Category Archives: Music

Migration and Exile in Latin American Music

“A los mojados les dedico mi canción”, Los Tigres del Norte

On Sunday, October 20 Mexico’s La Jornada ran several stories on the US Latin@ experience. Among them was one focusing on migration songs. The piece focuses mainly on Mexican corridos, a genre which, as Américo Paredes and María Herrera-Sobek have shown in their groundbreaking works, has been a vehicle to document the experiences of migrants and borderlands inhabitants almost since the moment of the US occupation of northern Mexico. Within the limitations of a short newspaper article, it discusses a good sample of this repertoire. Inspired by it, I’d like to share some of the actual songs discussed in the article and add a new dimension to it, incorporating others about migration and exile from other Spanish-speaking traditions. The list of this kind of songs is very long and I will not do justice to all, but I offer this as a sample of the music that exists. Some of them appear as embedded videos, others as hyperlinks within the text. Continue reading

Remembering the San Patricios, “the Irish soldiers of Mexico”

Plaque commemorating the San Patricio Martyrs in Mexico City.

Plaque commemorating the San Patricio Martyrs in Mexico City.

As US troops invaded Mexico City, the August 20, 1847 battle of Churubusco marked an important turning point in the city’s defense. Today the results of that war are known to many (but, not surprisingly, not to all). In its aftermath the territory comprising the current states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and other regions (about half of Mexico’s territory) was ceded to the United States.

A lesser known chapter of this war is the role played by a battalion of Irish soldiers, recent immigrants to the United States, who deserted the US army to fight on the side of their fellow-Catholic Mexicans. As the references embedded in this post indicate, religion was not the only reason for these Irish to change sides. Questioning of the Polk administration’s expansionist and racist policies was also central to their defection. Continue reading

On musical reinterpretation

One of the things that calls my attention is the way in which songs are taken on by different cultures and traditions. Here are some of my favorite examples.

The Peruvian waltz, “Que nadie sepa mi sufrir” by Argentineans Angel Cabral and Enrique Dizeo, here interpreted by Agustín Irusta:


But made internationally famous as “La foule” by Edith Piaf: Continue reading

On music’s changing contexts

I have always been fascinated by the way in which music and songs (like all artistic production) are transformed at the moment of performance. It is often hard to know the composers original intent, and many times folk songs are the product of constant transformations, additions, substitutions and erasures. Literary scholars warn us against giving too much attention to the author’s intentionality, but that is not exactly what I want to address here right now. Rather I am interested in the way in which the moment when one experiences a song – its actual performance with the background that one has into its history – affects the way in which we come to understand the song’s significance. I will use my personal relationship with three particular songs to exemplify my point. Continue reading

Latinoamérica de Calle 13

One of my favorite music videos is Latinoamérica by Calle 13. I was moved by the way in which presented a diverse Latin America. The music, the languages, the faces, the geography, the labor, the struggle, the history. Loved the participation of Totó la Momposina, Susana Baca and Maria Rita. The music and the lyrics are so moving. Remember having heard it for the first time at around the time of the occupations:

Continue reading