Mexico-Color & Passion

 

It will be Cinco de Mayo in a few days. Before you drink that margarita, before you have those guacamole and chips or enchiladas with delicious mole, I want to tell you about my love of Mexico. Well I should actually say my love of Mexican culture (which includes the food!). Other than a quick trip across the border to Tijuana when I was eleven, I have not actually traveled there, though I hope that will change in the near future. Much like what St. Patrick’s Day has turned into, Cinco de Mayo has seemingly become co opted as  an excuse for 2 for 1 bottles of Corona and taco specials, though of course it actually commemorates the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle Of Puebla in 1862. Not Mexican independence as some wrongly believe, but an important military victory.  Despite the misunderstanding  it has become in some places a defacto celebration of Mexican culture along with those 2 for 1 Corona’s. Regardless of the misunderstanding, celebrating Mexican culture is never a bad thing, and  there is an awful lot of it  to go around.

If I were to describe Mexican culture using only two words I would simply say ‘colorful’ and ‘passionate’. From the richly dyed and beautiful textiles woven into blankets and clothing to the often subversive art bright colors dominate.   Mexican art somehow seems more visual than in other cultures, and I think it is precisely because of those bright colors used throughout. There is a lot of representation of death and religious themes utilized, but there are also a lot of satirical ones too. Art in Mexico seems to be everywhere, be it simple folk art or street murals. Even the masks worn by professional wrestlers there have a distinctly Mexican flair to them. I may not always understand the meaning of it all, but I admire it deeply for the appearance and style. Art can sometimes be unapproachable, and even exclusionary, but I do not get that sense from the Mexican art I have seen.

The passionate side comes out partly with a strong devotion to soccer, but especially in the music, and there are a bewildering number of styles throughout the country. In my opinion, when one thinks of the music of the Americas, certain countries jump to the front of the line. The U.S. of course with Rock, Country, Blues, Jazz and more.  Brazil has Samba, Bossa Nova and Forro, to name just a few. Cuba has Son, Mambo, Chachacha and the Rumba.  Jamaica is the birthplace of Reggae but there are so many sub genres like Dancehall and Rocksteady that make that island one of the most musical places in the entire world. But I think Mexico should be right there on that list too.  Just a partial list includes Ranchera, Norteno, Mariachi, Huapango and Cumbia. And that’s before you even get to contemporary Rock, Pop and Indigenous styles. One country, with lots of very different sounds.

It can be difficult to understand them all as an outsider but fortunately there is at least one singer I can think of who has attempted to weave her way through the maze. Mexican American singer Lila Downs has been a fixture on the world music circuit for years now. I first became aware of her from an appearance singing in director Julie Taymor’s inventive biographical film about the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Lila Downs also featured heavily on the soundtrack to the film. It isn’t just that she explores Mexican music, but she also freely incorporates other sounds in to the mix, from Hip-Hop, Jazz, Indigenous styles and beyond with her staggeringly powerful voice. She is intensely passionate (see, there is that word again!) about the music, and you can clearly hear it whether you are a Spanish speaker or not.

I decided to feature two songs in this post.  One of the first songs I heard Lila Downs sing, the sublime Paloma Negra (Black Dove) appears on her album Una Sangre. At first I did not know it was actually a well known song performed by other greats like Lola Beltran and Chavela Vargas, but I sensed something hearing Lila Downs perform the song.  It isn’t just that you can hear her classical voice training in this song. It isn’t just that you can feel the devastating sadness of this song of heartbreak- ‘my eyes are dying without looking into yours’. It is so much more. The tempo, the buildup to that long mournful note just shout that Mexican passion to me. Other countries have their own ways of expressing pain and sadness in song, but I doubt many do it with as much raw feeling.

The second song here is the title cut to Lila’s most recent studio album-Balas y Chocolate (Bullets & Chocolate. The song cleverly balances between the real- ‘There’s bullets flying in our world, in our world. There are those who duck the bullets, on the ground, on the ground’ with a simple bit of escapism- ‘Gimme mami chocolate, You are my chocolate, My life my sweet. The rap in the middle of the song goes even further-

If a bullet don’t kill me, a hijacking, or assault,
if I don’t choke on the volcano’s ashes,
From diabetes, cirrhosis
Neurosis psychosis necrosis or from an overdose
If alcoholism doesn’t get me
Or egotism, stupidity, or partisanship
an earthquake or boredom from the soap opera
I’ll take off and toast my cocoa beans
There are dreams that are born in the pueblos and for the people
There are people who live those dreams each day,

Yet despite the harsh reality of those words, the video for the song, filled with those wonderful colors and folk art coming to life, with children dancing to the happy sounding  music portrays something else. Like the passion that exudes with Lila Downs singing Paloma Negra, it is the vibrancy of Mexico coming out. Despite the real life issues and  headlines about Mexico, there is much to admire and celebrate. Whether that is on Cinco de Mayo or any other day of the year, celebrating a country and culture as rich as Mexico is always a good thing.

Paloma Negra-Written By Tomas Mendez

Balas y Chocolate-Written By Lila Downs & Paul Cohen

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle

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14 thoughts on “Mexico-Color & Passion

  1. The only two things I know about the Mexico are tacos and Corona. Both are a bliss! I never even knew about this festival until now. It looks all colorful and bright, a little like our festivals here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It probably is similar. I compared it to St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland it isn’t celebrated in the same way as it is here in the U.S. And Cinco de Mayo is kind of the same and why a lot of people seem to think its Mexican Independence Day! I just really love the culture and colors, so I’m not surprised to hear you say it looks similar. As to the Corona and tacos, those are also good things 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lets put it this way, I am very proud to be Irish, but I tell people I usually take the day off from being Irish and pretend to be oh…Norwegian or something else for the day! It can be fun, but it can also be full of silly people. I read that Cinco de Mayo was essentially targeted by big restaurant chains here to tap into new customers and profits. I’m not sure it is totally true, but it does explain why for Mexicans it is not recognized the way it is here in the U.S.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I know I’ve said this before but I want to reiterate how wonderful it is that you’re so well-rounded when it comes to other cultures. Your appreciation and love for them is one reason I’m glad to call a friend.

    The first song was kinda sad…even though I didn’t understand the words…the melody said all I needed to know about that song. The 2nd one a lil more fun and outgoing.

    Guess I’ll head over to the liquor store and see what kinda special they have on coronas. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! First, let me get my priorities straight…let me know about the deal on those Corona’s! But seriously thank you for saying that. I guess I have always been interested in aspects of other cultures, but for me music is the glue that unites it all. Or at least the area I am most interested in exploring. The first song is definitely sad and you are so right that you don’t need to know a word of Spanish-just listen to that melody and that much is clear. Because of that, I wanted to put the second song in that at least musically was more upbeat. Plus it had all the elements I mentioned-those wonderful colors, and folk art like the skeletons. Thank you for your observations and for being such a great friend!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with Tasha, It was In fact the Peeking that introduced me to your Blog [Now returning to Hamburg] and Ralph Mctell. I was intrigued by your pretence at pretending to be other? On St Patrick’s day, I am a proud English man, Always astonished that many here have no knowledge of St George, therefore we rarely celebrate, It is always assumed St George’s flag is extreme right wing? Shame as personally I love the opportunity to celebrate collectively. I managed this year spent the greater part of the day in Trafalgar Sq. Actually called St George’s feast, presumably as it was held the day before St George’s day.

    Liked by 1 person

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