Contemporary Mexican Music: Not Your Abuelita's Mariachi

Jun 18, 2018
Originally published on June 17, 2018 8:07 am

As the staff of NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday prepares to head to Mexico to cover the country's upcoming presidential elections, it seemed only fitting that Alt.Latino prepare a short round up that explores the vast sonic landscape of contemporary Mexican music.

Although that request may be a tall order, there is enough stylistic variety to allow a sample of even a small part of Mexican music and still find something for just about everyone. From Luz de Luna to Carla Morrison, here are some of Mexico's most eclectic music makers. This isn't your Abuelita's mariachi music.

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(SOUNDBITE OF NATALIA LAFOURCADE SONG, "LUZ DE LUNA")

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Since we're headed to Mexico with our program this coming week, we figured we should have some good music for packing and traveling. Felix Contreras with NPR's Alt.Latino is here to help us with the playlist. Thank you for coming by.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Good morning. Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This sounds pretty traditional.

CONTRERAS: OK. So we're starting easy. This is Natalia Lafourcade. In 2017, she did an album called "Musas." And it's stripped-down traditional folk songs, very back to basic, kind of a complete career change for her. And it won her a bunch of Latin Grammy and Grammy nominations and one Latin Grammy when - she had so much fun, she did it again. So earlier this year, she did "Musas Vol. 2"...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Which is what we're listening to.

CONTRERAS: Right now this is "Luz De Luna." It's gorgeous.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LUZ DE LUNA")

NATALIA LAFOURCADE: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Que delicia. I used to be the Mexico correspondent for NPR. And heading back there now, I notice that this is a very important time in Mexico, where there is this pivotal election. Drug violence is exploding. The most murders on record that Mexico's ever seen. And I just wonder - how is that translating into people's music and how artists - they're feeling? You talk to them. What are they telling you?

CONTRERAS: The musicians from Mexico that I've talked to over the years since doing this show as the violence has increased, as, you know, with the 43 missing students and all of that - what a lot of them say is that we have to live our lives. A form of protest against the existential threat is to keep living the life and keep creating. That's what we have here. We have a collection of music with different styles, different genres that reflect...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The great diversity of Mexico.

CONTRERAS: Completely.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. So let's play the next tune.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ACCION Y GLORIA")

ELY GUERRA: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: There's a whole new younger generation of rockeros. And this band from northern Mexico is called Centavrvs or The Centaurs. That was the nickname for Pancho Villa, El Centauro del Norte, spent a lot of time on horseback in the northern part of the country during the Mexican Revolution. This track is a really cool collaboration with another Mexican artist. Her name is Ely Guerra, very nice track called "Accion Y Gloria."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ACCION Y GLORIA")

GUERRA: (Singing in Spanish).

CENTAVRVS: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: OK, Lulu. Are you ready for something different?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. I am ready for something different.

CONTRERAS: OK. Check this one out.

(SOUNDBITE OF TROKER'S "EL AUTOMOVIL GRIS")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is this?

CONTRERAS: This is Troker, one of my favorite bands from Mexico these days. This is a jazz band, an experimental jazz band, a psychedelic jazz band but jazz band nonetheless. They're from Guadalajara. And they reflect the connection Mexicans have with music from all over the world and how absorbed it is into their own national identity...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Again, that diversity that Mexico has.

CONTRERAS: Oh, my God. I really love their approach to improvisation because while they're a jazz band, they're not afraid to mix it up with accordions, electric instruments, trumpets, horns, even turntables. This is one of my favorite albums of theirs. It came out a few years ago. It's called "1919 Musica Para Cine." It's a soundtrack to a silent film from 1919. Now, some tracks are very short, but their imagination runs wild on this album. Listen to all this sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF TROKER'S "EL AUTOMOVIL GRIS")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It indeed sounds very cinematic (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF TROKER'S "EL AUTOMOVIL GRIS")

CONTRERAS: Listen to that. There's an acquired taste in a way.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah.

CONTRERAS: But, you know, it's very different, but it's part of this massive landscape.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Next up.

CONTRERAS: OK. Something more mellow, something more Sunday morning but with a bit of a sonic edge. This is Carla Morrison.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AZUCAR MORENA")

CARLA MORRISON: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is more my speed.

CONTRERAS: Right. I know. I...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I know.

CONTRERAS: ...Throw something in there every now and then.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

CONTRERAS: I know you. She's one of my favorite vocalists ever. She's from the north of Mexico. Her last album was called "Amor Supremo." And it featured her gorgeous vocals but produced with a really cool layer of electronics that really stood out when it was released a few years ago. She's due for a new album. I can't wait, and it doesn't matter when it comes out because I'll probably dig it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, Carla Morrison sends us off to Mexico. That's Felix Contreras of NPR's Alt.Latino getting us musically ready for our reporting trip to Mexico this coming week. Thank you so much.

CONTRERAS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARLA MORRISON SONG, "AZUCAR MORENA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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