The Bible tells us no prophet is accepted in his own land. In Latin America, rock and roll musicians tend to look to the U.S. or U.K. for inspiration. Here in Mexico, that leaves a yawning gulf between homegrown rock and roll, which tends to be polished and slick, and the wild, raw, raucous banda and norteño music that occupies the center of the pop universe.
I’m fascinated as to why that is. Some of it has to do with class divisions: banda and the like are music for the campesinos and the working classes. The derogatory word for such stuff in Mexico is naco, or redneck. Everybody needs something to rebel against, and you’ve got to figure that a lot of Mexican middle-class kids see accordions and tubas as relics of grandpa’s music (or their country cousins’ music), and not part of the new world that they want to construct with their art.
You can’t blame them for it.
But there are also exciting examples in which the worlds collide. I was never really sold on the Nortec Collective, but I appreciate their attempt to fuse techno and norteño music and come up with something new. Monterrey’s El Gran Silencio seemed to buy into the idea of cultural fusion in an earthier, less theoretical way. When they’re on, their mix of dancehall, cumbia and rock and roll is pretty hard to beat.
Are more collisions inevitable? This March, the norteño superstars Los Tigres Del Norte were the headlining act in a Veracruz festival, Cumbre Tajin, that also featured the Pet Shop Boys and Smashing Pumpkins. The crowd, according to one Mexican newspaper, met Los Tigres with a “scream of ecstasy“; I wish I would have been there to take the sociological measure of the screamers: were they indie rock kids? Their parents? Both?
One of the most interesting mix-and-mash, rockstar-meets-naco moments occurred last year, when the Spanish rock star Enrique Bunbury covered the ragged-but-right Colombian vallenato hit “Diario de un Borracho.” Bunbury finds the gothic, Bukowskian strain in the song (not hard to do in a tune about wallowing in one’s own drunkenness), and highlights it with an appropriately Tom Waits-ian makeover.
The result is pretty cool — a spooky bummer of a song, though I think I still prefer Alfredo Gutierrez’ vallenato version. Sometimes you just want the naco.