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Musical Ritual in Mexico City

MARK PEDELTY
Copyright Date: 2004
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/702318
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    Musical Ritual in Mexico City
    Book Description:

    On the Zócalo, the main square of Mexico City, Mexico's entire musical history is performed every day. "Mexica" percussionists drum and dance to the music of Aztec rituals on the open plaza. Inside the Metropolitan Cathedral, choristers sing colonialvillancicos.Outside the National Palace, the Mexican army marching band plays the "Himno Nacional," a vestige of the nineteenth century. And all around the square, people listen to the contemporary sounds of pop, rock, andmúsica grupera.In all, some seven centuries of music maintain a living presence in the modern city.

    This book offers an up-to-date, comprehensive history and ethnography of musical rituals in the world's largest city. Mark Pedelty details the dominant musical rites of the Aztec, colonial, national, revolutionary, modern, and contemporary eras, analyzing the role that musical ritual played in governance, resistance, and social change. His approach is twofold. Historical chapters describe the rituals and their functions, while ethnographic chapters explore how these musical forms continue to resonate in contemporary Mexican society. As a whole, the book provides a living record of cultural continuity, change, and vitality.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79848-9
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. viii-ix)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. x-xi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xii-xv)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-2)

    Mexico City has been the cultural and political heart of the Mexican nation since the Mexica founded their capital there in 1325. In a matter of decades, the Aztec settlement grew into the metropolis of Tenochtitlán, an island city on Lake Texcoco. Although neither the ancient city of Tenochtitlán nor Lake Texcoco can be found today, traces of both remain, buried just a few meters below the surface of modern Mexico City.

    Similarly, layers of time have created a cultural foundation for the modern city. The past can still be seen, felt, and heard in the capital. For example, on...

  6. Part I The Mexica:: 1325–1521
    • 2 Tenochtitlán: 1325–1521
      (pp. 5-24)

      The Mexica were one of “twenty or so” Nahuatl-speaking or “Aztec” tribes who migrated into the Central Valley of Mexico (Smith 1996:4). They were one of the feared Chichimec or “barbarian” peoples who lived beyond the northern borders of the large Mesoamerican states. Their initial relationship to the more established Mesoamerican cultures was like that of the Huns to the Roman Empire and the Mongols to dynastic China. Like the Huns, they went from being hired mercenaries to being conquerors, defeating the same states that once sponsored them. Like the Mongols, they adopted the urban infrastructure and mythology of the...

    • 3 Mesoamerican Resonance
      (pp. 25-36)

      The music of the Mexica still lives. Its spirit resonates in nearly every contemporary Mexican musical style, from mariachi to rock. This chapter focuses on performances that directly reference Mesoamerican ritual. The musical events I describe here range from museum exhibitions to midnight dances in the zócalo.

      Clearly such events are performances. They are meant to be experienced by an audience. In fact, if no connection is made between creator, performer, and audience, they are considered failures. Yet these modern performances are also rituals: collective acts of remembering. They are meaning-making events that say just as much about the present...

  7. Part II New Spain:: 1521–1821
    • 4 Colonial Mexico: 1521–1821
      (pp. 39-69)

      Musical ritual was at the center of the Conquest. The Spaniards brandished musical ritual as a tool during their two-year campaign to conquer Mexico, and the Mexica responded with their own ritual arsenal. Like the contemporary Concheros, who refer to their instruments as “weapons” (Rostas 1996:208), musical ritual was an essential weapon for both sides. Cortés, who favored musicians among his ranks, put on a series of demonstrative musical Masses in order to awe and convert the indigenous peoples he encountered. The Mexica impressed the Spanish with equally spectacular ritual displays.

      The Spaniards’ early, peaceful stay in the city of...

    • 5 Colonial Resonance
      (pp. 70-82)

      The traces of New Spain remain in Mexico City. Despite two centuries of earthquakes, revolutions, secularization, and modernization, the capital’s culture and architecture still provide evidence of Mexico’s colonial past.

