Living in the border area between Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, United States provides a unique cultural experience. When walking downtown, Spanish can be heard as a predominant language. In addition, businesses mainly play Mexican Music. One day, I decided to pay attention to the lyrics of the songs, and it is fascinating to learn that the words contain social content involving politics and Mexican history. Baladas and corridos are common song-styles and the Mexican artist Jose Alfredo Jimenez was a master of that genre. Currently, Jimenez’ music is well-know all over the world, including my homeland of El Salvador. Society seems to feel identified with the music because, the meaning, describes the daily life of unfortunate poor families. However, poverty is not new issue. Around 1910, inequality reigned Mexico, life conditions were unpleasant and the revolution was taking place. The question is: where did classical music stand during the Mexican revolution? Stereotypes indicate classical music was no a genre for everyone – it was meant just for the elite. Who listened to classical music at that time? Inequality between rich and poor was the reason of the revolution. Were artists in the middle of both sides?
As far for the general community in Mexico, rancheras, canciones norteñas were the most listened style. That is why Jose Alfredo Jimenez was so popular during the revolution and is popular right now. Jimenez’ music style consisted on keeping lyrics simple and to lament through music. On the other hand, classical music artists had a completely different way to approach the revolution. Manuel Ponce, for example, moved to the Havana, Cuba during the beginning of the revolution. When Ponce came back to Mexico after ten years, he taught music at the National Conservatory of Mexico and founded the chair in folklore at that school. Ponce used indigenous motives in his compositions. In contrast, Carlos Chavez, founded the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico during that time and wrote music based on pre-Hispanic culture. Ponce and Chavez used folk tunes in their compositions which intended to preserve the Mexican heritage. The foundation of the symphony and the chair of folklore still have an impact in the music scene now. Jimenez did not started an orchestra, or a school, but somehow, his music is part of the Mexican culture now. Despite of the different approaches from artists, their legacy is still shines among us.
Side note: When I was growing up in El Salvador, my parents will take me to play violin for people in need. The communities I visited where the poorest places I ever been in my life. However, people in that area used to ask me “Do you know Rancheras?” El Salvador also had a revolution, but ours was in a form of war. I wonder how Mexican music has become so meaningful in El Salvador, too?
by Sandra Rivera
Michael Birenbaum Quintero, et al. “Latino music.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed January 27, 2017, http://0-www.oxfordmusiconline.com.lib.utep.edu/subscriber/article/grove/music/A2262593.
“Jiménez, José Alfredo.” Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 4th ed.. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed January 31, 2017, http://0-www.oxfordmusiconline.com.lib.utep.edu/subscriber/article/epm/13863.