As we continue to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, we turn our attention to the music that has taken center stage, not only on Mexican and US charts but has also captured audiences worldwide: Mexican music. While the term ‘Regional Mexican music’ has seen a significant surge in popularity, it’s essential to recognize that Mexican music encompasses a diverse array of genres that extend far beyond the ‘regional’ category –each with its unique characteristics and cultural significance.
Mexican music has a rich and diverse history dating back centuries, making it challenging to summarize in just a few paragraphs. Nevertheless, its origins are a fusion of indigenous, European, and surprisingly, African musical traditions. Before the arrival of Europeans in the Americas, numerous indigenous cultures had their own musical traditions. Indigenous music often featured instruments such as drums, flutes, and rattles, playing a significant role –particularly– in rituals and ceremonies.
With the Spanish colonization of Mexico in the early 16th century, European musical elements were introduced. Spanish musical traditions, including classical and folk music, as well as the introduction of instruments like the guitar, vihuela, and harp, had a profound impact on Mexican music. Then, during the colonial period, European and indigenous musical styles began to merge, resulting in the creation of new genres. African slaves brought to Mexico by the Spanish also contributed to the country’s musical diversity. African rhythms and percussion instruments influenced various Mexican genres, including son jarocho from the Veracruz region.
The Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) also had a significant impact on music. It gave rise to corridos, narrative songs that often told stories of revolutionary heroes. This period also fostered a sense of national identity and pride, leading to the promotion of traditional Mexican music as a symbol of cultural heritage.
In the 20th century, Mexican music naturally continued its evolution and adaptation. Notably, it embraced international influences, such as jazz and rock, which found their way into its fabric, sparking the emergence of fresh styles and fusions. In the present day, as we have borne witness, contemporary Mexican artists are seamlessly melding traditional components with contemporary sonic landscapes. This blend has birthed a vibrant music scene that resonates both on the national and international stage.
Mexican music continues to thrive as a vibrant and diverse art form. Due to Mexico’s extensive and varied geography, it has given rise to the development of distinct and unique music styles, each with its unique characteristics and cultural significance. The regional Mexican genre is comprised of multiple subgenres including mariachi, norteño, banda, quebradita, duranguense, grupero, and corridos tumbados, to name a few. But for a deeper understanding, we’ve got to hop into our time machine.
The typical Cuban bolero emerged around 1840. Over time, it evolved from being associated with barroom music to becoming the choice for serenades, characterized by its romantic and sentimental lyrics. Bolero is known for its slow tempo and melodious tunes, often accompanied by acoustic guitars and gentle percussion instruments. In the early 1950s, the bolero ranchero came into existence, blending elements of bolero with ranchera music. However, at this point, we need to take a pause since ranchera music is a separate subject.
Ranchera music is perhaps the most iconic genre in Mexican music, originating in rural regions of Mexico and often linked to the cowboy or ranching lifestyle. Ranchera songs typically revolve around themes of love, patriotism, and the challenges of rural life. These themes harmoniously merged with boleros. In fact, bolero rancheras became the soundtrack of Mexico’s Golden Age of Cinema, frequently accompanied by mariachi bands.
Mariachi music is an iconic genre deeply rooted in Mexican culture. The attire of the mariachi is inspired by the clothing worn by rural peasants, adorned with Spanish-style elements. They wear spurs on their boots, long hats, trousers with silver buttons or fasteners, bow ties, and jackets. This iconic image became popular in 1936 with the movie Allá en el Rancho Grande.
Encompassing genres such as ranchero, bolero, instrumental pieces, and even classical music interpretations. It has also evolved through arrangements and fusions with symphonic accompaniments, giving it a fresh and revitalized sound. Mariachi bands typically feature trumpets, violins, guitars, and the distinctive vihuela and guitarrón.
According to Música en México, Norteña music could be considered the typical genre of the Northern region of Mexico, including the states of Nuevo León, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Sonora, and Sinaloa. Norteña music it’s a blend of different elements and styles with roots tracing back to Mexico’s 19th-century history, heavily influenced by German polka music.
Starting from the 1930s, the integration of rural and traditional music into the newly created ranchera genre was another definitive influence on Northern music. Nowadays, a new Mexican-influenced movement has begun towards the United States, with Northern-style music being adopted as a symbol of the Chicano movement.
This unique style emerged from the fusion of three popular music types: traditional northern music, ranchera music, and American rock. The instrumentation of a typical northern group is very similar to what we find in the southwestern United States, primarily in Texas: accordion, bajo sexto (a twelve-string guitar-like instrument), guitar, and vocals. The lyrics often revolve around themes of love, heartbreak, and regional pride.
Banda music is a integral part of the cultural identity of the state of Sinaloa. It emerged in the final two decades of the 19th century when musicians started playing Mexican songs with a polka rhythm, which was introduced to the Mexican-American border by German immigrants during those years.
The sound was later enriched with elements of jazz from the 1920s and 1930s in the 20th century. This rhythm then expanded to other states in Mexico and the United States. It features large ensembles with trumpets, trombones, clarinets, and percussion instruments. Banda music can be upbeat and danceable, often used in celebrations and festive occasions.
Cumbia is a genre with origins in Colombia, but it has become popular in Mexico as well. Mexican cumbia blends Colombian cumbia with local flavors, resulting in a rhythmic and danceable style often featuring accordion and percussion instruments. This genre is recognized for its catchy rhythm that invites dancing. Cumbia is performed with an ensemble of instruments that includes drums, güiros, maracas, timbales, accordions, guitars, and bass guitars.
This musical style was born in the 1960s – 1970s. During those decades, many cumbia and rock groups decided to blend their styles, resulting in this outcome. As Billboard stated, during the 1990s, the grupero genre gained popularity in the United States by blending various styles like cumbias, ballads, banda, and quebradita.
Grupera music stood out for its fusion of electric guitars, keyboards, and drums. Prominent figures in this genre included acts like Bronco, Los Bukis, Grupo Límite, Banda Machos, Banda Maguey, and Los Tucanes de Tijuana. Additionally, Intocable and the ‘Queen of Tejano,’ Selena, played a significant role by infusing the genre with a tejano twist.
Corridos are a traditional form of Mexican folk music characterized by narrative storytelling through song. They originated in the early 19th century during the era of Mexican independence and gained widespread popularity during the Mexican Revolution for their portrayal of the adventures of the revolutionaries and their leaders. Corridos have played a significant role in Mexican culture, serving as a means of preserving history and storytelling. In the present day, this genre has evolved over time, encompassing a wide range of subjects in its songs.
And finally, the primary genre that has been dominating the charts and propelling artists like Peso Pluma and Natanael Cano to fame. Corridos tumbados blends traditional corridos with, urban and trap influences, and hip-hop elements. As mentioned by El País, one could describe corridos tumbados as corridos intended for a younger audience. They retain the essential characteristics of traditional corridos, but they have reinterpreted these narratives in their own way, drawing from their surroundings and personal experiences.
In essence, this genre has evolved and adapted to reflect the experiences of today’s Mexican youth. This transformation is even evident in corridos tumbados artists clothing, which moves away from the traditional Mexican look of hats, cowboy boots and large belts, leaning more towards the aesthetics associated with rap culture and street-inspired.
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