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Musica Nortena

Musica Nortena: Mexican Americans Creating a Nation Between Nations

Cathy Ragland
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  • Book Info
    Musica Nortena
    Book Description:

    Música norteña, a musical genre with its roots in the folk ballad traditions of Northern Mexico and the Texas-Mexican border region, has become a hugely popular musical style in the U.S., particularly among Mexican immigrants. Featuring evocative songs about undocumented border-crossers, drug traffickers, and the plight of immigrant workers, música norteña has becomethemusic of a "nation between nations."Música Norteñais the first definitive history of this transnational music that has found enormous commercial success innorteamérica.

    Cathy Ragland, an ethnomusicologist and former music critic, serves up the fascinating fifty-year story of música norteña, enlivened by interviews with important musicians and her own first-hand observations of live musical performances. Beyond calling our attention to musical influences, Ragland shows readers the social and economic forces at work behind the music. By comparing música norteña with other popular musical forms, including conjunto tejano, she helps us understand and appreciate the musical ties that bind the Mexican diaspora.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-748-0
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    During the summer of 1996, Roberto M., a Tejano (Texas-Mexican) friend who was an arts presenter in San Antonio, asked me to take him to a dance featuringnorteña(northern Mexican) music. Having grown up in the city, he told me about the manytardeadas(afternoon dances, usually held on Sundays), weddings, and community festivals, where he often danced to local Texas-Mexican conjunto groups. But he had never been to a norteña dance and had paid relatively little attention to the music. Tejano conjunto and norteña groups feature the same instrumentation: a three-row button accordion; a bajo sexto, which has...

  2. 1 Mexicanidad and Música Norteña in the ʺTwo Mexicosʺ
    (pp. 7-26)

    Scholars in Chicano studies, Spanish literature, linguistics, and folklore in the United States and Mexico have produced ample research and writing on the corrido, but there is very little on norteña music, the popular music vehicle for the contemporary corrido. The traditional Mexican corrido is a topical narrative ballad sung, without a refrain, to a basic melody in waltz time (3/4); many contemporary corridos are played in a fast polka rhythm (2/4) more appropriate for a two-step type dance popular in northern Mexico and Texas. The corrido consists of eight-syllable lines organized in stanzas of four (quatrains) and maintains an...

  3. 2 Regional Identity, Class, and the Emergence of ʺBorder Musicʺ
    (pp. 27-55)

    The Norteño people, like the norteña music that originated in this region, are self-sufficient and resilient. In the Mexican imagination, the Norteño resembles the North American cowboy. Depicted in most Mexican films as male—macho in attitude and physical presence—the often pistol-packing Norteño represents a colorful image of Mexico’s wild and untamed frontier. The country’s northernmost region remained largely rural, poor, and sparsely populated during the first part of the last century; in the 1930s and 1940s, the population grew when numerous government-sponsored agrarian and irrigation projects began, but when these programs dissolved in the 1950s, many migrants and...

  4. 3 Border Culture, Migration, and the Development of Early Música Norteña
    (pp. 56-99)

    The growth in popularity of norteña music and new stylistic and thematic changes in the corrido song form are deeply aligned with the migration of Mexican workers into the United States. Mexicans’ traveling to this country in search of work dates back to the mid-nineteenth century, when many laborers crossed the border to work in cattle ranches and on fruit farms in California (Gómez-Quiñones and Maciel 1998, 33–34). Since much of the Southwest had once been a part of Mexico, many Mexicans, particularly those from bordering states, considered themselves indigenous to this region and felt justified in crossing over...

  5. 4 Modern Música Norteña and the Undocumented Immigrant
    (pp. 100-141)

    In his work on Mexican nationalism and the shaping of modern Mexico, Julio Moreno (2003) suggests that, prior to the 1920s, most Mexicans tended to identify with their local region rather than with the nation at large. Because the Mexican Revolution was triggered by upheavals in the country’s far North and in states with large indigenous populations such as Oaxaca, Puebla, and Morelos, the Mexican government placed much emphasis on embracing its indigenous and peasant communities. This goal, however, coexisted with the government’s commitment to commercial and industrial growth and foreign investment, leading Moreno to conclude that most Mexicans defined...

  6. 5 Los Tigres del Norte and the Transnationalization of Música Norteña in the Working-Class Mexican Diaspora
    (pp. 142-200)

    The story of the “Little Tigers” has been told so many times now that it is part of Mexican immigrant folklore and still gives hope to all who cross the border seeking work and a better life. It is the story of four teenage brothers who left the small town of Rosa Morada in the western state of Sinaloa, Mexico, crossing the border into California to make a few dollars playing music. They managed to get themselves booked as part of a musical revue for a Mexican Independence Day celebration in San José and for prison inmates at Soledad. The...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 201-204)

    As a genre associated with an immigrant community, norteña music provides a dual sense of existence and identity within the Mexican diaspora. Among a population that has been historically marginalized, politicized, and criminalized because of its large numbers of illegal immigrants, norteña provides a new sense of Mexican identity or nationality that is based on ambivalent attachments to both the United States and Mexico and that is formed by border crossing, complex familial and community networks, and a sense of cohesion despite geographic dispersion. Norteña has continued to evolve in what David G. Gutiérrez (1999, 487) describes as the “third...