Archive for the ‘Mexico’ Category

Mexican Song

June 29, 2015


The corrido is a type of socially relevant narrative ballad that served in Mexico as the main informational and educational outlet.

Rancheras, literally “music of the ranches,” are traditional songs usually accompanied by guitar and/or horns.

The merging of European and indigenous Mexican musical traditions has long been a hallmark of Mexican American music beyond the church. Corridos gave rise to other forms of music such as Tejano (literally “Texas music”). Tejano music, the name given to several different forms of folk music developed by the Mexican American community in Texas, combines the waltz and polka stylings brought to Texas in the mid-nineteenth century by northern European immigrants with Spanish-language songs that originated south of the border and were passed down through generations of Mexicans.

Habanera music is also found among Mexican Americans. It has a meter influenced by the music of North Africa and is found throughout the Spanish speaking world today.

Conjunto music is one of the dominant dance music forms of Mexican Americans today. Related to Tejano music, its roots lie in South Texas at the end of the nineteenth Century, following the introduction of the button accordion into Mexican working-class communities along the Texas-Mexican border by Northern European immigrants. The accordion-based musical form was used to accompany celebrations of all kinds. Thanks to a strong recording history from the 1920s onwards, conjunto grew to become the most powerful musical symbol of Mexican American working-class culture.

Mariachi music is perhaps the most well-known Mexican American folk music form, having gained wide popularity throughout the United States in the latter half of the twentieth century mostly through its promotion in school bands and at mariachi festivals.

Mariachi originated in rural Mexico in the nineteenth century and, like Tejano, was eventually influenced by the polka and waltz. The typical mariachi ensemble consists of violins, accordions, trumpets and guitars. Mexican folk harps are also sometimes employed. There is generally no lead singer. All players sing choruses and take turns singing the lead. Mariachi vocalization, which emphasizes an operative quality, encompasses a romantic “bolero” sound, falsetto singing, and a more aggressive style known as son jaliscense.

Son Jarocho is another well-known Mexican music style that has gained popularity in the United States. Fusing Spanish and African elements, much of it is syncopated, combines instrumental music with improvised and fixed oral poetry along romantic or bawdy themes, and is sung in a call-and-response format. The instrumentation usually includes a large diatonic harp (arpa), a small, eight-stringed guitar (jarana) and a four-stringed guitar (requinto).


The Mexican Accordion

May 5, 2015

from and

The accordion is a very important instrument in various Mexican musical genres, especially in norteño music in the northern region of Mexico. Exactly who first brought the accordion to Mexico still remains a point of contention. But it is generally agreed that German settlers in the Rio Grande Valley introduced the instrument to the region in the mid-19th century, on both sides of the river in Southern Texas and Northern Mexico.

Some argue that these accordion-bearing Germans were in Mexico as miners, and some others also note that they were there for the beer-brewing industry. Together with the accordion, Germans also brought with them musical and dance forms such as waltz, polka, mazurka, and schottische—some of which have influenced the development of norteño music that we hear today. (The norteño accordion pioneer Narciso Martínez learned tunes from German and Czech brass bands.)

German immigrants came to Texas around the mid-1800s and settled in Central Texas in towns like Fredericksburg, Gruene, and New Braunfels–better known as the German Belt. Bringing their language, culture and musical traditions, they made contact with the Mexican Americans.

In Texas, there were several substantial waves of German immigration. The first, when Friedrich Ernst, “Father of German Immigration to Texas,” arrived in Texas in 1831 and received a grant of more than 4,000 acres in what is now Austin County. He set about encouraging other Germans to join him. This tract of land formed the nucleus of what is now known as the German Belt.

The next wave came in 1842, when a group of German nobles formed the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas, also called Adelsverein. Their intention was to create a new German fatherland in America where German workers could prosper, and which would open new markets for industry and commerce in Germany. Between 1844 and 1847 more than 7,000 Germans reached Texas and founded towns such as New Braunfels and Fredericksburg.

Eventually, lured by work on railroad lines, among other work opportunities, the immigrants moved farther south to South Texas and Northern Mexico, and they brought with them the accordion and their tradition of waltzes and polkas. By 1890, the accordion was fairly common in Mexican groups in the Texas-Mexico border region.


Songs Of The Homeland: History of Tejano Music

July 17, 2014


Nice footage of Narciso Martinez, Flaco Jiminez, etc.

