The United Nations Dances to a Mexican Beat

“A great science fiction detective story” – Ian Watson, author of The Universal Machine
Luck and Death at the Edge of the World

One of the first things I fell in love with about Mexico was its music.  The addiction started before I ever set foot there, and during my trips there I’ve bought CDs with abandon.

My novel, Luck and Death at the Edge of the World, which will be released this spring, is not only set partly in Mexico, but was written largely on a diet of Mexican music and I recommend that it be read in the same way.  I wrote in the Prologue:

Greater Mexico… is not a geographical place but a set of orientations defined by language, by blood ties, by food, by letters back to su abuela, by one’s state of mind. It incorporates not only the Estados Unidos Mexicanos, but former Mexican territories in Texas, New Mexico, California, and elsewhere. It also includes members of the Mexican diaspora, living in far-flung places like Montreal, Berlin, and Stockholm. It was to the music of this Mexico – distributed, amorphous, and sometimes surreal – that this [novel] was created, and listening to it will enhance your enjoyment…

And I recommended that readers:

…obtain recordings of at least the following: the incomparable Flaco Jimenez, the multifaceted, multitalented, and always cool Plastilina Mosh, and the musical surrealist deluxe, Juan Garcia Esquivel and lay these down over a solid foundation of son, mariachi and ranchera.

I could have easily added the Nortec Collective, Antonio Aguilar, Instituto Mexicano del Sonido, Lila Downs, and many others, but I had to draw the line somewhere.

Well, now the United Nations is dancing to the Mexican beat, having added mariachi music to its list of “intangible cultural heritage” items deserving of special recognition and preservation.

In some non-Mexican popular culture mariachi has been portrayed in a cartoonish stereotype, but this is a rich, deep musical vein that encompasses everything from a rough roots sound to slickly produced pop.

Here is a taste of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, an ensemble founded in 1897 for crying out loud, with a rendition of La Feria De Las Flores.

Meanwhile, from another part of the mariachi universe entirely (and from the Greater Mexico that lives beyond the Estados Unidos Mexicanos) the U.S. punk band The Bronx (founded in 2002) have reinvented themsevles — on the strength of one overtly Hispanic member and a whole lot of chutzpah, as far as I can tell — as of 2007 as Mariachi El Bronx (while continuing their punk gigs under their original name).  They may not be Mexican, but their vibe is strong and their music is good.  (In fact now that I’ve discovered this incarnation of them, I’m definitely going to check out their punk music as well.)  Here is their song, Holy.

And in between the guys from Mexico whose outfit started in 1897 and the mostly white guys from Los Angeles who only started playing mariachi 110 years later in 2007 there is a lot of variety, so take a look around and see what you can find.

Oh, and those guys I mentioned in the Prologue to Luck and Death, here they are.  First, Flaco Jimenez in a live 1992 performance.

Next, Plastilina Mosh — or at least their album cover — with a recording of their song Nino Bomba.

And finally, just to round out this post with something entirely surreal — the man, the god, the mystery: Juan Garcia Esquivel with Whatchamacallit Esquivel!

This entry was posted in music. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s