording 22 pieces dating back to 1660. This project, a harmonious blend of history and melody, safeguards cultural heritage for future generations.

How Mexico's Musical Past Finds Its Voice in the Present
Dusty Cathedrals, Reborn Melodies: Mexico's forgotten music dances again. Hear the whispers of history in every note.

In the clandestine alcoves of historical archives, often nestled within the grandeur of cathedrals, lie musical treasures that have withstood the test of time, yet remain unknown to the majority. Lucero Enríquez Rubio, a sharp-minded researcher at the Institute of Aesthetic Research (IIE) of the UNAM, has embarked on a mission to unearth, preserve, and propagate these forgotten melodies before they vanish into the abyss of obscurity.

In a recent interview, Rubio emphasized the importance of documenting these musical relics, weaving a sonic tapestry that encapsulates Mexico's rich cultural heritage. Through the ingenious project, “The Past That Sounds and Resonates,” spearheaded by the Music Seminar of New Spain and Independent Mexico (Musicat), in collaboration with the Grammy Latin Cultural Foundation, 22 timeless pieces spanning various genres and epochs have been meticulously recorded across the nation.

Originally intending to rescue 10 musical works, the project exceeded expectations, giving birth to a virtual microcosm of auditory delights. The project's microsite, accessible at, hosts a sound library featuring original tracks of genres like alabado, canto cardenche, credo, cuadrillas, service for the dead, psalm, and waltz.

A captivating video, aptly titled “The Past That Sounds and Resonates,” documents the revival of three genres: credo, alabado, and waltz. Each note, a testament to faith, tradition, and the very soul of Mexican culture.

Take, for instance, the alabado, a declaration of faith integral to Catholic worship. In Santa María Ostula, Michoacán, a community's singers breathe life into ancient liturgical songs, akin to the melodies that once reverberated around cathedrals centuries ago. This oral tradition, though teetering on the edge of extinction, finds a lifeline through the youth who embrace their musical legacy.

The project doesn't stop at mere preservation; it delves into uncharted territories. For the first time in centuries, the 18th-century praise of Italian composer Santiago Billoni echoed through a choir formed exclusively for research purposes. Francisco López Chapels' sole Spanish work, damaged and requiring transcription, received a new lease on life through the dedicated efforts of the project.

The resonance doesn't end there; it transcends genres, reaching into the heart of the waltz. With over a hundred scores tucked away in the Cathedral of Mexico's music archive, this lively dance has seeped into the very fabric of Mexican rituals, from the solemnity of Holy Week to the vibrant Dance of the Feather in Oaxaca.

The recording process itself was a symphony of collaboration, bringing together musicians, writers, filmmakers, video artists, historians, archivists, and photographers. It's a testament to the Musicat ethos – an exploration of how the melodies of the past can echo through time and still enchant contemporary audiences.

As the harpsichordist and Baroque music specialist involved in the project notes, this isn't merely about rescuing tunes; it's about building a bridge between centuries, connecting the present to a rich musical heritage. The sound library, replete with recordings and a comprehensive data file, serves as a gateway to explore the cultural tapestry of Mexico.

The project's trailer, available here, promises a sensory feast – a musical, geographical, and historical journey awaiting its grand premiere at the University Cultural Center in January.

In a world where the old often yields to the allure of the new, “The Past That Sounds and Resonates” emerges as a harmonious reminder that our cultural roots are not relics but living, breathing entities deserving of care, dissemination, and preservation. As the expert puts it, “We want the public to be excited and understand that this is part of the cultural heritage of Mexico.” So, mark your calendars, for this is more than a concert; it's a celebration of Mexico's musical journey through time.