- Musical Ritual in Mexico City: From the Aztec to NAFTA
Any serious consideration of the long and complex history of musical ritual and culture in Mexico City is a hugely ambitious project. Towards this end, Mark Pedelty has produced a well-informed volume that serves as a respectable introduction to this important subject. Beginning with a discussion of indigenous society at the time of the initial consolidation of the Aztec empire, Pedelty describes various instruments fashioned out of wood, skins, clay, metal and other materials as well as the role of the musician in the capital city of Tenochtitlan. Duly noted is the idea that significant cultural differences existed throughout Central Mexico while at the same time Pedelty rightly asserts, "all Mesoamerican states emphasized coordination of music, dance and ritual performance" (p. 41). As the colonial era dawned, the Spaniards used music and ritual to assert their control over native peoples. The author interestingly compares Mexica and Spanish practices and describes a gradual process of Hispanicization taking place over three centuries as well as examples of syncretism and resistance to European culture in the New World. Various topics ranging from the once controversial jarabe tapatío and waltz to the development of the son musical genre subsequently punctuate Pedelty's consideration of the nineteenth century. Following this, the real strength of the book is revealed in the author's discussion of early twentieth-century music.
Beginning with a brief history of the rural corrido, Pedelty offers an informative overview of the genre by drawing on scholars such as Robert Redfield, Celedonia Serrano Martínez, Américo Paredes and María Herrera-Sobek. Wondering about the present state of the corrido, he invokes Elijah Wald's recent study on drug smuggling ballads (narcocorridos). Here, Pedelty suggests that—aside from contraband [End Page 283] themed music—the genre has largely lost its "revolutionary" social character (p. 135). Nevertheless, the troubadour tradition continues to thrive—even if songs today deal more with contraband and outlaws than with social justice. In querying popular music for such themes, perhaps the author might have done more to connect themes introduced in considering the corrido with his later discussion of various socially conscious contemporary rock artists such as El Tri, Café Tacuba, Maldita Vecindad and Tijuana No! In this vein, the author later confirms, "Mexican rock . . . has retained its ritual intensity and political focus" (p. 270).
Pedelty traces the transculturation of the Cuban danzón and bolero styles to Mexico by placing the development of this music within the larger social context. Appropriately, mass consumerism, electronic media (phonograph records, radio, film) as well as complex changes in political and cultural (particularly gender) identifications are touched upon. While the author mentions a handful of important composers such as Guty Cárdenas, María Grever and Consuelo Velázquez, Pedelty rightly focuses on the music of popular composer Agustín Lara to illustrate Mexico's entrance into the "modern age." Here, the author offers a concise discussion of Lara's mystique; his early days as a brothel pianist, his obsession with women, and his contributions to the Golden Age of Mexican cinema. Another particularly informative chapter deals with Mexico's "classical" composers in the post-revolutionary age. Seeking to fashion a new, "national" music, artists such as Manuel Ponce, Carlos Chávez, Blas Galindo and the iconoclastic Silvestre Revueltas are discussed in very informative terms. Although a relatively small circle, Pedelty describes how these composers "parallel[ed] their muralist brethren [in] maintain[ing] a heated internecine rivalry" (p. 214).
This is a book that covers a wide swath of historical and musical material. Occasionally, the author breaks from his narrative to offer insightful and often entertaining personal anecdotes. Aside from the aforementioned rock groups, later chapters include material on mariachi and the northern ranchera genres. An exceptional work, Musical Ritual in Mexico City deserves a wide readership.