The Americas 60.4 (2004) 641-642
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This book about rock music in Mexico says as much about intellectual life in Mexico as it does about rockmex. Published by the progressive National Institute for Anthropology and History (INAH), rather than a commercial or university press, this has allowed more opportunity to take risks than is usually the case with academic publishing in the United States. It is a very Mexican book in that it seems to continually ask the question: What does rock mean for us? It also has some of the qualities of a website on Mexican rock. Like a book by an obsessive fan or an experimental postmodern text, it is full of lists.
The first chapter situates rock music in the desmadre that is Mexico City. The second chapter discusses issues of eroticism in rock music generally. A discussion of genres of rock and roll and then a bibliography of rock music in Mexico follows. Torres writes about the "young punk protesters, who covered their faces with ski-masks and bandanas" that are a part of the Revolutionary Antiauthoritarian Youth (JAR) organization and who showed up at a blues, metal and rock music festival at the Angel of Independence: "We are not guerillas but we will soon be if we continue to be annoyed!" (p. 29). Somewhat confusingly, a discussion of state policy for the arts in Mexico veers quite suddenly into a discussion of attempts by the government in the 1990s to reach out to youth through rock music. Among those funded were my friends from the group Colectivo Caótico whose members hail from Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl. As "Baco" and "Radio," two members of the collective stated: "We make music, literature in prose, verse and stories, sculpture and painting. We dedicate ourselves to punk and this has created an interest on the part of the gang [banda]" (p. 90). Yet these punk rockers from the sprawling slums of Mexico City disappear from the text as suddenly as they appeared, lost behind a long list of participants in a 1995 seminar on Rock and Literature.
The book moves too quickly and includes too many topics to answer the central question: how and to what extent has rock and pop music become Mexican popular culture? Formally, there is little difference between Mexican pop music and contemporary music elsewhere. Some composers such as Jorge Reyes consciously incorporate prehispanic elements in their music. But the lyrics of some Mexican songs deal with distinctively Mexican themes—Torres gives a list that runs for pages—such as corruption, fraud, oppression of young people and the violence of [End Page 641] the granaderos (riot police). Rock music enters Mexico in the 1950s as an imported commodity. The initial groups copy transnational rock and in the 1960s rock gradually becomes Mexican by adapting the corrido and bolero. There are some differences in percussion from international rock, but the process of becoming Mexican is easier to see in the lyrics. By the 1970s a distinctively Mexican voice emerges with Three Souls in my Mind whose lyric from the song "Abuso de Autoridad" (Abuse of Authority) is practically a mantra: "To live in Mexico is the worst/our government is very bad/And nobody can protest because they'll be brought to jail."
But the Mexican habitus, in a Bourdieuian sense, is also a class habitus. While middle-class kids rebel by listening to an emergent rockmex in the 1970s, working-class kids in the poor margins of the capital soon discover punk. (Torres provides a list of early Mexican punk bands.) Meanwhile, the Mexican government alternates between subsidizing and repressing rock concerts. Middle-class youth (sometimes with their parents) begin listening to free or subsidized rock concerts in Coyoacán, meanwhile youth gangs organize their own punk shows in the remote barrios of Mexico City. Today the Tianguis del Chopo weekly outdoor rock "flea market" marginalizes punk youth; if...