|Musica: Mexico & Tejano
Dr. James Hayes-Bohanan, Geographer
Revised March 4, 2009
In the mid-1990s, I lived for three years in Pharr, Texas, which was indeed far from most of what had been familiar to me. It is in the center of the Lower Rio Grande Valley (or just "the Valley"), which is not really a valley at all, but rather the broad, flat delta of the Rio Grande / Rio Brava. Culturally, it is neither really Mexico, nor is it really the United States. It is a third kind of place, with its own linguistic, culinary, and musical traditions. It is the heartland of Tejano music. I did not really appreciate the music until after I left the Valley in 1997, but I have been compensating during return visits and other contacts with my friends there.
|The New York Times describes the spread of corridos "Far
from Home" in Idaho. The article mentions the efforts of the Western
Folklife Center to document this important cultural form.
documentary about narcocorridos is also one of the best films I have
seen about life on the Mexico side of the border. It is available at
the BSC library.
My presentations usually begin and end with Santana, a Mexican-American from California, and a legendary guitarist. After years of success as a rock musician, he has had a second career as a Latin music artist, and has used collaborations with other musicians to build interest in the music.
The songs I highlight from these top-selling CDs include the virtuoso guitar work on Adouma and the blistering criticism of U.S. immigration enforcement in La Migra. The joyful song Africa Bamba celebrates the influence of African music in the Americas, and specifically mentions many of the different cultures that share common threads.
|Mexican heavy metal has now been
around long enough that a second
generation of artists has grown up with it. While in a book store in
Baltimore in 2007, I heard this amazing Latin guitar, and found that it
was Rodrigo and Gabriela, an Irish-Mexican duo. See RODGAB.COM to learn about the
confluence music this pair exudes.
Their story was told on NPR's Weekend Edition in April 2007.
Paso del Norte
This is the closest thing I have in my collection to "pure" Mexican mariachi music, and "Paso del Norte" is a beautiful example. In Mexico proper, it is common for this kind of music to be performed in restaurants by groups of 4-5 musicians. If they come to your table and encourage them to play, it is a genuine treat, but be prepared to pay as much as $50!
|The Santuario Nacional
in San Juan, Texas is a pilgrimage site and major religious institution
for the Rio Grande Valley, and was rebuilt many years ago after the
original structure was struck by an airplane. It has one bilingual mass
each weekend -- all the rest are in Spanish. The in-house
mariachi band is an important part of worship at the sanctuary.
The Shrine, as it is also known, is a sufficiently popular destination -- with its life-size stations of the cross, among other attractions -- that it has its own ATM!
This is a CD/DVD combination, with CD entirely in Spanish, and the DVD entirely in English. It is far more common for the languages to be mixed within a song, in a phenomenon known to linguists as code switching.
We lived in South Texas during the time that Selena became not only the first prominent female tejano star, but also the first tejano artist to win a "main stream" Grammy. We were also there when she was assassinated on March 31, 1995. We witnessed the intense and prolonged public mourning throughout the region, but did not really understand it until years later. The movie Selena is the best possible introduction to the music and the cultural geography of the region.
The Selena memorial is in a prominent seaside location in her home city of Corpus Christi.
Cuando el corazon se cruza
Almost a decade after Selena, female tejano stars are still relatively rare. Ironically, the opening track on this CD hypes Alicia Villareal by presenting faux radio reports of her tragic death. As with much of Selena's work, the rest of the CD mixes traditional tejano with a more commercial, "pop diva" sound that seems to be expected of Latina musicians who wish to "cross over."
Crazy Chuy's Chicano Express is one of the very few examples I have found of audio from an authentic tejano radio station.
Listen to Chuy for an idea of what radio throughout much of the U.S./Mexico borderlands sounds like -- rapid and fluid mixing of Spanish and English. This is a phenomenon common to border regions throughout the world, known by linguists as "code switching."
| Frijoles Romanticos
Frijoles Romanticos is a local McAllen band with a biting sense of humor and a strong sense of identity. The song "Donde esta mi raza?" is a clever commentary on those who try to distance themselves from their heritage. The name "Frijoles" itself is a way of embracing a pejorative slur as a badge of honor.
The house on the cover is a very common pier-and-beam style among older houses in the McAllen area, an inexpensive, above-ground construction from a time when wood was still readily available in the region. Brick is much more common in newer homes, but basements are still rare.
Tigres Del Norte
Los Tigres is a somewhat notorious band, but their work is well within a venerable tradition of border-region troubadors, whose ballads are known as corridos. I got a rather suspicious look from a middle-class shopper when purchasing La Reina del Sur in McAllen, because the title track is from a subgenre known as narcocorridos , which tell the exploits of mythical (or real) drug traffickers. Critics see these songs as glorifying the drugs themselves, but they can also be seen as celebrations of local heroes who have gamed the system, or even as critiques of the futile "War on Drugs," which has exacted a heavy toll in Mexico and the border region.
Learn more about this subgenre from Elijah Wald's book and his excellent web site, where you can read about the music, reaction to it, and other topical corridos. Wald is an investigative journalist who took an interest in this art form, and then set about doing some very ambitious and difficult research in order to tell its story.
Los Tigres do not want to be known solely for the narcocorridos. The Pacto de Sangre CD includes a very touching tribute to the numerous female victims of rape and murder in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas.
Robame El Alma
From the cover art on the outside to the "power ballads" on the inside, Suenos Liquidos (Wet Dreams) from Mana is Mexico's answer to the album rock of "Hair Bands" such as Styx and Journey.
||Si, Se Puede
The migratory patterns of Mexican and Mexican-American farm workers are fascinating to observe from the vantage point of the Rio Grande Valley. These families rely on a complex annual pattern of working life that is quite sophisticated, and the conditions under which they work -- and provide cheap food for the entire country -- are often deplorable. This album celebrates the workers and their solidarity under the leadership of Cesar Chavez. It includes the song De Colores, which is a classic celebration of cultural diversity.
Hispanic Causing Panic
Kid Frost is the stage name of a Latino high school teacher from Los Angeles who turned to rap music in the 1990s, as a way to reach young people in trouble. This album celebrates Latino identity while calling for mutual respect among African American and Latino gang members.
| Feel free
to suggest new content for this page, especially from Latin American
other than Brazil, Mexico, and Cuba: firstname.lastname@example.org
Go to my Environmental Geography home page
Go to my Latin American links page
Go to the Latin American and Caribbean Studies page
Go to the International Section of my County Map Page
| Note to educators: This web site is
a supplement to live presentations that I have enjoy presenting for
college audiences, teacher training, and K-12 assemblies. Please
contact me to discuss the possibilities of a presentation at your
school, conference, or university. My collection of resources is much
larger than that presented here; I can customize a presentation to suit
your group's needs.
Dr. James Hayes-Bohanan