I live in a mostly Mexican neighborhood here in Denver (or at least it used to be mostly Mexican–with all of us whites moving in and the housing prices going up, it may not always be this way). I’ve only been here a year or so, and in this time have fallen in love with the sound of Spanish. Walking down the street, you naturally hear this musical speech–and, beyond that, you hear the music coming from windows and backyard barbeques. Knowing nothing of Mexican music beyond the Tex-Mex of Calexico or Doug Sahm or The Blasters, I thought I’d try to find out more. After all, fusion is always about twenty steps from the original folk, no matter how many inflections it tries to hold onto. And I already knew that most of the Latin pop stars are not from Mexico at all, so there’s no point in even thinking in terms of J Lo. And that difference is everything. So I’ve been doing a lot of reading and listening–way too much to really get into in a short blog post. So I’ll talk about a book that I liked: Narcocorrido by Elijah Wald. If you like music, new journalism, or are simply want to know a little more about Mexican traditions, you should check this one out. It’s the kind of thing that I tend to read for fun: intrepid reporter type with a sense of adventure and some actual knowledge of the subject goes out and meets people. In this case, Elijah Wald travels through Mexico and Southern Texas on buses and in unreliable cars, meeting musicians. Most of them aren’t even popular musicians in Mexico, although some are; they’re all of them experts in the corrido. And here’s where it gets really interesting. The corrido is basically a tribute form, a documentary song that notes places, events, rebellions, and the exploits of drug runners, political activists, and the like. Sometimes the writers are paid to write the tributes; other times, they approach the songs as social documentary and political actions. They basically work the way that poets used to work, before they could get university jobs: they wrote epics, stories, for pay. Others simply work as buskers, minstrels, going from place to place, singing for cash. Most can compose on the spot. In a country where some towns and villages have no electricity, they get out the news. They try to be factually accurate, since if they’re not, someone will surely correct them. They then usually try to get the songs performed by a more popular singer or group, although occasionally they go solo with the Mexican version of the singer-songwriter folkie approach.Wald interviews 15, 20 of these people in depth, going where they are, imbibing what they imbibe, meeting others along the way. Wald not only has the ability to get people to talk, but he also seems to know his shit about music & is honest, too, about his limitations. He tells good stories and avoids denigrating or overly admiring his subjects. Of the books I’ve read thus far about Mexico, I’ve learned the most from this one. The detailed depictions of place alone helped me to understand my neighbors while learning to designate between kinds of music. (No, not everything Mexican with a horn is mariachi.) The book accidently has taken on a newsworthy subject, since a number of corrido writers and singers have been turning up murdered in Mexico. Apparently, telling the story wrong can be fatal.
- Don’t Worry About the Government
- Rocky Mountain High
- on the mall at the Democratic National Convention: “come on out and buy some product!”IHa
- come on, I know white people have rhythm!: music at the Democratic National Convention
- from San Miguel to home
- wandering San Miguel
- the occasional random world song
- record love, part 1: hamburger lady
- I want to like bluegrass. I have failed.