Mexico has a strong musical heritage, and many of their songs and genres have been widely influential in Latin music. There are some genres that are more widely known like cumbia and mariachi, but there are several other genres that originated from other parts of Latin America that developed its own variations in Mexico. Some of these include danzón, bolero, and others.
Mexican son music is a dominant musical form. Typically written in major keys, it generally follows a I-IV-II7-V-V5 form in either triple or sometimes duple meter (I’m totally going to start writing something using these progressions). Son music uses some influences from Spanish music and mixes it with influences with indigenous music as well. It also typically uses an ensemble to perform. Each region of Mexico has its own variations in rhythm, chord progressions, style, and instruments.
Ranchera music has its roots in the Mexican Revolution, but later became associated with mariachi. Originally, it was performed by one performer with a guitar. Topics typically revolve around love, nature, or patriotism (probably stemming from the revolution). Corrido is another form that is pretty popular. This one, however, is more or less a ballad with the lyrics coming from poetry that tells a story. It tends to be reminiscent in nature, like old legends or stories about local heroes, but it can also be love stories or stories about socio-political topics.
Guitars are heard in almost all Mexican son music as well as several other genres. Different variations utilize different combinations of instruments, but typically accordions, violins, and brass instruments (usually trumpets) are often common to all styles. Son Jarocho from the Veracruz region adds in harps. A mariachi band consists of a guitar, a violin, a trumpet, a guitarrón (like a large 6-string guitar), and a vihuela (like a smaller 5-string guitar). Banda Sinaloense is one group that relied on the tuba.
There are several different kinds of dance from Mexico, but probably one of the most well known is called ballet folklórico. Ballet folklórico is kind of a catch-all term often used to refer to all kinds of folk dancing. Women typically wear multicolored skirts, which play an important part in the dance (what little girl doesn’t love twirling in a skirt?). Men usually wear black pants, a red belt, and a large black sombrero. That being said, each region has their own variations based on their own history and ethnic/cultural makeup. Folk dancing is often used as a way to promote Mexican culture, not only domestically but for Mexicans living abroad. The music accompanying this dance is typically mariachi music. In 1958, Amelia Hernandez created the first dance school aimed at teaching ballet folklórico in Mexico City, and it is still in business and performing today.
I came across soooooo many Mexican artists on Spotify, and I know I haven’t even began to touch the full scope of popular Mexican music. So, I’ll just name a few I sampled. I listened to quite a few albums in more of a traditional style, which made me think I was sitting in a Mexican restaurant. I actually kind of like some of what I heard; it was quite melodic and catchy. Actually, I could tell some of these songs were remakes of American songs, but rewritten in Spanish. Almost all of these songs were sung to guitars, strings, sometimes accordions, and at least a trumpet (and sometimes other brass). Some artists I listened to were Angelica Maria, Johnny Laboriel, Alberto Vazquez, and Enrique Guzman (which reminds me a little of Ritchie Valens, a Mexican-American known for his version of “La Bamba”).
There were several groups I listened to that fell into the pop category. The group Timbiriche was pretty popular during the 1980s and 1990s. They had a pretty typical sound, not bad though. I liked what I heard from OV7. Definitely catchy. And of course, one of my all-time favorites: Paulina Rubio. (She actually was one of the original members of Timbiriche.) Probably my favorite song by her is either “Y Yo Sigo Aqui” or “Si Tu Te Vas.” And my other favorite Mexican pop singer is Thalia. I first heard her song “Tu Y Yo” on a mix CD someone made me once. Fey is another singer who falls strongly in this category, performing since the mid-1990s. She mixes in some dance and a little funk into her music at times. Zoé is good when you want to just chill.
Of course, we can’t forget about Selena. Although she was from the US, her family was originally from Mexico. Her brother A.B. Quintanilla III not only performed solo, but he helped create the group Kumbia Kings (my favorite song is “Shhh”).
Natalia Lafourcade has more of an acoustic, raw, outside-the-box, indie rock sound. It’s almost like she’s sort of Mexico’s version of Japan’s Bonnie Pink. (Kind of? No? Oh, well.) Alejandra Guzman definitely represents Rock en Español. I listened to her Best Of (Lo Mejor De) album, and I liked what I heard. I call her the Joan Jett of Mexico. She’s actually the daughter of Enrique Guzman (mentioned above). Marco Antonio Solís also mixes traditional elements in with his rock, like his use of brass instruments and certain melodic lines. El Tri is a pretty good rock band. I really liked their sound. They almost have a roadhouse blues sound to them on certain songs. Pretty much everyone knows Carlos Santana as one of the greatest guitar players in the world. I’ve been a fan of Maná for years. I found a copy of one of his CDs once when I was picking up stuff at a place I was working years ago, and it accidentally got mixed up with my personal stuff. So, I listened to it and was immediately hooked. The band Porter is pretty cool, too.
Luis Miguel has more of a soul-rock sound to his music. Definitely a modern throwback kind of sound. Alejandro Fernandez also fuses mariachi, ranchera, and pop together. I bet he has good live performances. Gloria Trevi’s music has a very dramatic air to it. She also mixes elements of traditional music with a rock/pop flair. Fobia has kind of a pop-rock feel to their music. I like of like it, though. Their song “Me siento vivo” was also on that old mix CD. Santa Sabina has a unique sound to them. It’s almost like a cross between rock and electronic, but not really. Other songs are completely different. I always give dap to bands who do their own thing. Café Tacuba is another band that falls into this category. I really like their music.
Described as a Latin ska band, the band Los de Abajo piques my interest. I want to listen to more from them. First of all, I’m a huge ska fan, and although this is different from the ska I typically think of, this is great music. AND, the lead singer is a female! Panteon Rococo and Tijuana No! are two other bands I’d list as a ska bands; both are pretty good. Molotov is a hard band to place – they are a little hip-hop, a little funk, a lot of rock. And yet I reeeeally like them. And Jumbo is great, too.
Hocico is the closest thing to metal that I listened to, but it’s almost like electronica metal, if that’s a thing. However, if you are looking for electronic/dance music, try Deorro. He’s got some tight stuff. I’m going to make a playlist of just his stuff to listen to in the car. Mexican Institute of Sound is another electronic music project. It’s pretty cool.
I didn’t do an exclusive search for hip-hop in Mexico (which I normally do), but I did run across Control Machete. They sort of sound a little like Cypress Hill (whose lead singer’s father is Mexican). Of course, there have been many Latin crossover groups from the US who have members who are of Latin and/or Hispanic heritage, like the group Ozomatli.
Up next: the food