The Rough Guides to The Music of are always a great beginning for anyone wanting to explore music from different areas of the world. I think of them as being created for those travelers who want to go off the beaten track in a new country rather than stick to the usual tourist traps. This is because the Rough Guides usually combine not only early and classic recordings with traditional music being done currently, pop, rap, experimental, and sometimes jazz.
The Rough Guide to the Music of Mexico: son jarocho, ranchera, mariachi and Mexican rock is no exception. If one has only been exposed to mariachi music from Mexico with maybe a little ranchera thrown in, then one can greatly gain from listening to this outstanding sampler.
Astrid Hadad opens the CD with "Qué Puntaba", a satiric ranchera sung in her characteristic style of poking fun at the genre itself even while singing it. Astrid has a strong and emotional voice filled with vibrato that has made her well known in many countries outside of Mexico. She like many other great women singers of Mexico such as Amparo Ochoa, Lucha Reyes, and Chavela Vargas has a voice that stands out from any crowd. Amparo's was lighter, sweeter and yet very compelling. Chavela Vargas had a raw and rough voice with the sound of too many cigarettes and glasses of tequila. Yet, her phrasing and delivery was unmistakable. She spat out the words with great passion. The great Lucha Reyes is mentioned in the liner notes in reference to Astrid. Lucha studied opera and had an amazing vocal range. She chose to sing rancheras and sounds absolutely incredible doing so. Unfortunately, the music of Amparo, Lucha, and Chavela is not easy to come by; but I think Astrid's is, so she is probably the best representative of this style of Mexican music. I know if I were creating a Rough Guide to Anywhere I would not have a problem of whom to include; but whom to leave out!
There is more than enough to satisfy anyone's taste for adventure here, though. Any CD that includes son jarochos (one of my favorite regional styles -- the others being son huasteco, and those wonderful harmonies of the Yucatan ("trova y yucateca") -- I'm thinking Guty Cárdenas here) along side Mexican superstars Café Tacuba is okay by me. They, in fact, are second on the album with the song "Las Flores".
From this rollicking start, our guide takes us to the more remote regional styles with a visit to the Zapotec culture of Mexico. About 8 years ago the Instituto Nacional De Antropologia E Historia re-issued a recording titled Canciones De Vida Y Muerte En El Istmo Oaxaqueño with about seventeen tracks of this music mostly such in Zapoteco. The traditional song "La Juanita" was included on this CD sung solo by Saúl Martinez. This love song included on The Rough Guide to the Music of Mexico is beautifully sung by the guitar trio Los Andariegos. (I have yet another version sung by Claudia on her CD Xquenda where she sings it more like a lament). Los Andariegos give it the lovely rendering that the song deserves.
The fiddling of Juan Reynoso is legendary among aficionados of Mexican music. The label Corason issued a recording of his titled The Paganini of the Mexican Hot Lands a few years ago. He is indeed quite outstanding. He has recorded on many albums and has received huge success both in Mexico and internationally. His most recent recordings encompass a six-volume set of a live performance at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes and were released on Swing Cat Records in 1998.
Son Jarocho always seems like happy music with its upbeat tempo and its characteristic Mexican harp. Although there are a huge amount of recordings of this particular regional music, La Negra Graciana (Graciana Silva) is one of the best choices for inclusion on any compilation of Mexican music to represent the sound of Vera Cruz. Her playing and singing is spirited and passionate and worthy of international attention.
The trovadores Los Hermanos Molina represent the music of the Costa Chica. In 1985 a six volume series (on vinyl) was issued of the regional music of Mexico titled "Antologia Del Son De México". Los Hermanos Molina were included performing "El Pajarillo Jilguero" as well as "La Sammarqueña". Although as the liner notes on The Rough Guide to Mexico say, when Los Hermanos Molina was taken to Mexico City and introduced via television, their music did not capture a larger audience at that time. This is hard to believe because their singing is incredibly beautiful, dreamy and romantic.
Of all my favorite regional styles though, it is the music of the huasteca that always captures my attention. Those soaring falsettos, the violin, and two guitars that characterize this style of Mexican music has always fascinated me. Trio Los Camperos Huastecos are no exception. The two singers trade leads with great ease and joy as their voices glide along with the instruments.
Probably more than any other instrument associated with Mexican music besides the brass bands of the mariachi is the accordion. Norteño music (or Tex/Mex as it is called in the US) is widely known possibly because of the enormous popularity of such great figures such as Lydia Mendoza and Flaco Jimenez and the efforts of Arhoolie Records. Los Halcones de Saltrillo have been playing this music for 30 years and are obvious masters at it.
My hope is that The Rough Guide to the Music of Mexico: son jarocho, ranchera, mariachi and Mexican rock will serve as a springboard for others to delve more deeply into this incredible music. My recommendation is to research more into the offerings of such labels as Arhoolie Records and Corason.