Narciso Martinez has been called the “father” of the modern conjunto for promoting the accordion and the bajo sexto and for his creativity as an accordionist.

Searching for a way to stamp his personal style on the accordion, in the 1930’s Martinez abandoned the old, Germanic technique by virtually avoiding the bass-chord buttons on his two-row accordion, concentrating instead on the right hand, treble melody buttons. His sound was instantly distinctive and recognizable. Its brighter, snappier, and cleaner tone contrasted with the older sound, in which bajo sexto and the accordionist’s left hand both played bass-and accompaniment, creating a “thicker,” drone-like effect. Martinez left bassing and chordal accompaniment to the bajo sexto of his most capable partner, Santiago Almeida.

Narciso Martinez’s new style became the hallmark of the surging conjunto, just as Almeida’s brisk execution on the bajo sexto created the standard for future bajistas. Together, the two had given birth to the modern conjunto, a musical style that would challenge even the formidable mariachi in cultural breadth and depth of public acceptance. Indeed, by the 1970s it could be said that the conjunto, known in the larger market as musica nortena, was the most powerful musical symbol of working-class culture.

Martinez, however, remained an absolutely modest folk musician until his death. He never laid claim to anything but a desire to please his public. Yet, as Pedro Ayala, another of the early accordion leaders, acknowledged, “after Narciso, what could the rest of us do except follow his lead?”


An Introduction and Guide to the Frontera Collection of Mexican and Mexican American Recordings (#3)

July 13, 2014


 The Strachwitz Frontera Collection of Mexican and Mexican American Recordings by Agustin Gurza (UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Press, paperback)


“Invisible behind this large-format (8” x 11.5”) paperback is the reason for its existence: the archive described in its (also large-format) title. Nobody else in the roots music and collector world was interested in Mexican- American and Mexican music when Chris Strachwitz started acquiring all the discs – and photographs, posters, catalogues and other ephemera – he could lay his hands on.

Buying up radio station and distributor stock, and the inventory of record labels that went out of business, was usually more productive than junking; records that survived in private hands had often been played to death. The Strachwitz Frontera Collection comprises – deep breath – 33,472 performances on 78s, some 50,000 on 45s, 4,000 LPs and 650 cassettes, and is, needless to say, by far the largest archive of this music in existence.

Thanks to grants from various foundations, and notably to a share in $500,000 from regional superstars Los Tigres del Norte, by late 2010 all the 78s and about half the 45s had been digitised, and entered into a database at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. This is accessible via <>, although for copyright reasons only the first 50 seconds of each recording is available to computers off-campus.

The book under review explores some of the possibilities for research enabled by this resource. First, though, there are chapters about Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie Records, and an account of how the Frontera Collection came into existence, through Chris’s encounters with the late Guillermo Hernández, a professor of literature who turned to studying border music and corridos after seeing Les Blank’s film, ‘Chulas Fronteras’, and learning of the existence of Strachwitz’s collection. Chris himself contributes a short history of the recording industry, with particular reference to Mexican music. (more…)

Chris Strachwitz (#3)

April 13, 2013

Screen shot 2013-02-22 at 7.59.19 AM

excerpt of interview with The Arhoolie Foundation founder Chris Strachwitz from

The whole thing started when the late professor Guillermo Hernandez found out that I had this enormous Mexican record collection and most of it is from material recorded really on our border in San Antonio and El Paso and during the heyday of the early recording business in the late twenties and early thirties. That’s when so much of the most interesting corridos, which are narrative ballads that are generally true stories, were recorded about every kind of subject along the border.

When he found out I had that he one day came to me in more recent times and said, “Chris, what you going to do with all this stuff?” And I said, “Ever since the late Moses Asch of Folkways Records, he asked the same question to me – Chris, what you going to do with all this stuff?” I said, “I don’t know, I just love to hear it.”

Mo Asch told me, “This is really valuable cultural stuff and it’s got to be preserved somehow.” At that time it was just developing of the whole system of digitizing things. Computers were really in. So that possibility became really very real and so I said, “I don’t want to give this collection to UCLA so it will sit in a little corner someplace and nobody will ever hear it. Why don’t we try to digitize it.”

Guillermo and I were involved in these corrido conferences; he did them almost every year. They are conferences dealing with these wonderful narrative ballads and people gave papers and all that kind of stuff. But I had always paid to get some musicians to come to it. And he called me up and said, “Chris, I want to do a corrido concert here at UCLA in California. Who do you think I can get as musicians?”