      For example, the ideological center of the colony, Catholicism, continues to dominate the religious world of Mexico. Nearly five hundred years since Cortés read the Requirement, demanding all Mesoamericans to accept the Catholic faith, Mexico is still an overwhelmingly Catholic nation.

      Likewise, vestiges of the colonial caste system remain. Although Mexico has redefined itself as a mestizo nation, caste-like distinctions continue to thrive. To outsiders, treatment of mestizo and indigenous...

  8. Part III The New Nation:: 1821–1910
    • 6 The First Century of Independence: 1821–1910
      (pp. 85-106)

      The Revolution for Independence shattered the “Octavian Peace” that controlled Mexico for three centuries. In the wake of the Spaniards’ retreat, various internal and external forces fought to decide what form the new nation would take.

      Spanish withdrawal had several musical repercussions. A marked decline in instrument-making took place in the nineteenth century (Guzmán Bravo 1978:355). Independence also created a severe decline in employment for Mexican musicians and a drop in their social status (Moreno Rivas 1989:29). Musicians played an indispensable role in the colonial social order. After independence, they were demoted in social rank, even stigmatized.

      There was no...

    • 7 Nineteenth-Century Resonance
      (pp. 107-116)

      The musical rituals of Mexico’s past resonate with variable intensity over time and space. Traditional ritual moments are set aside throughout the year for the purpose of reflecting upon the past. For example, annual festivals honor the ancestors (Día de los Muertos), the Virgin of Guadalupe, Christ’s birth, and Christ’s death. Just as the calendar is divided into greater and lesser periods of ritual reflection, so too the city is arranged into sacred spaces, where such reflection is encouraged, and profane spaces, where it is not. For example, the echoes of New Spain are louder inside the church sanctuary than...

  9. Part IV The Revolution:: 1910–1921
    • 8 Revolutionary Mexico: 1910–1921
      (pp. 119-130)

      Until the Revolution, Mexico was a predominantly rural nation. Although great wealth was produced during the Díaz dictatorship, it flowed into the coffers of foreign companies, urban national elites, and, to a certain extent, the rising urban middle class. The poor were not invited to the party. The conditions of the majority—the rural peasantry, miners, urban working classes, andlos marginados(the marginalized, destitute poor)—held steady or worsened. During the late Porfiriato, rural work conflicts at the Cananea mines (1906) and Río Blanco textile mill (1907) signaled the much greater conflagration to come. Eventually, a large base of...

    • 9 Revolutionary Resonance
      (pp. 131-136)

      One is much more likely to hear corridos played in small towns and villages than in the city. Only a few corridistas can be found performing regularly in the capital. Occasionally a guitarist on a street corner, in a restaurant, or in a cantina plays the classic corridos. Few professional performers strictly play the corrido, however. Nevertheless, amateur corridistas can be found throughout the barrios, playing mostly for families and friends.

      Although most true corridistas reside in the countryside, there is a related class of musicians in the city. Itinerant musicians play in the Mexico City subway, bus system, and...

  10. Part V Modern Mexico:: 1921–1968
    • 10 Bolero and Danzón during the Postrevolutionary Era
      (pp. 139-179)

      The Mexican Revolution was fought under a banner of agrarian and electoral reform. Unfortunately, the Revolution’s results were largely antithetical to the utopian intentions of its leaders. Zapata’s and Villa’s programs for agrarian reform went unfulfilled. In fact, the Revolution did much to accelerate urban hegemony over rural Mexico (Davis 1994:20–62). Instead of resulting in rural collectivism, the Revolution led to a radical increase in the pace of urbanization. Revolutionary battles caused incredible devastation in the countryside, sending hundreds of thousands packing for the city, looking for jobs.

      After the Revolution, cities grew “like mushrooms after a rain” (Bonfil...

    • 11 Bolero and Danzón Today
      (pp. 180-202)

      Danzón continues to play a role in the cultural life of Mexico City. Thousands of taxi drivers, teachers, and clerks escape their work life at night by dancing the elegant danzón. As represented in María Novaro’s 1991 filmDanzón, this subculture now largely consists of working- and middle-class urbanites who maintain a good deal of nostalgia for the postrevolutionary “Golden Age.” What was once a sign of postrevolutionary modernity has become a reflective, nostalgic ritual reflecting an era when the city held greater promise.

