Thursday, January 27, 2011

Adventures in Rhythm: The National Ear

If you walk around in Mexico City with your ears open, you will discover a great divide in popular musical tastes. The music that you hear on buses, in markets, at gas stations, or anywhere that working-class Mexicans are playing their tunes is usually going to fall into one of two categories. On the one side are cumbia and salsa, two Afro-Caribbean styles that are usually played when people want to dance or think about dancing. On the other side are banda and norteño, both native Mexican styles that initially sound kind of like "mariachi" music played with drums and synthesized trumpets.

You might compare this divide to the country/hip-hop dichotomy in the US. A Mexican friend of mine told me that he doesn't remember so many people listening to banda and norteño until a few years ago, when it exploded in popularity, as a kind of nationalistic expression. A non-Mexican friend told me she was driving with a Mexican couple in their car when some banda came on the radio. "Ugh, change that naco stuff," one of them said, naco being Mexican slang to describe someone low-class or with low-class tastes. Wikipedia says that norteño exploded in popularity starting in the '90s as the Mexican-American population took off.

I don't really know about all that, but this music video kind of sums up the whole situation. It's about a Mexican dude who used to be into cumbia and then switched to banda, with an outfit to match. It's called "Traiter." It's a cumbia, but there's a nice little example of banda at the beginning, and the very end.

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