I said, “Guillermo, you’re in the same state as the most famous conjunta, that means group, Los Tigres del Norte, and they live in San Jose. They are million sellers, as big as the Rolling Stones are in the gringo world. So he had them come over and play for his corrido concert and they got along really good. I think the leader of the Tigres realized that this institution is recognizing their music as cultural material that should be preserved and studied and analyzed and so on.

All of a sudden here were professors who were spending time researching these stories and finding out why they are singing these songs that are dealing with the daily problems of people, like immigration. So they agreed and their record label Fonovisa decided to get together with the Tigres and they gave $500,000 to UCLA as a gift to, first of all, digitize all of my 78 Mexican stuff. There are roughly 17,000 78s, so that’s two sides per record so that means 34,000 songs or tunes or whatever. So their money helped us get started.


January 10, 2013



The corrido in its usual form is a ballad of eight-syllable, four-line stanzas sung to a simple tune in fast waltz time, now often in polka rhythm. Corridos have traditionally been men’s songs. They have been sung at home, on horseback, in town plazas by traveling troubadours, in cantinas by blind guitarreros (guitarists), on campaigns during the Mexican Revolution (1910–30), and on migrant workers’ journeys north to the fields. Now they are heard frequently on recordings and over the radio.

These ballads are generally in major keys and have tunes with a short—less than an octave—range. Américo Paredes, the preeminent scholar of the corrido of the lower Rio Grande border area, remarked: “The short range allows the corrido to be sung at the top of the singer’s voice, an essential part of the corrido style.” In Texas this singing has traditionally been accompanied by a guitar or bajo sexto, a type of twelve-string guitar popular in Texas and northern Mexico.

In its literary form the corrido seems to be a direct descendent of the romance, a Spanish ballad form that developed in the Middle Ages, became a traditional form, and was brought to the New World by Spanish conquistadors. Like the romance, the corrido employs a four-line stanza form with an abcd rhyme pattern. Paredes surmised that corrido is ultimately derived from the Andalusian phrase romance corrido, which denoted a refrainless, rapidly sung romance. With the noun dropped, the participle corrido, from a verb meaning “to run,” itself became a noun.

The corrido, like the romance, relates a story or event of local or national interest—a hero’s deeds, a bandit’s exploits, a barroom shootout, or a natural disaster, for instance. It has long been observed, however, that songs with little or no narration are still called corridos if they adhere to the corrido’s usual literary and musical form.

Besides its music, versification, and subject matter, the corrido also employs certain formal ballad conventions. In La lírica narrativa de México, Vicente Mendoza gives six primary formal characteristics or conventions of the corrido. They are: (1) the initial call of the corridista, or balladeer, to the public, sometimes called the formal opening; (2) the stating of the place, time, and name of the protagonist of the ballad; (3) the arguments of the protagonist; (4) the message; (5) the farewell of the protagonist; and (6) the farewell of the corridista. These elements, however, vary in importance from region to region in Mexico and the Southwest, and it is sometimes difficult to find a ballad that employs all of them. In Texas and the border region, the formal opening of the corrido is not as vital as the balladeer’s despedida (farewell) or formal close. Often the singer will start the corrido with the action of the story to get the interest of the audience, thus skipping the introduction, but the despedida in one form or another is almost never dropped. The phrase Ya con esta me despido (“With this I take my leave”) or Vuela, vuela, palomita (“Fly, fly, little dove”) often signals the despedida on the first line of the penultimate or ultimate stanza of the song. (more…)

The Strachwitz Frontera Collection of Mexican and Mexican American Recordings (#2)

December 16, 2012


The Strachwitz Frontera Collection of Mexican and Mexican American Recordings contains over 140,000 individual recordings on 78, 45, LP and cassette, over 2,000 photographs, posters, catalogs and other images, and a database of record company histories, musicians’ biographies and much more. It is without contest the largest collection of its kind on the planet.

Enter Agustin Gurza, the first writer to take a shot at wrestling this monster to the ground. His introduction and guide to the Frontera Collection (pictured above), recently published by the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, offers a manageable look at a seemingly endless resource. His approach is to explore the Frontera Collection from different viewpoints, discussing genre, theme, and some of the thousands of composers and performers whose work is contained in the archive. Throughout, he examines the cultural significance of the recordings and relates the stories of those who have had a vital role in their production and preservation.

