Nuestra Música es lo Mejor
Lamadrid brings tradition to todos
By Robin Babb
“Nuestra Música”—now in its 16th year—is a performance that brings together generations of Hispano musicians performing from our state. It’s a unique opportunity for musicians and listeners alike, as this music doesn’t get a lot of exposure.
“It’s important to show people what our musical heritage is,” says Enrique Lamadrid, Professor of Latin American studies at UNM and co-founder of the Nuestra Música series. “This music is hard to come by if you don’t live in a traditional community. It’s not in the media, it’s not on the radio, it’s not on TV except for shows like this. This is truly New Mexico folk music.”
Romero and Garcia take the stage together to perform an indita, a particularly Nuevo Mexicano type of song that’s steeped in the Native American tradition of vocables, or words without meaning. This tradition rose from the large tribal gatherings, where many groups didn’t speak each other’s languages—so they composed songs with easy-to-sing sounds.
Hispano folk music consists of corridos and canciones that come from all over—across the sea from the Iberian Peninsula, northward from Mexico—to be distilled in the cultural melting pot that is New Mexico. It’s a local tradition with ancient and far-reaching roots.
The musicians playing at Nuestra Música are keeping that tradition alive. Many of the songs being played are from the 19th century, while others are new songs composed in the traditional style. Two of the musicians—Brenda Romero and David Garcia—specialize in traditional folk music. “They’re a Ph.D. ethnomusicologist and an anthropologist [respectively],” says Lamdrid, so studying this music is their life’s work.
Romero and Garcia take the stage together to perform an indita, a particularly Nuevo Mexicano type of song that’s steeped in the Native American tradition of vocables, or words without meaning. This tradition rose from the large tribal gatherings, where many groups didn’t speak each other’s languages—so they composed songs with easy-to-sing sounds. “Some inditas are religious, some are for dancing,” says Lamadrid. “[inditas are] kind of New Mexico’s gift to the world. It’s a lyric and narrative genre that occurs only here.”
Also performing is Roberto Mondragon, the former New Mexico Lieutenant Governor who happens to be a very accomplished musician. Mondragon frequently plays and composes songs in the old style of a corrido, or ballad—a song that tells a story, usually of the courageous adventures of a hero from folklore. Sometimes, though, the subject matter is a bit less weighty, as in Mondragon’s ballad about an old beat-up car that only he can get to start.
Then there’s the Nueva Canción songs. According to Enrique Lamadrid, the Nueva Canción movement is “the Latin equivalent of the [US] folk revival. [Just like] how Joan Baez and Bob Dylan started out playing old folk songs—that’s what’s happened all across Latin America.” Similarly to the folk revival in the US, Nueva Canción has been the genre of social uprising and people’s power in Latin America and Iberia. Cipriano Vigil is New Mexico’s premiere Nueva Canción musician, says Lamadrid.
Cipriano Vigil performs with his entire family—three generations of Vigils all playing on stage together, including Cipriano’s grandson, who looks to be about five years old. They all play guitar and Cipriano sings of love, of death and of the struggles facing the world today.
One of my favorite performers of the show is Antonia Apodaca, the 93-year-old accordionist who performs with the Trio Jalapeños. Apodaca shares her recipe for a long, healthy life in an impromptu song behind stage: “Chile in the morning, chile in the evening, chile at suppertime.” She’s been playing Hispano folk music for decades, starting out playing with her family, and later with her husband for the international crowds of workers at the mining camps in Wyoming. Despite her age, Apodaca shows no signs of slowing down. “She gets a bunch of gigs!” says Lamadrid. “People have no idea what a sophisticated musician she is. She knows tons of traditional poetry that she can recite from memory.”
Consuelo Luz adds another interesting element to the genre: the hidden Jewish legacy of New Mexico. Spanish people of Jewish descent were among the first Europeans to settle in the north of New Mexico during the Spanish conquest—though they were officially Catholic converts, many of them preserved their religious and cultural practices in secret. Luz, being descended from some of those Jewish settlers, plays and preserves their music. She slips naturally between Spanish and English in the middle of songs, accompanying herself with traditional Hispano guitar finger-picking melodies.
Lamadrid, who has spent years studying Hispano music and who writes and lectures frequently on the topic, believes that it’s important that this music is preserved for future generations.“It belongs to the people—that’s the definition of ‘folk music,’” he says. “It’s the stuff that you sing in the shower, the stuff that your mom sang to you when you went to sleep. The songs you sing with your buddies. No one’s making any money off of it.”
Most the songs on the program are in Spanish, as is much of the between-songs banter—but there are English subtitles.
You can watch these and many other legendary New Mexican musicians perform at the Lensic while you’re camped out on the couch next Wednesday evening.
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