      Bolero culture was not completely killed off by the rise of ranchera and rock. In the...

    • 12 Classical Nationalism during the Postrevolutionary Era
      (pp. 203-215)

      Most scholars interested in postrevolutionary popular culture have focused on the political artists of the era, notably muralists Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco. These artists have been both lauded and lambasted for their ideological collusion with, and resistance against, the postrevolutionary state (Britton 1995; González Cruz Manjarrez 1996; Kandell 1988:443– 484). However, painters were not the only artists involved in the postrevolutionary campaigns. They were joined by nationalistic composers like Carlos Chávez and a host of writers, directors, and choreographers (Sevilla 1990) supported by Mexico’s postrevolutionary government. These were the artists and “intellectuals who assumed the...

    • 13 Classical Nationalism Today
      (pp. 216-224)

      One day on the way to a concert at the National Conservatory of Music I met a man whose daughter dreams of becoming a classical musician. She is a violinist. Her story is perhaps emblematic of the current state of classical music in Mexico. Her father, a taxi driver, works hard to put his children through school, taking only occasional days off for concerts and holidays. His daughter’s accomplishments make him extremely proud, giving his work and life greater meaning. He is a patron of the arts in an age when governmental support has withered. Generations of Mexican musicians and...

    • 14 Ranchera during the Postrevolutionary Era and at Mid-Century
      (pp. 225-237)

      The term “mariachi” is most often used in reference to a specific type of musical ensemble rather than a single style of music. The mariachi conjunto consists of violin(s), trumpet(s), guitars, and various guitar variants, such as theguitarrón, vihuela, andjarana. People also occasionally use the term in reference to the styles of music typically played by mariachis, however, as in “mariachi music.”

      The type of music most commonly played by mariachis is calledranchera. Ranchera is a melodramatic style of music developed during the twentieth century, popularized through nostalgic radio programs and pastoral films featuring horse-riding heroes. Ranchera...

    • 15 Ranchera Today
      (pp. 238-246)

      The mariachi ensemble continued to evolve throughout the century and continues to adapt to different performance contexts. Ensembles range from small, four-member conjuntos to temporary orchestras with more than five hundred musicians organized for special concerts and public celebrations. In this chapter I describe a few typical performances.

      Academic accuracy requires that I include both the bad and good in this description. The good news is that mariachi ensembles and their music are thriving. Unfortunately, no analysis of Mexico City mariachi is complete without reference to Plaza Garibaldi, and no description of Plaza Garibaldi is complete without mention of its...

  11. Part VI Contemporary Mexico:: 1968–2002
    • 16 Popular Music Today
      (pp. 249-274)

      In the late 1950s rock and roll came along and surpassed both ranchera and bolero in sales. By no means have pop and rock gained total control over the popular market, however. Older styles have continued to garner significant attention, and música grupera has a faithful following in Mexico City.Gruperais a term given to large synthesizer-driven bands that play a distinctly Mexican style of music. Whether they are technically dedicated to cumbia, merengue, banda, norteño, salsa, or some other style, these groups tend to have a look and sound that sets them apart from the conjuntos of other...

    • 17 Conclusion
      (pp. 275-290)

      Each set of chapters in this book has focused on the music of a specific era. However, the musical ritual landscape of Mexico City is not so neatly segregated. Every sound and performance is an intertextual mix of past and present.

      Take the voladores of Papantla, a ritual performed daily for crowds outside the National Museum of Anthropology (Chapter 3). The voladores practice an ancient Mesoamerican ritual. The original ritual was designed as a sign of reverence for the Mesoamerican gods and the natural world, but new meanings have been added over the centuries. For example, the sign of the...

  12. Appendix 1. Theory and Methodology
    (pp. 291-310)
  13. Appendix 2. Timeline
    (pp. 311-314)
  14. Appendix 3. Discography
    (pp. 315-320)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 321-334)
  16. Index
    (pp. 335-340)