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The Mexican Son, Past and Present

Summary and Keywords

Among the many musical traditions of Mexico, the son is one of the most representative of the richness and diversity of Mexican culture. Son (or sones) is a generic term that describes both a complex of genres and the various regional subgenres that make up that complex. Son is a type of traditional music performed by small ensembles, with or without singing, and danced. It serves to entertain, but is also performed at celebratory occasions and festivals as well as in rituals. Although sones appear throughout Mexico marked by regional differences in both instrumentation and performance styles, they share common characteristics that define the genre as a whole, musically (i.e., their rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic structures), lyrically, and choreographically. Because of the particular cultural traits and sociocultural contexts that each son subgenre encompasses, it can be argued that regional sones are a powerful expression of Mexican regional musics, cultures, and social identities.

Born as a hybrid genre out of the intermixing of European, American Indian, African, and Afro-Caribbean musical elements and contexts, Mexican sones have moved through time defined by many as a symbol of Mexican identity, even if the very concept of that “Mexican identity” has changed over time. What might be called the son’s “Golden Age” lasted from the 1890s until the middle of the 20th century. By the 1960s, sones were in serious decline all around Mexico: they had lost the favor of their audiences, old performers had passed away, and new generations did not engage with these musical traditions. Cultural politics contributed to selective processes through which some son subgenres faded away. Sociopolitical processes from the 1930s to the 1980s contributed to the re-contextualization of the Mexican son through modified versions of sones staged and broadcast in theatres, radio stations, and film productions. Post-revolutionary nationalism, the music industry, and folkloric ballets created these new versions and exercised an ideological control that both affected popular musical expressions and shaped musical tastes. Changes in urbanization and life conditions transformed social relationships and furthered this intense transformation.

With fewer performance occasions and little support from either the government or private patrons, several regional son subgenres became thin and isolated, with minimal projection outside their regions. In the 1980s, some of the son subgenres underwent a renaissance owing to various private and official initiatives that infused new life to the music. This article provides an overview of the son, past and present, connecting the relevance of this musical style with the social history of the country.

Keywords: Mexican son, Mexican music, traditional music, regional music, music revivals, construction of community, fandango, huapango, music and identity

Mexican music is as powerful as the country’s rich expressions of cultural diversity, reinvention, tradition, and modernity. If many people grew up listening to boleros, corridos, or norteña music, many others did so listening to sones in various formats, from the most traditional contexts to more contemporary settings in which sones are reinterpreted to fit in with new aesthetic tastes as well as new social, political, and economic conditions.1

Rather than just a musical genre, a type of traditional music performed by small ensembles (with or without singing, and danced), or a term that refers to different regional musical expressions and the musical complex they form, the son is a musical experience in which music making and human interaction come together. Embedded in the son is the musical heritage of the region where it is lived, consumed, and performed, as well as a social history, a worldview, and a way of living. Sones speak of food, medicine, beliefs, and crafts particular to those regions and communities. They are a means of communicating with others, of building community, of understanding the world. They establish a link between past and present and provoke a sense of belonging to a time and place and to a group of people that for many is fundamental to their existence. Whether maintaining traditional forms or reinterpreting them, the son continues to be a driving force in the Mexican array of musical expressions and is key in the articulation of cultural, ethnic, regional, and collective identities. Although sones are an expression of both indigenous and mestizo cultures, this article focusses on sones as lived, experienced, performed, and recreated by mostly various mestizo groups.2

While each regional son has its own specific characteristics—particular instrumental ensembles, dance styles, performance practice nuances, and texts—they bear striking similarities in overall musical form, harmonic structure, and rhythmic features, as well as the social occasions on which the music is performed. Most Mexicans understand son as a generic term used to describe any of the various regional mestizo son traditions that are organized around the singing of coplas (a kind of poetic verse in strophic form) and whose instrumental ensembles differ. The dance, generally zapateado (footwork) on top of a wooden platform called tarima, tabla, or artesa depending on the region, is central to the ensemble.

Historical Overview

The history of Mexican music is closely linked to the country’s social and political history. Since the beginning of the 1500s, the mestizaje, in a diversity of geographic and economic conditions, forged these specific regional musical prototypes, resulting in a mosaic of musical cultures that are a reflection of musical elements, contexts, and experiences embedded in both colonial and postcolonial times. Mestizo music took shape in association with racial intermixing during the colonial era. In the case of the son, historical records indicate that its origins lie in the corpus of secular music imported from Spain during the colonial period (1521–1810). Sones, as we know them today, emerged toward the end of the 18th century as a musical style to reflect a “consciousness of regional cultures,” and as a “meaningful expression of cultural values, identities, and needs.”3

Embedded in sones are the cultural, social, and aesthetic elements and contexts from indigenous, European, and African populations. We can think of sones as what Bonfil Batalla called “cultura propia,” people’s own cultural expression, a new cultural product in new contexts and with new meanings in which none of the original cultural/social elements are found in a “pure” stage.4

In tracing the origins of the son, Gabriel Saldívar considers prior sung verse forms from Spain (letrillas, coplas, seguidillas, and coplillas) as direct predecessors of the genre, establishing a similarity among the form, literary content, and metric structure of the former and the coplas used in sones.5 During the colonial era, sones—known then by different names—were associated with secular singing, dancing, and instrumental performance, which often involved chordophones.6

Through the written denunciations to the Inquisition that survive from the end of the 17th century and the 18th century of the performances of sones in popular festivities, we know that this musical genre had a significant presence—along with other musical forms such as seguidillas, jarabes, and fandangos—in popular musical expressions.

Aside from secular fiestas, religious festivities such as oratorios and escapularios served as a cover for profane musical practices and a means of ridiculing Spanish religion, power, and domination. Singing, dancing, and the playing of instruments such as the harp and the guitar were part of these celebrations strongly condemned by the Inquisition.7

During the 18th century, the son appeared to be hybridizing with the seguidilla, the jarabe, and the fandango (a song form danced to by couples).8 Because of the content of the music and the lyrics, as well as the similarities in rhyming systems between the jarabe and the son, some scholars suggest that the genres had a shared origin background.9 At the beginning of the 19th century, the jarabe was defined as a musical composition with five distinctive sections: introduction, sung copla, zapateado, descanso or paseo (rest or walk), and ending. These “airs” or musical sections were transformed into sones through the introduction of coplas, refrains, counterpoint accompaniment, and instrumental interludes, while the jarabes largely maintained the original structure. At present, the sequence of specific sones or “airs” in the jarabes is determined by region and by the cultural group interpreting them.10 Even today, the son appears to be undifferentiated from the jarabe in some Mexican regions—particularly in the Tierra Caliente of Michoacán and Guerrero—as certain jarabe melodies are used in specific sones. In other regions, the jarabe appears as a distinctive genre consisting of a suite of old sones.

