There is vitality in Mexican music, and it's everywhere. Musicians in bars, on the bus,
in restaurants, on the street, in the plazas, all offer their services. I've hired mariachis in
groups of nine, wearing charro outfits, as well as conjuntos (five-member bands) dressed
in white, and even a lone guitarist, Ricardo Reys, in Boca Grande, who asked a few ques-
tions and then made up “my song” on the spot. I'm pleased with marimbas in Veracruz,
and I can listen to a fellow with a violin joined with a guitarist. They come singly and in
bands. There are Tunas, student clubs dressed in Spanish costume. They stroll in and out
of restaurants and play romantic ballads. You'll find musicians wheeling harps down the
street, looking for a customer. There is chamber music and street music. Mexico is a land
of musical joy and often has a deeper meaning.
Corridos, Mexican ballads, are a source of history. Songs are “oral newspapers.” They of-
ten tell you about the time and place of an event and highlight a hero defending his rights.
Sometimes the hero is infamous, as in the current batch of Narco Corridos.
I first noticed this when I bought a Cancionero, a Mexican songbook. I wanted to read “ La
Cucaracha ,” especially the part about the cockroach who ran out of marijuana.
I learned a couple of things: “ La Cucaracha ” refers to a “camp follower,” and she sells
everything, yep, that's one story. Then another told me that, “La Cucaracha is Huerta” the
dictator who's unclean in his habits and who also smoked the weed.
That was fun to read, although questionable in scholarship. But I did learn from “ La Cu-
caracha ” that sarapes come from Satillo, real men from Chihuahua, and the best looking
gals from Jalisco.
Further along in the songbook, it seemed like every town in Mexico had a hero and recor-
ded the news in a corrido. I read the lyrics to “ La Persecución de Villa ,” which told about
Pancho Villa's escape from Black Jack Pershing with the Americans in pursuit. Reading
the story, read like a journalist's report.
But Professor James “Big Jim” Griffith, folklorist in Tucson, Arizona, corrected my per-
ceptions. “Corridos are more than news, they are editorials, and they express opinions.”
He's right, of course. They are emotional and one-sided in their viewpoint. We would not
consider Pancho's raid on Columbus, New Mexico, heroic, but the corrido presented a
story like David and Goliath, and the fact was Pancho got away.
I called Big Jim because I was interested in knowing whether Mexico had cowboy songs,
and he was an expert. He collected corridos from the Arizona-Sonoran borderlands and