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  • Música Norteña: Mexican Migrants Creating a Nation Between Nations
  • Maria Herrera-Sobek
Música Norteña: Mexican Migrants Creating a Nation Between Nations. By Cathy Ragland. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2009. Pp. xvi, 252. Figures. Maps. Halftones. References. Index. $29.95 paper.

Cathy Ragland has written a splendid scholarly study of música norteña, which originated in the Mexican northern borderlands. Although designated as "northern" music, as Ragland notes this music is played throughout Mexico as well as the United States wherever Mexican Americans or Mexican immigrant communities reside. Therefore, música norteña can be heard in Detroit, Chicago, San Jose, San Antonio, Los Angeles, and of course in the different urban and rural areas of Mexico. Ragland's brilliant and informative study is composed of an introduction, five chapters, and a conclusion. The chapters expound on the significant contributions música norteña has made to Mexican and Mexican-American communities. The five chapters bear the following titles: "Mexicanidad and Música Norteña in the 'Two Mexicos'"; "Regional Identity, Class, and the Emergence of 'Border Music'"; "Border Culture, Migration, and the Development of Early Música Norteña"; "Modern Música Norteña and the Undocumented Immigrant"; and "Los tigres del Norte and the Transnationalization of Música Norteña in the Working-Class Mexican Diaspora." The conclusion highlights and summarizes this musical genre's contributions.

Ragland's introduction clarifies the difference between música norteña and música tejana or Texas-Mexican conjunto (group of musicians) music. She quotes the description given by Miguel Luna, the founder of the norteña musical duet, El Palomo y El Gorrión (The Dove and the Sparrow), who highlights the difference between the two musical styles. Luna states, "Tejano music is more refined, more delicate, more difficult to play, but rhythmically it is steadier. I attribute this to the fact that in the United States, the musicians have more devices and better sound and this gives them the advantage of being more prepared and perfecting their sound" (p. 2). Luna explains further how Tejano music is more sophisticated in some ways, as its practitioners frequently have incorporated new technology such as drums and electric bass into the group (conjunto) playing this particular style of music. He also points out how norteña music is "rougher, but with more feeling, and it is simpler. The people feel it more. In northern Mexico, and among the immigrants in the United States, are the people who work 'sunup to sundown' and practice [music] only during the evenings, but with feeling and nostalgia" (p. 3).

Ethnic identity and national origin are highlighted in this study as important variables in who plays and listens to the two different styles of music. With respect to both performers and audience, norteña music is associated more with Mexican immigrants while [End Page 148] Tejano or conjunto music is more linked to assimilated Mexican Americans from Texas, though of course both are heard and played all over the United States and Mexico. Ragland continues to develop these two themes, as she expounds on the influence of the Mexican ballad tradition of corridos on norteña music, focusing particularly on the topic of migration from Mexico to the United States and how this theme is often articulated in the lyrics of both corridos and norteña music. The last chapter, titled "Los Tigres del Norte and the Transnationalization of Música Norteña in the Working-Class Mexican Diaspora," chronicles the amazing biography of this highly popular and successful group, the most famous group of performers of the two genres in the world. Other chapters likewise provide biographies of famous norteña music singers such as Ramón Ayala, El Piporro and such groups as Los Alegres de Terán.

Ragland includes photographs of famous performers as well as musical transcriptions and lyrics of highly popular norteña music and corridos. There is one error in translation. The song "Me Caíste del Cielo" (p. 120) is erroneously translated as "You Threw Me from the Sky," but should actually be "You Came to Me from Heaven." Nevertheless, the book is well done...


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