An essay by Chris Strachwitz traces the history of commercial recordings of Mexican music, and another by historian and mariachero Jonathan Clark tells the story of mariachi from its earliest days to the present. Also included are playlists of favorites chosen by Strachwitz and by the man who has personally digitized over 70,000 of these recordings, musician and Arhoolie Foundation Head Digitizing Technician Antonio Cuellar.
This fantastic book can be found at The Down Home Music Store in El Cerrito, CA.   8 1/2 x 11″, Paperback, 226 pages

Orquestas de Cuerdas

August 2, 2012

Various ArtistsMexican-American Border Music – Vol. IV; Orquestas Tipicas “Pioneer Mexican-American Dance Orchestras” 1926-1938
Arhoolie/Folklyric 7017
Various ArtistsMexican-American Border Music – Vol. V Orquestas de Cuerdas “The End of a Tradition” 1926-1938
Arhoolie/Folklyric 7018

by Mark Rubin (Old Time Herald, volume 6, number 3)

It’s probably hard for us to believe it, but as little as two generations ago the accordion was basically unheard of in Mexican-American music. If it was heard, it would be in the bordellos, accompanying sordid noon-time “dollar-a-dance” soirees, or in the rough cantinas on the fringe of town where the respectable folk wouldn’t be caught dead. Proper entertainment was provided by the string based Orquestas Tipicas, playing a wide variety of popular and folk tunes.

It wasn’t until the rise of radio and the estimable talents of accordionists like Narcisco Martinez and Bruno Villareal that the accordion shed it’s “gutter” image. Today, however, the only sound of fiddles in the plaza in San Antonio is from the modern Mariachi. Though they may appear similar from the outside, they were in fact quite different, as this collection shows.

On Orquestas Tipicas the “typical Orchestra” was anything but it appears, and we have a wide range of ensembles represented, in many seemingly unlikely combinations. There’s a Sousa-styled brass band with slide steel guitar (Banda Chihuahua,) groups of violins and trumpets closer to what we know as Mariachi today , but with a full sax section as well (Orq. Thomas Nunez,) a guitar and sax duo (Jose Maria Arrendondo Trio!!,) and mandolin Orchestras as fine as you’re likely to encounter, (Orq. de la Famila Ramos and Quinteto Tipico Mexicana.)

The types of songs presented reads like a laundry list of lost Mexican-American dance steps. You got your polkas y valses, to be certain. But then there’s danzons, one-steps, foxtrots, vals bajito, chotis, mazurka, tango, marcha and my all time favorite, the lusty pasodoble. (more…)

“Sobre las Olas” (Southern Waltz #13)

November 20, 2011

Juventino Rosas

Over The Waves (Sobre Las Olas) is probably the best known waltz in the South and Southwest, and in tejano music. Though sometimes thought to be a Strauss waltz, “Over the Waves” was the best-known work of Juventino Rosas (1868-1894), a pure-blooded Otomi Indian from Mexico. Rosas grew up playing violin in his father’s wandering string band in Mexico City, and by the time he was 15 he was good enough to take a job with a touring opera company. After a miserable stint in the army, he returned to Mexico City to try to eke out a living writing drawing room pieces for a local publishing company.

One of these was “Sobre Las Olas,” published in 1891; though it quickly became popular and was picked up by fiddlers all along the border, Rosas himself received little tangible rewards for it. In desperation, he joined a traveling road show, and wound up in Havana, where he caught a fever and died. He was only 26. His song lived on, though; soon it was being played by early jazzmen in New Orleans and even by Italian accordion players in New York.   (from

Tony Russell’s Country Music Records lists 19 old time recordings of “Over the Waves” between 1921-1942.  This one has not been surpassed:

 “Over the Waves,” by the Kessinger Bros.

Feb. 4, 1929, New York, NY

The Strachwitz Frontera Collection of Mexican and Mexican American Recordings

September 28, 2011

The Arhoolie Foundation’s Strachwitz Frontera Collection of commercially produced Mexican and Mexican-American recordings (the Frontera Collection) is the largest repository of Mexican and Mexican-American vernacular recordings in existence. With funding from Los Tigres del Norte Foundation the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center has sponsored the digitization of the first section of the collection by the Arhoolie Foundation. These performances were recorded primarily in the United States and Mexico and issued on 78 rpm phonograph recordings during the first half of the twentieth century. This vast digitized collection of approximately 30,000 recordings is now available to researchers and the general public.

Search collection here: