- Hispanic Folk Music of New Mexico and the Southwest: A Self-Portrait of a People by John Donald Robb
This extensive volume is a compilation of transcribed folk music drawn in large part from the northern New Mexico region, but includes versions of folk songs from Mexico, Spain, and the American Southwest. As such the songs date from the Spain of pre-Conquest days through the twentieth century. It is a re-release of a collection first published in 1980 of various folk songs collected by John Donald Robb over a thirty-five-year period as he traveled from town to town throughout northern New Mexico, diligently recording the folk songs sung by myriad local and regional singers. To access the songs he recorded, one can now go online to the website of the Center for Southwest Research at the University of New Mexico’s Zimmerman Library and listen to the music he so painstakingly preserved.
Robb divides the index of this voluminous collection by organizing the songs into genres such as “Secular Songs and Melodies (romances, corridos, canciones, among others),” “Religious Song Texts and Melodies,” such as alabanzas and rogativas, and “Instrumental Melodies” such as “Matachines Dance and Social Dances.” There are literally hundreds of romances and corridos as well as numerous other types of folk songs, both religious and secular, in the work. The themes of the songs Robb included in this collection deal with an incredibly broad range of social, cultural, and economic [End Page 201] issues, from the mundane to the miraculous, to the macabre and the maudlin, and a good many themes in between, making the subtitle of the work, “A Self-Portrait of a People,” entirely appropriate.
Robb translated the songs into English—a gargantuan task—and explains in his introduction how he decided to take slight translating liberties so as to keep the meter and rhyme scheme as close to the original Spanish as possible. The result is an extremely lively, nuanced, and sensitive rendition of the songs in English translation. He also provides a partial music score of most of the folksongs, which precedes the lyrics—meticulously transcribed in both Spanish and English.
According to Robb, many of the romances he encountered being sung in northern New Mexico in the 1940s to the 1970s (when he did most of his recordings) can be traced back to the Spain of earlier centuries. The themes tend to deal with history and historic personages, but include pastoral images of unfaithful ladies and unrequited love, among others, which one naturally associates with the troubadours and jongleurs of Spain’s bygone eras. In certain instances, he has included several variants of the same romance, with renditions sung by various artists, which affords the reader insight into how the songs varied based on individual balladeers’ interpretations. To cite just one example, one of the prominent songs Robb has transcribed—with eleven variants—is the romance “Delgadina,” in which a father attempts to seduce his daughter, whom he punishes by imprisoning—and withholding food and water—when she refuses his incestuous advances. When Delgadina pleads with her mother to bring her some food and some water, in one of the versions, the mother shows her daughter no sympathy, saying, “Delgadina, hija mía, / yo no te puedo dar agua / porque desobedeciste / lo que tu papá mandaba” (43). In another version, the mother, showing her daughter even less sympathy, angrily replies to her daughter’s pleading for food and water by blaming her: “—Quítate de ahí, Delgadina, / quítate de ahí, perra mala. / Siete años hace son hoy / que por ti estoy mal casada” (36). In these versions and others included in the volume, one can easily see how drastically the storyline changes, depending on which singer renders his or her version of the song. Many of these songs are about love, others disillusionment. Still others describe great accomplishments or war, while others deal with infidelity and abandonment...