Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Music of Mexico

April, 2010

There is nothing as passionate as a young couple in love, and the Mexican songs capture that passion with words that cannot even be translated in to the English language. For the past three weeks we have been privileged to make the acquaintance of a group of musicians who gathered in Zihuatanejo for the winter. Our arrival was ill timed, unfortunately missing the annual guitar fest by one day. But my disappointment was soon forgotten as we strolled from bar to bar to catch a set with the resident performers.

Mexico is a land full of music. The mariachi bands can be seen in any town, strutting down cobblestone streets or along beaches in matching suits of black or tan adorned with silver and gold, complemented by an alligator belt and cowboy boots. The instruments they carry are as beautifully decorated as the musicians. Hand crafted guitars, violins and double bass have inlay patterns around the edges, deep curved backs and colorful strings. Trumpets of all sizes gleam, and the ancient accordions are intricate and unique, each one a work of art in themselves. The first time I encountered such a group on the street I stopped them to ask where they were playing, and thought my Spanish must be lacking when all I could understand of their answer was ‘aqui’ (here). I soon learned that these roving musicians will and do play anywhere, for anyone who will pay them, demanding up to $10 for one song. I saw on group singing into a car window as the vehicle pulled up at the lights on an intersection. Competing with each other or music from nearby bars and discos does not seem to worry them – they just play louder. If you are close enough, the trumpet will reverberate in your breastbone, and you may be hard of hearing for a few minutes afterwards.

Percussion groups are another common sight, their skin bongo drums and rattles mate from animal hoofs set up along any malecon or plaza. These folks seem to be perpetually traveling, whole families living out of a backpack, communing with nature through their infectious beat. We met one such group on New Years Eve, under a full blue moon, their drumming somehow insistent and peaceful at the same time, as if in tune with a higher vibration.

The story would not be complete without mentioning the floor shows that were part of our nightly entertainment in Zihuatanejo. Stages were set up in the street and plaza for performances by the cultural center and hotel dance troupes. Everything from the traditional Mexican hat dance to ballet and Tropicana style numbers were presented by little kids, old ladies and some very energetic professional dancers. Brightly colored skirts whirled, heels clicked, smooth brown skin writhed and glistened but my personal favorite was the platinum man, who moved his spray painted body in ways that I could never have imagined. Not even my most practiced yogis could jiggle a single butt muscle like he did! It was commendable for the city to instigate these events, which drew tourists and local families alike, but of real interest to me were the environmental messages that became part of each show. A few minutes each evening was devoted to topics such as protecting the waterways, promoting catch-and-release sports fishing as an option to stuffed trophy fish, or an invitation to visit the Potosi animal refuge. Our visit to this valuable conservation project will be described in another story.

The soul of Mexico, for me, lives in the singers. Their lightning fast fingers play flamenco and Latin rhythms as their clear voices pour out the passionate ballads of their country. Even without knowing their meaning, one can feel their love and their pain in the break of their voice or the expressions on their face. One evening, the singer’s lovely wife sat next to me, translating the words as I watched the performance. Her beautiful dark eyes searched mine, as if to convey more understanding as she told the stories, and when the songs had finished my emotions felt like raw nerve ends. There is no word in English for the way this music touched me – “me estremezco”.

We came to know several of the musicians and their families during our time here. We took them sailing on Blue Moon, and went out with ‘Rapscullion’ who is also anchored in the bay. We were delighted to watch one fellow learn to swim after bravely jumping off the back of the boat, and only later informing us it was the first time he had been in water where he could not touch bottom. One night ‘Rhumline’ hosted a jam session on their big cat, the first time the 2 guitarists had played together. We were all given one of the many interesting percussion instruments to play, although all of us together could not match the rhythm of the percussionist, who plays most of these instruments simultaneously.

The most magical experience occurred on our last night, when Luis Lara played a song that he wrote for us. This talented composer, singer and guitarist had a seven-year hiatus from writing music, broken only by a single song he wrote when he met his wife. The amazing thing was how intimately he portrayed our lives with his metaphors. Many of us had tears in our eyes when he sang the last refrain of this extraordinary piece of music. We sincerely hope the inspiration remains to continue composing new songs.

As for me, I knew a piece of my heart remained in Zihuatanejo as we sailed away, the tune of ‘Luna Azul’ playing in my head.

Luis Lara singing 'Luna Azul'

1 comment:

adrift nelly said...

Viva La Mexico! Loved the description of roaming mariachi bands and the sights and sounds of the villages. Wish I was there....