Popular musics entering through the Caribbean port of Veracruz or through the Pacific port of Acapulco were spread through the country via commercial routes, markets, soldiers moving through the country, popular theater, and touring musicians, among others.11 In the last third of the 18th century, the theater became the most important means for the transmission of sones and dances. Theatrical productions began to include genres of local character, known then as sonecitos del país (little sones of the country) or sonecitos de la tierra (little sones of the homeland), together with other compositions of European origin.12 Sonecitos del país were performed as part of tonadillas escénicas, short theatrical numbers that incorporated music and were used in the zarzuelas, the popular Spanish genre of musical theatre.13 Just as the characters featured in zarzuelas were of clear Spanish influence, tonadillas escénicas portrayed characters that would have been interpreted as Mexican and plots appealing to the lower (popular) classes. This combination was decisive in the success of these performances with the popular theater’s mixed audiences. Some of the sones (or sonecitos) performed in that period—such as “La bamba,” “El bejuquito,” “La indita,” and “El gusto”—are still performed today as part of the repertoires of specific regional sones. By 1790, the performance of sonecitos del país between theatrical acts was well established.14

Thus, the performances of sonecitos del país within the tonadillas escénicas were a crucial step in the development and growing popularity of the former. It can be argued that toward the end of the 18th century, sonecitos del país—or sones—emerged as a musical genre embodying signs of a nascent Mexican musical identity, which would be consolidated by the time of Independence in 1810. During the Independence movement in the first half of the 19th century, the son—along with the jarabe—became explicitly associated with this new, Mexican identity and acceded to the status of national symbol.

As part of the drive to incorporate folkloric music—which represented “the spirit of the people” or der Volksgeist—into Western classical traditions during the 19th century, several composers arranged sones for use in classical repertoires. The name sonecitos del país was changed to aires nacionales or national songs/airs when they entered the salons and were incorporated in the piano repertoire.15 Sones such as “Los enanos,” “Las mañanitas,” “El palomo,” and “El zapateado” were performed in salons, and the scores for these arrangements began to be published in 1834. Carlos Curti arranged several sones to be performed by the Orquesta Típica Mexicana at the Cotton States Exhibition in New Orleans in 1884.16 Sones had become well and truly entrenched as a national symbol.

Under the Porfirio Díaz regime (1876–1910), the son lost the favor of the upper classes as the late 19th-century salons turned their gaze back to Europe. At the same time, the son spread in popularity in rural areas and flourished as a regional style that synthesized imported formative elements into original forms. These sones crystallized over time into a tapestry of regional musical cultures, each more strongly identified with its particular region (and even locality) than with the nation as a whole.

At the beginning of the 20th century, sones reached their peak in terms of both reach and popularity, serving as a means of musical and political expression for the masses and conveying the nationalistic feelings inspired by the Mexican Revolution, a sense of pride in “lo mexicano.”17 A great number of popular musicians bestowed the genre with specific regional stylistic nuances, and some of the regional subgenres expanded into the national realm.

In several rural areas, the son remained as a musical expression of popular culture. It was performed not only at festive occasions, but also on ritual and religious occasions such as burials, velorios (vigils) for saints, and any life-cycle celebration. The son, originally performed at haciendas (estates) and ranches under the patronage of hacendados (landowners), remained as a popular expression to accompany any festive occasion. It was at the center of the fiesta—called fandango, huapango, vaquería, or topada depending on the region—where musicians gathered around the tarima to play, sing, improvise verses and instrumental melodies, and dance all night. The fiesta was a social space where courtships, fights, and friendships, among other aspects of social and community life, were negotiated.

During the Mexican Revolution, an intense mobilization of personnel, troops, and other human resources took place. Musicians travelled constantly, and regional repertoires where exchanged, consumed, (re)appropriated, and (re)created in a constant flow. Once more, popular Mexican genres migrated through commercial routes and the activities of performing groups in urban and rural contexts, among others. Regional/cultural areas repertoires were consolidated at this time.

First Half of the 20th Century (1920–1950)

Cultural policies through the history of colonialism, nationalism, and liberalization have determined cultural processes and the deployment of particular cultural expressions to represent a nation, a region, a locality, a people. Such representations are constructs, imaginings created by official discourses to fit particular agendas. The period of 1920–1950 was decisive for Mexican culture in general and for the development of the son in particular. Politics and the rise of the film and recording industries gave new life to certain types of sones while pushing others toward oblivion.18 Cultural politics and media created selective processes that affected local styles. Firstly, post-revolutionary nationalism resulted in the consolidation of musical stereotypes, which obscure the diversity of Mexican regional music cultures. Secondly, radio, television, and cinema promoted particular son subgenres while neglecting others, and the repackaged version of sones broadcast and popularized by media transformed and influenced the genre as a whole. Lastly, urban musical practices along with the rise of folkloric ballets contributed to the re-contextualization of the musical expression, bringing it to settings far from its traditional contexts. Moreover, industry-friendly forms of regional styles appeared in Mexico City, which affected performers of regional local styles.19 Musically and contextually speaking, sones were transformed on those stages, and musical regionalism was reduced to musical styles that once were tied to a particular region and now were defined as representations of the nation, avoiding localisms and indexing regional style with national style, and connecting regions to one another under the banner of a common nation.

The decades after the Mexican Revolution witnessed the consolidation of state power. The post-revolutionary government set up an educational project, directed by José Vasconcelos (1882–1959), central to which was a nationalist discourse. The nationalist ideology allowed the state to increase its power at both the cultural and educational levels. During the 1920s, one of the top priorities for the Mexican government was the expansion of a rural school network (misiones culturales), which was carried out through the newly formed Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP), founded in 1921 by Vasconcelos. Beginning in 1922, Vasconcelos sent “cultural missionaries” to rural regions throughout Mexico to establish schools. The SEP introduced a curriculum in which populist ideas of socialist education would forge a common nation where mestizo and indigenous populations could revel in/celebrate a common past and build a unified future.

Central to the government’s educational and cultural programs were both the teaching and collecting of folkloric music, dance, arts, and crafts from throughout Mexico. The teaching of music and dance was key in the nationalization process. It was a means of reaching a significant sector of the general population to instill national sentiments and promote a version of history laced with symbols of Mexicanness, a romanticized indigenous past, and a cultural heritage fitted to the needs of the socialist agenda. Teachers, musicologists, scholars, anthropologists, and folklorists carried out the gathering of songs and dances throughout the country, a selective and uneven endeavor in terms of amount of material collected, quality, and regional representation. Stereotypes of songs, dances, and musical practices were molded to fit representations of “lo mexicano.”

Though the program aimed to acknowledge the country’s cultural diversity, the “cataloguing” of this diversity proved difficult. The selective approach to the collecting and cataloging of folkloric music carried out by the SEP was biased, as regions such as the Bajío—in central and west Mexico—were favored partly due to the fact that several intellectuals working for the nationalist project were from that region. In the process of fostering sentiments of belonging to a national project, these stereotypes created the profile of a Mexican mestizo with a dual racial heritage—indigenous and Spanish—at the expense of an African ancestry. Such stereotypes were reaffirmed through musical expressions that became the most representative of popular music, the jarabe tapatío (from Jalisco)—the vernacular Mexican dance per excellence—and the mariachi, which became a symbol of Mexican identity.20

Mexico’s entry in the late 1920s into the era of mass media (radio, phonograph, and cinema), the intense migration of rural people to urban areas, and a strong post-revolutionary nationalist sentiment rapidly transformed the cultural and social fabric of the country. The 1930s saw the triumph of ranchera songs, evoking love and the rural life that was quickly disappearing. The ranchera’s success coincided with the flowering of radio and the film industry. Films such as Allá en el Rancho Grande (1936) and Rayando el sol (1946) stereotyped images of rural life, and part of the strategy was to feature canciones rancheras, always accompanied by mariachi music. Ranchera singers such as Lucha Reyes, Jorge Negrete, Pedro Infante, Lola Beltrán, Vicente Fernández, José Alfredo Jiménez, and many others articulated the sensibilities and experiences of an audience that, in turn, idolized and identified with the songs and singers they loved.21 Music and singing style were part of the marketing in this new commercial process in which the film industry—under government control—created identities and reproduced stereotypes designed to be commercialized and filled with nationalistic images.22

If the Golden Age of cinema shaped the sound and visual image of the modern mariachi and consolidated the ensemble as a symbol of Mexican identity, radio broadcasts of the powerful XEW (Mexico’s first nationwide radio broadcasting system, which went on air in 1930) and record companies were responsible for creating stereotypes not only of ranchera songs, but of other musical styles including sones. Length, number, and content of stanzas were standardized, and playing techniques were adjusted to recording and broadcasting needs and structures. Moreover, musicians who moved to Mexico City during the 1930s and 1940s looking for performance opportunities introduced changes into their performances to fit in with urban scenarios and audience expectations. When these musicians returned to their places of origin, they brought with them these transformations.23

Another important element affecting the process of delineation and transformation of traditional music during the first half of the 20th century was the folkloric ballet. Under the nationalist banner, the government sponsored festivals that featured regional folkloric dances. Choreographers in dance companies begin to experiment with incorporating indigenous and folkloric dances into their ballet presentations. They sought to promote Mexican culture by creating staged performances of dance and music, informed by anthropological as well as historical research and by the customs of ancient and contemporary Mexico.

Although the creators of such performances were concerned with notions of authenticity, in reality they needed to subject folkloric musical and dance forms to considerable manipulation and transformation in order to make them suitable for the stage, as well as remove them from the folkloric contexts that gave them substance and meaning for their rural exponents. They selected specific characteristics to distinguish one ethnic group and one region from another. Folkloric ballets worked a process of selection across the broad spectrum of traditional dances and created stereotypes and representations of cultural expressions that, in the long run, affected the development of folkloric traditions in their regions of origin.24

Second Half of the 20th Century and Revival since the 1980s

Social conditions in Mexico changed rapidly at the turn of the century due to population growth, industrialization, and the opening up of its economy to foreign investment and trade, and migration from rural to urban centers since the 1940s. Migration to urban centers transformed ways of living, social structures, and processes, with enormous consequences for musical aesthetics and practices. The economic crisis of the 1980s and changes in the general conditions of the people (gains in education and health, growth of income per capita, and access to media) contributed to rapid transformations in society.

Between 1960 and 2000, the continuing increase in the influence of the mass media (radio, television, film, the press, and more recently the internet) contributed in fundamental ways to the increasing complexity of Mexican society. Beginning in the 1950s, musical programming on television shaped musical tastes as well, informing new ways of listening to and experiencing music as well as changing the face of festive occasions in both urban and rural areas. Television facilitated the penetration of foreign musics such as rock and roll and ballads into Mexican repertoires and markets.

Partly due to the popularity of rock and roll, in the early 1960s a number of local regional music genres decreased in popularity. Other genres were influenced by television. The canción romántica (romantic ballad) achieved great popularity. Singers imitated singing and performing styles such as those of Spaniards Raphael and Camilo Sexto, and boleros—extremely popular from the mid-1930s to the 1950s—gave way to bolero-ballads, which Yucatecan composer Armando Manzanero helped popularize. In the 1970s, ballads were influenced by jazz idioms and later by local musics such as ranchera (e.g., Ana Gabriel’s performances) and other traditional musics. The ballad’s craze lasted until the end of the 1980s.

Away from television, the folkloric (folklorismo) and New Song movements that took place in Latin America starting in the late 1950s reached maturity in Mexico by 1962. The folklorismo movement coincided with countercultural movements that were taking place throughout the world, and that in Mexico culminated in the 1968 student movement in which students challenged state power and made claims for better living conditions for the great number of disenfranchised and low-income people throughout the country. Young Mexican musicians wanting to align themselves with the struggle and advocate social changes through their performances chose to do so using folkloric musical styles from around Latin America. They also preferred these styles as a way of rescuing vernacular musics rooted in the popular. By the 1980s, though, musicians began to look more explicitly at their own regional heritages for inspiration.

By the mid-1980s, in response to the scarcity of traditional culture and the deterioration of social spaces for traditional music in both urban and rural areas, researchers, musicians, and cultural promoters, among others, began to organize music festivals as vehicles for the sharing and revitalization of traditional music cultures and the gathering of scattered musical traditions and musicians throughout Mexican rural areas. Some young musicians turned to their regional roots and traditional musics, such as son, rather than to foreign trends, as a way of exploring their own cultural identities, realizing that such musics represented the values and aesthetics of their forebears and could also help them to discover what they valued most as well as create their own means of expression.

In some cases, musical traditions were reinvented.25 In others (i.e., son jarocho), they were remembered and brought to new heights of popularity. Music functioned as a means for creating a space for interaction and connection. Since the 1980s, musical gatherings such as fandangos or huapangos, the community fiestas, have been organized as the core means for the revitalization of the son musical tradition, a way of reclaiming the aesthetics and traditional contexts of the music, and a tool for empowerment, social cohesion, and the construction of community.

At present, in the drive throughout Mexico to revive regional musical traditions, there is an attempt to move away from re-contextualization processes that favored standardized versions of sones’ playing, singing, and dancing styles more suited for stage settings than community celebrations. Although different regions have undergone different trajectories and new stereotypes have been created in the process, they have certain factors in common: the rescue of old sones and performance practices, the revival of dance styles, the fashioning of musical instruments using older techniques and the reintroduction of instruments that had “disappeared,” the reinstatement of improvised poetry, and the (re)appropriation of the musical tradition as a community expression with the fiesta or fandango at its core.

The fandango is considered the social and communitarian platform where regional sones are lived and performed. It represents shared knowledge. It brings together music, poetry, and dance into a creative space in which these three elements are symbiotically meaningful, the tarima positioned at the center of the stage. If any one of those elements is not present, the social, cultural, and symbolic impact of the event as an enactment of the traditional is viewed by the son community as compromised. This son community came to exist alongside the creation of festivals, encuentros, and cultural projects. Membership is determined by voluntary participation in such events.

Both the notion of transmission of cultural heritage and the need to reconnect with a past that informs the present are key in the son’s revival process of the past thirty years. Of course we know of the popularity that son jarocho has experienced in the last thirty years, but other son subgenres are on their way, particularly son huasteco, which remained very popular within the Huasteca region and other parts of Mexico, or sones from Tierra Caliente in Michoacán and Guerrero, and sones de Tixtla (Guerrero). Other sones subgenres have received new attention through new discourses of inclusion such as the presence of African influences and aesthetics (i.e., sones de artesa, son jarocho), or the visibility of musical expressions that had remained closer to their rural/community contexts (i.e., sones de mariachi performed in an extensive area from Colima to Guerrero by traditional mariachis rather than by commercial ones).

Along with the organizing of festivals and cultural projects, the publication of field recordings and academic works by an intellectual elite was fundamental not only in the revitalization process but also in the reinvention of some son subgenres. Several publications have appeared, recordings have been issued, and conferences and forums have gathered historians, linguists, anthropologists, and ethnomusicologists to widen the historical and cultural scope of studies on the subject as well as critically reaffirm the importance of the son in the Mexican music tapestry.

The wealth of recordings and publications that have appeared since 2000 signals a change in both the approach to musical research in Mexico in general and the conceptualization of musical traditions per se. They have awakened a renewed interest in the study of regional, local, and micro-local expressions of the musical traditions. In some cases, this interest has come from musicians, musical groups, cultural promoters, and academics—such as anthropologists, historians, and ethnomusicologists—working in state agencies and universities that sponsor research and publications.

The Musical Genre: Main Musical Characteristics and Geographical Distribution

The generic term son refers to a musical complex with specific elements in common: (1) sones are performed by small ensembles consisting mainly of stringed instruments, sometimes with percussion added, and subject to regional variation; (2) their formal structure alternates instrumental sections with the singing of coplas or rhyming stanzas of four to six, seven, or ten lines that are generally octosyllabic, or, if there are no vocals, instrumental sections alternate according to structures specific to the subgenres; (3) sones are usually danced by one or more couples whose rhythmic zapateado or footwork is basic to the sonic make-up of the ensemble. Although historically the instruments were played by men while the women sang and danced, women’s presence as instrumentalists has been notable in the last fifteen years.

Music, poetry, and dance are tied together in this lyrical-choreographic musical genre that is danced on a tarima or on the ground, and that features a repertoire of stock coplas that musicians choose from according to the son, the inspiration, and the context. Musicians improvise coplas as well.

Regional Sones and Ensembles

The son occurs throughout central and southern Mexico (see Figure 1). Notwithstanding changes in instrumentation over time, each son subgenre is associated with a specific instrumental ensemble (see Table 1), as well as specific playing, singing, and dancing characteristics.

Table 1. Mexican Regional Sones



Ensemble (Instruments)


Sones abajeños

North-central regions of Michoacán state: sierra and lowlands of Uruapan, Patzcuaro, Zacapu, and Zamora (main urban centers)

  • Two or more violins

  • Vihuela (small round-backed lute)

  • Guitar

  • Double bass

Violins carry the melodies in parallel thirds or sixths.

Part of the musical practice of P’urhépecha culture.

It is very common to find it performed by brass bands.

Sones terracalenteños del Balsas (from the Balsas River)

Also known as:

Sones calentanos

Tierra Caliente: the basin of the Balsas River, which includes parts of the states of Guerrero, Michoacán, and Mexico


  • One or two violins

  • One or more six-stringed Spanish guitars

  • Tamborita (drum)

    The 19th and early 20th centuries also included:

  • guitarra panzona

  • guitarra séptima

They share some stylistic similarities with sones de arpa grande.

They are called sones when they are instrumental and gustos when they are sung.

Sones terracalenteños del Tepalcatepec (from Tepalcatepec River)

Also known as:

Sones de arpa grande (“big harp”)


Sones planecos

The basin of the Tepalcatepec River (the southwestern part of the Balsas) in the state of Michoacán, also known as Tierra Caliente. Urban centers: Apatzingán, Nueva Italia, Coalcomán, Arriaga, and Zicuirán

  • One or two violins

  • Guitarra de golpe (deep-bodied lute with five strings, also known as jarana

  • Vihuela

  • Thirty-six-string diatonic harp, used melodically, but also percussively by tapping on the top of its resonating chamber (cacheteado or tamboreo)

The harp provides rhythmic and harmonic accompaniment. Violins and singers trade melodies. It is possible that this ensemble coincided with the old mariachi ensemble before the addition of trumpets.

The name planeco (plano=flat) refers to the flat lands of the Tepalcatepec River Valley.

Sones de Tixtla

Also known as:

Sones de tarima

Main center: Tixtla (Guerrero state)

  • Harp

  • One or two vihuelas or one or more guitars

  • Cajón (wooden box, approx. 88 x 22 x 45 cm)

Vihuelas may be used as substitutes for the guitar. The cajón, either tapped with hands or with a little wooden block, drives the rhythm.

Common characteristics with sones from the Costa Chica, partly due to geographical proximity.

Sones de la Costa Chica (Sones from the Costa Chica)

Also known as:

Sones de artesa

Southwestern coastal region of Guerrero and Oaxaca (from Acapulco to Puerto Ángel) states.

Main centers: San Nicolás Tolentino and El Ciruelo (Guerrero state)

  • Violin

  • Cajón (wooden box 88 x 22 x 45 cm)

  • Guacharasca (approx. 60 cm wooden tube filled with banana seeds, similar to a rain stick)

In San Nicolás Tolentino, artesa, cajón, violin, and guacharasca accompany one or two singing voices.

The artesa is a wooden platform, placed over a hole in the ground, for zapateado-style dancing (length 3–4 m, width 1 m, thickness 50 cm).

Sones huastecos

Huasteca region in northeastern Veracruz, San Luis Potosí, Hidalgo, Querétaro, Tamaulipas, and Puebla

  • Violin

  • Jarana huasteca (small five-stringed lute)

  • Huapanguera or quinta (large five-course lute with eight strings)

Vocal production is a high-pitched falsetto.

Violin improvisation is central to the musical style.

Poetic stanzas use mostly quintillas (five-line verses), sextetas (six-line verses), and seguidillas (seven-line verses).

Sones istmeños

Tehuantepec isthmus in southern Oaxaca

  • One or more six-stringed guitars

  • A small requinto lute

Can also be performed by brass bands, which are very popular in the area.

Sones jaliscienses


Sones de mariachi

States of Jalisco and Colima

  • Two or three violins

  • One vihuela

  • One or more six-stringed guitars

  • Harp or guitarrón (a large lute for bass sounds) or both

  • The addition of trumpets probably dates from the early 19th century

Nowadays this son is interpreted in almost all Mexican states, and many people consider it the quintessential Mexican music: the music of the mariachis. The harp has been gradually replaced by the guitarrón. Koetting (1977) includes a guitarra de golpe as part of the ensemble.

Sones jarochos

Southern Veracruz, Eastern Tabasco, and northeastern corner of Oaxaca.

  • Diatonic harp, thirty-two to thirty-six strings

  • Requinto jarocho (four- or five- stringed lute plucked with a plectrum)

  • One to five Jarana jarocha (shallow-bodied lutes with eight strings in five courses)

  • leona (four-stringed bass requinto)

In some parts of Veracruz, the tambourine was introduced in the 1960s and a lamellaophone called the marimbol in the 1980s. The harp has disappeared around the Tuxtlas area, replaced by a variety of small jaranas. Violins have disappeared in most of the regions except in the Tuxtlas area.

Varies in instrumentation and performing styles according to region.

Sones de marimba

Chiapas and Tehuantepec Isthmus (Oaxaca)

  • Marimba (four players)

  • Requinto marimba (three players)

The marimba is considered a strong marker of identity in Chiapas.

The buzzing sound of the marimba is characteristic of this instrument of African origin.

If performed commercially in markets and public places, a double bass and drum set are added to the ensemble.

Sones arribeños


Huapango arribeño

Río Verde region: San Luís Potosí and Xichú, Guanajuato, and Querétaro state (Sierra Gorda region)

  • Two violins

  • Huapanguera (large five-course lute with eight strings),

  • Jarana huasteca (small five-stringed lute)

Poetic stanzas use décimas or ten-line verses, which are improvised during the topadas or musical and poetic competitions that showcase the son arribeño.



Sones de Tabasco

Tabasco state

Different instrumentation and ensembles:

  • Alto saxophone, trombone or trumpet, snare drum, cymbal, side drum

  • Violin, six-stringed guitar, requinto

  • Brass band

  • Four small drums played with sticks

Sones’ distribution appears on cultural areas rather than geographical or political boundaries per se. The main regional sones include sones huastecos from the states of Veracruz, San Luis Potosí, Hidalgo, Querétaro, Tamaulipas, and Puebla; sones jarochos from Veracruz, Tabasco, and Oaxaca; sones jaliscienses from the states of Jalisco and Colima; sones terracalenteños del Balsas from the valley of the Balsas River in Guerrero and Michoacán; sones terracalenteños del Tepalcatepec or sones planecos from Michoacán; sones abajeños from Michoacán; sones de Tixtla in Guerrero; sones de artesa from the Costa Chica in Oaxaca and Guerrero; sones istmeños from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Oaxaca; and sones arribeños (huapangos arribeños) from the Sierra de Xichú in the states of San Luis Potosí, Guanajuato, and Querétaro. Other sones include sones de marimba from Chiapas and sones de Tabasco from Tabasco state.26

The Mexican Son, Past and PresentClick to view larger

Figure 1. Map of regional sones.

Performing ensembles include melodic instruments, such as violins and harps, and instruments that provide harmonic and rhythmic accompaniment (especially guitars and other lutes), in accordance with specific regional styles. Percussion instruments are present in several ensembles, along with the zapateado on the tarima, which functions musically as another instrument within the ensemble. Many of the son subgenres also include singing, while others are exclusively instrumental. Some combine both sung and instrumental sones.

Within each son subgenre, local variants occur in the overall musical form, instrumental ensemble, treatment of melodies, harmony, formal structure, and repertoire. The local character of some son subgenres translates into different names for the musical styles. Thus, in the Tierra Caliente region of the Balsas River, the instrumental version is called son, while if vocals are added, the name changes to gustos.

The fact that some son traditions share common repertoires and bear resemblances in regard to instrumental ensembles (e.g., sones planecos are considered by some scholars as predecessors of the sones de mariachi) underscores their local and regional character and points to the evolution of the genre as part of cultural areas that took shape according to commercial routes and communication infrastructure. Moreover, some specific sones are common to various regions, sharing features such as themes in the lyrics, copla repertoires, and harmonic structures.27 Interpretations vary according to regional playing and singing style, instrumentation, overall musical form, harmonic progressions, and the metrical organization of the coplas.

Within each son subgenre, there are regional and local variants in instrumentation, repertoire, and interpretation style. Certain son subgenres cross state boundaries (e.g., sones de marimba performed in Chiapas state and in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Oaxaca state); regional areas share closely related musical traditions (e.g., terracalenteño sones from the Balsas River area in Guerrero and terracalenteño sones from the Tepalcatepec River area in Michoacán); and different names are given to the same subgenres (e.g., sones from Tepalcatepec are also known as sones de arpa grande or sones planecos, and sones jaliscienses are also known as sones de mariachi).

The main differences in regional sones are dictated by the overall musical design of each subgenre, which emerges from the harmonic and rhythmic accompaniments of the stringed instruments in the ensemble and the specific melodic treatment of the musical material. Thus, singing styles are different in each subgenre. In sones that use the violin as the main melodic instrument, playing styles can greatly differ as well.

