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I recently returned from a vacation in Santa Fe, New Mexico. While there, the city was celebrating its annual Fiesta de Santa Fe, which the community has been celebrating for over 300 years.
While at Fiesta, and at every eating and drinking establishment I visited in town, the sounds of New Mexican music were constant. Watching the performance of Al Hurricane Jr. led to my interest in writing about this unique sound. Here are some interesting elements of this style.
Al Hurricane Jr. is the son of Al Hurricane, dubbed “The Godfather of New Mexico Music.” The genres that both father and son perform are Norteño (Mexican Polkas), Ranchera (songs originating from ranches, typically about love, patriotism or nature, with a polka, waltz or bolero meter. They often include a “grito mexicano” – a spanish “yeehaw!”), Corrido (a ballad that is similar to a European waltz, usually containing a prologue, then the story, then a moral and finally a farewell by the singer), and Cumbia (a folkloric rhythm and dance from Colombia).
Some of the unique musical instruments that are played, in addition to classical guitar and keyboards, include the accordion, Anasazi flute, bajo sexto, banjo, bullroarer, dobro, fiddle, güiro, mandolin, melodica, rattles, saxophone, trumpet, vihuela, and whistle. Watching a tight band perform with all of these instruments is a real treat.
Different bands that play this music are mariachi, norteño, duranguense, Tejano and grupera bands. Mariachis typically include trumpet, accordion, fiddle and guitar. Norteños utilize the accordion, bajo sexto, bass, drums and saxophone. Duranguense bands use saxophone, trombone, and bass drum, along with a synthesizer to play melody and tuba bassline. Tejano (aka Tex-Mex music) incorporates the accordion, bajo sexto, bass and electric guitar, drums, cowbell, jam block, trumpet, saxophone, and piano. Grupera bands are closest to rock bands, using electric guitars, keyboards and drums.
Vocals are almost entirely in Spanish. Sometimes, Native American languages are incorporated into New Mexican music – languages of the Tiwa, Hopi, Zuni, Apache and Navajo. And once in a while, you might even hear a little Spanglish.
Oh…did I mention? Demi Lovato is from Albuquerque? That’s Music of New Mexico…but I’m pretty sure you won’t hear her singing in a mariachi band!
Here is Al Hurricane Jr., performing a Corrido titled La Martina, in 2007. You’ll definitely get the waltz tempo! Enjoy!