On the bus to the Tuesday Market recently — which I wrote about in my previous WOW post — the driver played Andean flute music on his sound system. It was the same type of music played by young Peruvian musicians in the subways of New York when I lived there for twenty years.
This music, in my experience, casts a spell. In New York City, harried, rushing commuters would stop in their tracks to listen to these performers, drop money into their collection-hat, and sometimes buy their tapes. On the bus last week here in San Miguel, the passengers were enthralled by these flutes, as was I.
In the courtyard next door now I hear a young Mexican mother singing along with her radio as she hangs her just-washed laundry on the line. I don’t stare at her or make myself known; I just listen. Her voice is beautiful, rich, throaty and sure. If she were in a choir, I think she’d sing in the alto section. She sings unselfconsciously, from the heart, seemingly unaware of her talent or her hidden appreciative audience, me.
Elsewhere in my neighborhood, I watch as an old Mexican man in a white cowboy hat builds a brick wall, brick by brick, with toughened experienced hands, while music from a boom-box entertains him. He’s listening to love songs, I know, because I can pick up a few words here and there: corazón (heart), amor (love), querida (darling), conmigo (with me), a ti (to you)… He is too busy working to notice me noticing him. I’m guessing this is at least the thousandth brick wall he’s built in his long life; and I’m guessing, too, that the love songs help to make his hard labor softer.
Music is everywhere here in Mexico – not just from the handsome iconic mariachi ensembles in their tight-fitting, glittering outfits (called charros), and matching broad-brimmed sombreros, at all celebratory events — and not just from the ice cream vendors in their motorized carts plying the streets of the children-filled neighborhoods. The gas-delivery truck announces itself with music, as well. And the junk man in his rickety pickup, hawking such items as old stoves and used mattresses, blasts recorded piano ragtime music. It’s positively endearing.
You’ll find music in the mercados (markets) and supermarkets, in the buses, in taxis, and coming, of course, from the souped-up cars of young muchachos (guys) driving by. You’ll see grown men lovingly carrying their unsheathed guitars, ready to sit on any park bench and play, just for the joy of it. You’ll hear ooompah-oompah music that reminds you of Germany or Poland, as well as flute music from Peru. It’s a mezcla (mix) of music from everywhere and every era.
According to the the website Facts About Mexico, “Mexico is home to some of the most diverse music in the world, celebrating the local culture throughout the country. Influenced by Mexico’s peoples and their past, it celebrates life and love. It talks of history, legends, and overcoming oppression. Above all, it is a vibrant part of Mexican life.” (For more on the types and history of Mexican music, visit: https://www.facts-about-mexico.com/mexican-music.html.)
But it’s more than that, it seems to me. The music here, in all its diversity, has shaped the people’s lives. Mexicans don’t just sit and listen to music or get up and dance to it. They breathe it, drink it, eat it, work to it. For them, it appears, music is not just a pleasant diversion, it’s a necessity of life. And all those love songs throughout their lives have permanently sweetened their hearts and uplifted their souls.
As one young person put it, “Music is in Mexicans’ veins, like sugar is in the veins of those who drink a lot of Coke.”
I’ve only recently realized that of all the places I’ve been to and lived in in the world, Mexico is the most musical country I’ve known.
Being a predominantly visual person, I’ve always thought I could live in a silent world – that is, if I were forced to do so. I love the tranquility of silence. But Mexico is changing me. After nearly six years here I see I’ve developed a real thirst for its happy, heart-filled, soulful music, in all its delicious flavors. I wouldn’t want to live without this now.