Musical Aspects: Formal, Rhythmic, Harmonic, and Melodic Structure

Sones usually start with an instrumental introduction, performed by the main melodic instrument in each particular ensemble (e.g., the requinto or the harp in sones jarochos, the violin in Huasteco and Terracalenteño sones from the Balsas region, two violins in the Abajeño and Sierra Gorda traditions, the harp in Terracalenteño sones from the Tepalcatepec as well as in Tixtla, and the guitar in the Costa Chica). This instrumental introduction is followed by sung coplas alternating with an instrumental section, which can be vocal or instrumental. That is, the son is strophic. Musically, the stanza is usually in a binary form (e.g., in two sections A and B set in an AABB structure) that is repeated with each turn of music.

Rhythmically speaking, descriptions such as varied, complex, vigorous, and fast tempo can and have been used to describe the son’s rhythmic structure and characteristics. Son generally uses ternary rhythms, the most common being 3/4, 6/8, or a combination of both. Central to the genre is the use of the sesquialtera, literally seis que altera (six that alternate or alter), a combination of groupings in duple or triple subdivision played consecutively by a single instrument or simultaneously by different instruments within an ensemble. The rhythmic complexity varies according to the region of origin of each son, and may include syncopation both in the melodies and in the rhythmic accompaniments, counter-rhythms, and other unexpected rhythmic accents.

Harmonically, sones use both major and minor modes, with major often favored. Harmonic vocabulary is mostly limited to progressions drawing from I, IV, II7, V, and V7. Subtle harmonic variations emphasize certain musical passages, and unexpected harmonic progressions, such as inverted chords, occur.

Melodic themes are never simple or obvious. A well-versed singer or instrumental soloist has his or her own melodic variation and singing style. Musicians create a flow of melodic variations within the harmonic structure of the particular son. Moreover, each son subgenre holds to a particular instrumental and singing style. Melodies (usually in parallel thirds or sixths) are carried by male voices and stringed instruments—often violin(s) or harp—and accompanied by various lutes and percussion instruments. As mentioned earlier, although men predominate as singers in the public performance of sones, women have become a force to be reckoned with in recent years.

Literary Aspects: Form and Content

Most scholars agree that sones are structured around coplas or short poetic rhyming stanzas of four, five, six, seven, or ten lines that are generally octosyllabic. Usually, the even-numbered lines rhyme and the odd-numbered lines may end in consonance or assonance. Coplas are standalone entities and do not need to be part of a long narrative to have significance. Musicians improvise or choose coplas from the popular repertoire and tie them together in a son performance. Even if coplas are not linked narratively, they have to agree in content, strophic form, and overall poetic, aesthetic, and musical character. The repertoire of coplas is vast and varied, and musicians combine them according to the inspiration of the moment, which partly explains why it is difficult to find the same two versions of a particular son. Nonetheless, certain coplas are meant for specific sones.

The number of coplas in a given son is not fixed and may number between three and six depending on the performance occasion. Particularly when improvisation takes place, a son may contain up to fifteen (or more) coplas.

The vast repertoire of coplas includes verses based upon 16th and 17th-century Spanish poetry, which has also been a source for various other traditional Latin American repertoires, particularly in Argentina and Venezuela.28 It also includes locally created coplas. Themes include love, description of regional myths and legends, people and animals, and political and religious events. Lines or stanzas concerning a particular event or person may be improvised at any moment, the troubadour thereby revealing his poetic and ingenious spirit.

Choreographic Aspects: The Dance

Sones are danced by one or more couples whose zapateado emphasizes the beat during the instrumental sections. Dancers switch to descansos or paseos—a slower pace and less vigorous steps—during sung sections so that lyrics can be better appreciated. Improvisation during the zapateado sections usually takes place in the form of embellishments that the individual chooses to incorporate into a basic fixed pattern, and how different steps are combined. Dancers’ steps atop the tarima are part of the overall sonic experience. Choreographically speaking, son dancing often represents love and courtship.

Some son subgenres include particular gestures and movements in connection with the thematic content of the son. This is particularly important in sones that symbolize animals or certain human features that the performers want to emphasize.29

In general, the dance is rhythmically vigorous and powerful. While in many son subgenres couples take turns dancing on the tarima, in sones huastecos many couples can dance on it at once. Sones jarochos, on the other hand, differentiate between sones meant for one couple (sones de pareja or sones de hombre), various couples (sones de parejas), and women alone (sones de a montón).

Son is part of the cultural heritage. It is tradition, knowledge, a way of life, past, present, and future. It is making tortillas in the clay comal (grilling plate); it is the taste of tequila and mezcal. Son is the planting of the tabla over a hole dug in the ground where dancers will dance; it is a courtship, a dispute, a peace offering. It is the clothing, the language, the smell, the soundscape of a locale, the geography, and the historical and social struggle of the people. It is in the son—the musical genre rooted in the soul—where many feel that their strongest sign of identity is entrenched. The renewed interest and the re-contextualization that sones are experiencing speak to the vitality of the genre and how, once again, it is connected to the people. Although the revival has incorporated elements of professionalization, the genre is felt by many practitioners and followers as part of a communal experience: the son experience is felt as a way to establish a connection with others, thus fulfilling inner affective and aesthetic needs.

Discussion of the Literature

When researching musical expressions such as the son from both historical and performance-practice perspectives, one needs to have in mind the authorship of information sources and the mechanisms of production and circulation, as well as consumption. Production of such material may respond to cultural politics, power structures, and cultural trends.

Although the son is widely performed, literature on the subject is spotty and far from being comprehensive. The first works published in English were mostly devoted to the description of the genre, subgenres, and the main musical characteristics.30 Writing in Spanish, Mexican musicologist Gabriel Saldívar dedicated a chapter on the history of son in his 1934 text on Mexican music.31 Saldívar was one of the first scholars to investigate Africans’ and Afro-Mexicans’ contributions to Mexican musical expressions in general and to son in particular. Soon after, Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán was able to bring the African presence in Mexico to the scholarly forefront, opening the path for anthropological and cultural studies of the African population in Mexico and its contributions to Mexican culture and history in general.32

In recent years, scholars have been rethinking Mexico’s African heritage in son. As with other musical traditions, it is not a question of arguing the mix of influences in the genre, but to understand how different scholars and performers approach it, nuance different aspects of that complexity, and racialize the origins and developments of the musical tradition. The main academic contributions to the subject have been those of Moedano Navarro, Pérez Fernández, Chamorro Escalante, and Ruiz Rodríguez.33 Although most of Moedano Navarro’s work was devoted to afromestizo musical expressions in the Costa Chica of Oaxaca and Guerrero such as sones de artesa and corridos, in his piece from 1980, he summarizes the studies of the musical and oral traditions of the afromestizos in Mexico and argues that African influence was core in the formation and development of the cultural expressions.

