The origins of danzón and its tradition in Mexico, one of the most popular genres in Mexican music

Fusion of rhythms and cultures: The danzón genre has acclimatized very well in Mexico City, as it is part of the musical and emotional memory of Mexicans.

The origins of danzón and its tradition in Mexico, one of the most popular genres in Mexican music
In Mexico City, the danzón genre has developed a strong roots. Image by Jesus Leal from Pixabay

Who does not recognize the first chords of Nereidas, Juárez or No debió de Morir and Pulque para dos? It seems that danzón has acclimatized very well in Mexico City, as it is part of the musical and emotional memory of thousands of Mexicans. Today the danzón is one of the popular dances that arouses more curiosity among locals and foreigners alike. Its cadence and extensive repertoire never cease to amaze and captivate from the amateur to the connoisseur.

This genre, like other popular rhythms -which reach the very core of the people and remain there forever- is not only music and dance, but a whole way of life, which is why it has been the protagonist of unforgettable films, from Salón México (1948), with Marga López and directed by Emilio Fernández, to Danzón (1991), by María Novaro. A journey through the history of danzón, from its origins in the Antilles, with the fusion of Haitian and Cuban rhythms that took place in Santiago de Cuba during the 19th century, to later enter Mexico through the white Mérida and the port of Veracruz.

This rhythm has proven, in its development, to be Mexican without rejecting its origin. It is up to us to see to it that it recovers, reinventing itself, its rightful place in Mexican society. The danzón concentrates part of the musical and emotional memory of thousands of Mexicans, as proof of them are the groups that practice it in parks, public squares, dance halls, and houses of culture that arise from the civil society and in that lies its importance.

Caribbean origins

Mexico received from Cuba and some other Caribbean nations different musical currents, especially since the end of the XVIII century and until the XX century. The danzón comes from a fusion of Haitian rhythms, such as the English contradanza (country dance) adopted in France in the 17th century, and of Cubans of African descent, also from acclimatized European rhythms such as the minuet, the rigodón, the lanceros, and other dances of the same origin.

During the 19th century in Cuba, the contradanza became the criolla and later the "Cuban dance". In 1842 the first sung contradanzas appeared, which later became the famous habaneras. The first danzón is attributed to the famous musician from Matanzas, Miguel Faílde Pérez (1852-1921), and was played for the first time on August 12, 1879. It is called Las alturas de Simpson, in reference to a neighborhood in Matanzas. He also composed another titled Cuba libre.

Many Cuban danzones arrived in Mexico through the ports of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico during the second half of the 19th century; the first of Mexican origin was composed for piano by Juventino Rosas, in 1883, and was called Flores de Romana. The first recordings date from 1904: Danzones Mexicanos and Danzones Veracruzanos, and were made by the composer and director of Cuban buffo companies Enrique Guerrero.

Solid tradition

It is curious that Cuba having been the cradle of the danzón, in recent times it has tended to disappear, as it is performed very sporadically. However, in Mexico, it is here to stay. It would be almost impossible to quantify the Cuban danzones that have stood out inside and outside that country, being Almendra, by Abelardo Valdez, the most known and liked.

The list of directors of danzoneras, orchestras, composers, arrangers and performers of the genre is enormous. Among those of Cuban origin are Consejo Valiente "Acerina", Mariano Mercerón and Arturo Núñez; and among the nationals are Amador Pérez Torres "Dimas", Noé Fajardo, José Gamboa Ceballos, Rafael de Paz, Carlos Campos, Everardo and Juan Córdoba, Agustín Pasos, Severiano Pacheco, José Bojórquez and Macario Luna, among others.

The best known danzoneras and orchestras are Criolla Tropical, Juan Concha's, Absalón Pérez's, Tomás Ponce Reyes', Gus Moreno's, Banda Víctor, Alberto Domínguez's, Hermanos Márquez's, Ángel "Chino" Flores', Emilio B. Rosado and Los Xochimilcas.

The way of dancing the danzón

It is slower and more varied than the danza and the contradanza. The couples dance embraced practically without moving from their place. It is a rhythmic dance, simple but elegant in its steps, and has as a very particular characteristic that during each refrain, after the first theme, the dancers rest, the woman fanning herself and the man drying himself with a handkerchief, flirting in the meantime. The opinion of many connoisseurs is that during the rest, the introduction, and the refrains, it shows that the couple knows the musical structure of the danzón.

Source INAH