Mexican music and dance are large parts of celebrating Cinco de Mayo. The festivals celebrating Cinco de Mayo are a great way to experience these aspects of Mexican culture. In addition to the more elaborate festivals, many communities offer concerts, dance performances, and other special activities.
In our previous blogs, we discussed this History and Celebration of Cinco de Mayo and Celebrating Cinco de Mayo with Food and Drink. Today, I want to share my long love of music of many cultural backgrounds, especially folk and indigenous music. For me, I particularly enjoy Mexican music and dance as part of Cinco de Mayo.
Traditional Music is everywhere for Cinco de Mayo
I love listening to Mexican music, and I can often find live performances on Cinco de Mayo. When I was in Mexico, music was everywhere. I remember long conversations with my host father and with one of my good friends there about the different musical traditions. While Mexicans also enjoy more modern music styles like rock, the traditional music is still very present in modern day Mexican life. You will hear it on the buses, in the market, at home, and even featured on television game shows. The big name performers of the Mexican folk music are as celebrated there as Louis Armstrong and Elvis are for Americans. So when honoring their Mexican heritage, it is no wonder that music plays a prominent role in their celebrations.
Of the many types of traditional Mexican folk music, Mariachi is likely the most familiar style, particularly here in the United States.
Mariachi originated around the turn of the 1800s in west-central Mexico. It is a blend of foreign and indigenous music influences. This creates what is considered a purely Mexican music style. Today, it is typically played by small ensembles. The traditional mariachi band consists of at least a violin, the vihuela, the guitarrón, a guitar, and a trumpet. The Mariachi’s vihuela is a 5 string guitar, and the guitarrón is a 6 string bass guitar. While typically they are small ensembles, they can include other additional instruments such as the flute, accordion, and french horn.
Most of Mariachi music comes from the Mexican Ranchera music tradition.
Ranchera (short for música ranchera, or ranch music) is the Mexican version of Country/Western music. Ranchera is influenced by three very different musical traditions, waltzes, boleros, and polkas. Like American folk and country music, the songs tend to focus on love, honor, nature, patriotism, and rural life. Rancheras became popular in the early 20th century, especially during the. The songs were themes people could relate to. Mexican movies in the 1930s, called ranchero comedies, promoted the popularity of this style of music, as did the radio. While other styles of music, including rock, have become popular music in Mexico today, Rancheras are still considered part of the Mexican cultural identity.
Corridos are another folk style that is popular both in Mexico and in the Southwestern United States.
These are long, romantic ballads that date back to the Mexican-American war (1846-1848). Corridos were particularly popular during the Mexican Revolution. They are similar to Rancheras, though faster paced and with less of a rural focus. Corridos tend to not only tell epic stories of heroism, but they also address current political and popular issues. Much of the history of the Mexican-American war and the Mexican Revolution was told through the songs of the time.
While these music traditions, among the many other Mexican folk traditions, are rooted in Mexican history, they remain relevant. New songs by modern performers continue to address the political, cultural, and social concerns of Mexicans today.
Mexican dance is another another great way to celebrate the Cinco de Mayo.
Dancing is as prominent a part of Mexican life as music is. I have always enjoyed dance and have studied a variety of historical dance styles from around the world. I’ve studied things from swing to belly dancing, so it isn’t that surprising that I chose to take dance classes when I was in Mexico. When I was in Querétaro, I learned dances such as the Cha Cha, Salsa, and Merengue. When I was in the Yucatan, I took advantage of the free classes on La Jarana, a folk dance. I was the only American in the class, and I loved it. While I never became particularly adept at any of the Mexican dance styles I studied, I did learn to really appreciate them.
Just as Mexico has a rich and varied music tradition that blends Spanish and indigenous heritages, so does its dance tradition. Today Mexicans enjoy a wide range of dance, from modern to ballet. The baile folklórico de México is a particularly important part of in their national pride.
Baile folklórico de México, or Mexican folk dance has a deep cultural history.
The earliest baile folklórico were danced in the 17th century. It wasn’t until the Mexican War of Independence (1810-1821) they entered the national stage. El Jarabe Tapatío (commonly called the Mexican Hat Dance) was originally a courtship dance. Baile folklórico started being used politically to inspire Mexican nationalism after Spain banished it for being morally inappropriate. Instead of going quietly, it then became a symbol of revolution. In fact, its role was so important to the independence movement that after Mexico achieved its independence, people often called it the national dance, and renamed it El Jarabe Mexicano.
The Mexican Revolution in 1910 further solidified the importance of baile folklórico in the Mexican national identity. As part of the creation of a truly and uniquely Mexican identity, Mexicans drew on their mix of Spanish, indigenous, and mixed heritages. This made the average Mexican much more aware of indigenous culture. It led both the indigenous communities and the nation as a whole to reclaim their pre-hispanic roots. Dances, and especially the regional bailes folklóricos, were an important part of that. The dances became both a celebration of modern day Mexico as well as a celebration of its past.
The variety in baile folklórico dance styles and in the clothing worn by the dancers reflect diverse cultural influences.
Here are a few examples of Mexican folk dances.
El Jarabe Tapatío (Mexican Hat Dance) is probably the most familiar form of baile folklórico outside of Mexico. Originating in the state of Jalisco, this dance was originally a courting dance. The women wear brilliantly colored, long dresses. The men wear charro suits, which have buttons or other decorations on the sides of the pants and buttoned jackets, and wide brimmed hats. This style of dress was traditionally associated with horsemen working the ranches. Both genders wear tap shoes, and complex, rhythmic feet movements is a central part of the dance.
La Jarana Yucateca is the baile folklórico from the Yucatan Peninsula, and the form of baile folklórico I personally had the chance to learn while I was in Mexico. The female dancers wear highly embroidered dresses called huipiles yucatecos, based on traditional Mayan attire. The men wear all white, and both genders wear tap shoes. The dance style is characterized by complex foot movements with a still upper body. Women will sometimes dance balancing bottles or trays on their heads.
La Bamba is a well known baile folklórico from Veracruz. The women for this dance wear white, lacey, flowing dresses with a highly embroidered black apron. The men wear all white slacks and a white shirt called a guayabera. Like the other forms of baile folklórico discussed above, both dancers wear tap shoes, as the dance emphasizes foot movements (Marisol 2014).
Mexican music and dances are vibrant, beautiful ways of celebrating the Cinco de Mayo.
Because of the role traditional Mexican music and dance had in shaping Mexican identity, they are perfect for Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Together, they helped create and reinforce national identity. They even served as acts of resistance in the War of Independence and the Mexican Revolution. They draw on Mexico’s many cultural traditions into a beautiful, inspiring, and uniquely Mexican art form. In the US, learning about Mexican culture, the music and dance of it, helps us strengthen the Mexican American history and culture.
This Cinco de Mayo I hope you can take the opportunity to enjoy some traditional Mexican music and dance. With so many Cinco de Mayo festivals available all over the world, look on-line to see what activities are being offered near you.
Happy Cinco de Mayo!
RoseAnna & Galen
The Researcher’s Gateway