In his work from 1990, cuban musicologist Pérez Fernández reconstructs the African influences in Latin American music at large and in son in particular. Although he strays into dangerous generalizations about African music, he provides extensive examples to support his argument on the binarization of African ternary rhythms. At any rate, Pérez Fernández’s arguments brought attention to particular rythmic intricacies and contextual features that could be thought of as African in origin. Ethnomusicologist Chamorro Escalante writes a good analysis on different retentions from West Africa inherent in sones and musics from coastal Mexican regions such as Veracruz, Oaxaca, and Tabasco, as well as the Tierra Caliente of Michoacán and Guerrero. Lastly, Ruiz Rodríguez offers a comprehensive overview and sums up the most significant studies published to date on the African influence in Mexican traditional music, including son.

Son jarocho is one of the subgenres of son that has received the most attention. In his PhD dissertation (1979), Sheehy provides a comprehensive historical and ethnomusicological study: general description of the musical tradition (origin, instrumentation, and context), performers, musical styles, repertoire, and contemporary trends.34 While Sheehy examines the son jarocho from 1968 to 1977, Randall Kohl’s dissertation covers 1946 to 1956, a time period in which President Miguel Alemán’s cultural politics favored this son subgenre.35

In recent years, son jarocho’s history has been revisited masterfully by historian and Jarocho musician Antonio García de León. In his work from 2006, he studies the fandango and the son jarocho as the musical genre of the people, a musical tradition, and a festive context that also connects Veracruz with el Caribe afroandaluz (the Afro-Andalusian Caribbean), a cultural area in which the exchange of music, poetry, dance, and other expressive cultural forms was the norm during colonial times.36

Other seminal works contributing to the literature on son jarocho and fandango are those of historian Ricardo Pérez Montfort.37 In his 2003 article, this author analyzes the development of sones jarochos coinciding with commercial factors as well as the revival of such sones in the 1980s. In his 2011 essay, he studies sones jarochos in one of the areas in Veracruz where this subgenre has maintained particular regional characteristics. Covering the same region, Gottfried Hesketh analyzes the son jarocho as well as the fandango in Santiago Tuxtla (2006) and in other parts of Veracruz and Puebla (2011).38 Other publications on fandango as the festive occasion in which sones are performed include Pérez Montfort’s latest compilation of essays analyzing various historical and social aspects fandango jarocho and the edited volume by Sevilla Villalobos on fandangos from different Mexican regions.39

Magazines online to be noted are Son del Sur (1995–2004), and La manta y la Raya, Universos Sonoros en Diálogo.40 The short articles in these publications cover several aspects of son jarocho such as history, poetry, dance, discography, and musicians’ profiles and interviews. In particular, case studies and the general intellectual frame of the latter point at a demystification of cultural constructions that have framed the study of son jarocho in the past thirty years.

González-Paraíso’s master’s thesis on sones de tamborita from the Balsas River (Guerrero) is one of the few studies on sones from this region.41 Sones de artesa from the Costa Chica (Guerrero and Oaxaca) have mostly been studied by Ruiz Rodríguez, and historians Martínez Ayala and Martínez de la Rosa have studied sones from the Tierra Caliente of Michoacán.42 The son abajeño tradition from Michoacán has been subject to detailed study by Arturo Chamorro Escalante.43 He studies this son subgenre as an expression of the P’urhépecha people in Michoacán.

Regarding son huasteco, Hernández Azuara studies it as a cultural regional expression, noting particular stylistic differences.44 He analyzes ensembles, instrumentation, and repertoire. More recently, Sánchez García’s poetic anthology of Huasteco sones, collects and catalogs an impressive number of coplas used in sones huastecos.45 In her introduction to the anthology, she sums up the main musical and lyrical characteristics of sones huastecos.

Field recordings have been a source of information for some particular son subgenres. In this regard, the collection published by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) is significant.46 Of particular interest are the notes and field recordings of Arturo Warman on sones from Tierra Caliente of Michoacán and Guerrero, Veracruz, and sones in general.47

Out of this literature, just a few works examine how the music informs the occasion and the (festive) occasion informs social processes. In his work on the Jarocho fandango (2006), García de León masterfully studies the history of the fandango, the festive context for the performance of sones jarochos, and sones jarochos as relevant for the fandango. Chamorro Escalante’s work from 1994 rigorously analyzes P’urhépecha music (sones abajeños included) in performances and musical competitions in which regional conflicts and social prestige are expressed through musical rivalry. His later work on sones jalisciences studies this subgenre in its local variants and in connection with both traditional and modern mariachi ensembles, musical occasions, and contexts.48 Chamorro Escalante’s semiotic and symbolic approaches contribute greatly to the understanding of these son subgenres within the cultural region. Recently, Alex E. Chávez has published one of the few works on huapango arribeño, focusing on lyrical content and performance practice as a means of place making within the political-economic conditions between 1968 and 1982. Chávez’s most recent book, the first in-depth study of huapango arribeño, deals with the performance of the genre among undocumented Mexican migrants in the United States.49

Finally, Paraiso’s dissertation on the re-contextualization of traditions and the examination of how the concept of identity is performed and renewed through music festivals and other cultural projects of sones huastecos, jarochos, and terracalenteños builds another layer in the existing literature as it responds to the need to look at the son in transregional scenarios, connecting the musical and the extramusical within larger social, cultural, and political processes.50

Primary Sources

As pointed out in the review of the literature, one of the main problems in the study of sones is the scattered literature. Fortunately, some of the main publications could be found in college libraries, online publications (e.g.,, scribb), and databases such OCLC Worldcat and ProQuest (master’s theses and dissertations). Field recordings in collections such as that of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) could be found through the INAH’s Fonoteca website, and commercial recordings such as Anthology of Mexican Sones could be found online.51 Important field-recordings collections by researchers such as Henrietta Yurchenco and Raúl Hellmer are located in the Fonoteca Nacional even though they are managed by the The National Center for Musical Research, Documentation, and Information “Carlos Chávez” (CENIDIM).52 Online searches may deliver a hefty number of case-study articles published in scholarly journals and conference proceedings. Particular works published by Mexican university presses such as Colegio de México (COLMEX), INAH, or the Center for Research and Advanced Studies in Social Antrhropology (CIESAS) can be found through their presses’ websites.

