Mexicans don’t sing as often as they once did. Not at home. Nor when getting their hair cut. Nor at their jobs. That’s what Jose Luis Ceron tells me. He’s a sociologist and an expert on Mexican traditional and popular music, particularly the style known as danzon.
I went to see Ceron on a related matter and he started talking about the loss of cultural heritage in the country over the past half century.
“There are two things we don’t do like we used to,” he said, “sing and dance.”
“We used to sing at home. If we got together, someone would grab a guitar and we’d start to sing. People would sing at work. People would sing in barbershops. We sang at get-togethers (tertulias) among young people,” he went on.
Sing at work? Sing in barber shops? Yes, he said, haven’t you seen old Mexican movies? “Mexican cinema reflects this very well,” he said. “You could sing with any pretext,” even at the office. (I'm trying to imagine what it would be like in a newsroom.)
A guitar would always be hanging on the wall at the barber shop, he said, and a patron would invariably pick it up.
Since Mexico City is the center of the national universe, young kids would learn about their country and its heritage from listening to songs. He brought up the song Cachanilla (check out this music video) identified with Mexicali. Cachanilla is the word for a Sonoran variety of tumbleweed.
Children would learn about the far reaches of Mexico from the songs, he said, like Mis Blancas Mariposas, which is from Tabasco.
I can’t say I actually experienced musical Mexico from years past. And I think Ceron refers to a bygone era that would be impossible to recover. But the government could do more.
He says the nation lacks a strong state policy to promote popular culture, including dance. Young people now watch musicians, rather than take to the dance floor, he lamented. Without the vigorous cultural heritage embodied in popular songs, Ceron said, people don’t learn about their past and their country.
“You can’t love what you don’t know, and they don’t know where we’ve come from,” he said.
Ceron, by the way, is also part of the Garcia Blanco Orchestra that plays popular music, including paso doble, which is the music heard in one of the orchestra’s music videos below.