Further Reading

Chamorro Escalante, J. Arturo. Sones de la guerra: rivalidad y emoción en la práctica de la música p’urhepecha. Zamora, Michoacán: El Colegio de Michoacán, 1994.Find this resource:

    Chamorro Escalante, J. Arturo. “La herencia africana en la música tradicional de las costas y las tierras calientes.” In Tradición e identidad en la cultura mexicana. Edited by Agustín Jacinto Zavala and Álvaro Ochoa Serrano, 415–448. Zamora, Michoacán: El Colegio de Michoacán, 1995.Find this resource:

      Chamorro Escalante, J. Arturo. Mariachi Antiguo, Jarabe y Son: Símbolos compartidos y tradición musical en las identidades jaliscienses. Guadalajara, Mexico: Secretaría de Cultura. Gobierno del Estado de Jalisco, 2006.Find this resource:

        Chávez, Alex E. “Huapango Arribeño: A Mexican Musico-Poetic Tradition at the Interstices of Postmodernity (1968–1982).” Latin American Music Review 33.2 (2012): 186–226.Find this resource:

          García de León, Antonio. Fandango: El ritual del mundo jarocho a través de los siglos. México: CONACULTA, Programa de Desarrollo Cultural del Sotavento, 2006.Find this resource:

            García de León, Antonio. El mar de los deseos. El Caribe hispano musical. Historia y contrapunto. México: Siglo XXI, 2002.Find this resource:

              González, Anita. Jarocho’s Soul: Cultural Identity and Afro-Mexican Dance. Lanham, MD.: University Press of America, 2004.Find this resource:

                González-Paraíso, Raquel. “Music of the Tierra Caliente del Balsas (Calentano Music) and Violinist Don Juan Reynoso Portillo.” Master’s Thesis, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2004. Available online.Find this resource:

                  González-Paraíso, Raquel. “Re-contextualizing Traditions: The Performance of Identity in Festivals of Huasteco, Jarocho, and Terracalenteño Sones in Mexico.” PhD dissertation, University of Wisconsin at Madison, 2014. Available online.Find this resource:

                    Gottfried Hesketh, Jessica. “El fandango jarocho actual en Santiago Tuxtla, Veracruz.” Master’s Thesis, University of Guadalajara, 2006.Find this resource:

                      Hernández Azuara, César. Huapango. El son huasteco y sus instrumentos en los siglos XIX y XX. Mexico: CIESAS, COLSAN, Programa de Desarrollo Cultural de la Huasteca, 2003.Find this resource:

                        Jaúregui, Jesús. El mariachi: Símbolo musical de México. Mexico D.F.: Taurus, 2007.Find this resource:

                          Martínez Ayala, Jorge Amós. “¡Voy polla! El fandango en el Balsas.” In La Tierra Caliente de Michoacán. Edited by José Eduarado Zárate Hernández, 263–385. Zamora, Michoacán: El Colegio de Michoacán, 2001.Find this resource:

                            Martínez de la Rosa, Alejandro. De la Sierra Morena vienen bajando, zamba, ay, que le daMúsica de la Costa Sierra del Suroccidente de México. Testimonio musical de México 54. Mexico City: INAH & CONACULTA, 2012.Find this resource:

                              Moreno Rivas, Yolanda, Historia de la música popular mexicana. Mexico City: CONACULTA, [1st. ed. 1979] 1989.Find this resource:

                                Ochoa Serrano, Álvaro. Mitote, fandando y maricheros. Zamora, Michoacán: El Colegio de Michoacán, 2000.Find this resource:

                                  Pérez Fernández, Rolando Antonio. La música afromestiza mexicana. Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico: Universidad Veracruzana, 1990.Find this resource:

                                    Pérez Montfort, Ricardo. El fandango y sus cultivadores: Ensayos y testimonios. Alemania: Editorial Académica Española/OmniScriptum GmbH & Co. Saarbrücken, 2015.Find this resource:

                                      Pérez Montfort, Ricardo. “Music in Mexico City, 1880–1960.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History (ORE). Available online.

                                      Reuter, Jas. La música popular de México: origen e historia de la música que canta y toca el pueblo mexicano. Mexico D.F.: Panorama Editorial, S.A., 1981.Find this resource:

                                        Ruiz Rodríguez, Carlos. “Estudios en torno a la influencia africana en la música tradicional de México: vertientes, balance y propuestas.” Revista Transcultural de Música/Transcultural Music Review 11 (2007). Available online.Find this resource:

                                          Ruiz Rodríguez, Carlos. “Del fandango al baile de artesa: Declive, resurgimiento y sobrevivencia de una tradición musical de la Costa Chica.” In El fandango y sus variantes, III Coloquio Música de Guerrero. Edited by Amparo Sevilla Villalobos, 249–266. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 2014.Find this resource:

                                            Saldívar, Gabriel. Historia de la música en México. Toluca, Mexico: Ediciones del Gobierno del Estado de México, 1987. Available online.Find this resource:

                                              Sevilla Villalobos, Amparo, ed. El fandango y sus variantes, III Coloquio Música de Guerrero. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 2011.Find this resource:

                                                Sheehy, Daniel E. “The Son Jarocho: Style and Repertory of a Changing Regional Mexican Musical Tradition.” PhD Dissertation, University of California at Los Angeles, 1979. Available online.Find this resource:

                                                  Sheehy, Daniel E. “Mexico.” In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, volume 2: South America, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Edited by Dale A. Olsen and Daniel E. Sheehy, 600–625. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998.Find this resource:

                                                    Sheehy, Daniel E. “Popular Mexican Musical Traditions: The Mariachi of West Mexico and the Conjunto Jarocho of Veracruz.” In Music in Latin American Culture: Regional Traditions. Edited by John M. Schechter, 34–79. New York: Schirmer Books, 1999.Find this resource:

                                                      Stanford, Thomas. “The Mexican Son.” Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council 4 (1972): 66–86.Find this resource:


                                                        (1.) Throughout this article, I use the singular (son) or plural (sones) of the term interchangeably to refer to both the musical style and the various musical subgenres. In either case, semantical and contextual meaning does not change. I specifically use the term in singular when referring to a single piece of music within any given son subgenre and as a collective noun. In other situations, the use of singular or plural is context dependent.

                                                        (2.) Acknowledging that hardly any classification is satisfactory or exclusive, this work deals with sones mestizos rather than “traditional sones,” which generally are performed in ritualized occasions linked to celebratory life-cycle events and agricultural cycles.

                                                        (3.) Daniel E. Sheehy, “Popular Mexican Musical Traditions: The Mariachi of West Mexico and the Conjunto Jarocho of Veracruz,” in Music in Latin American Culture: Regional Traditions, ed. John M. Schechter (New York: Schirmer Books, 1999), 39.

                                                        (4.) Guillermo Bonfil Batalla, Pensar nuestra cultura (Mexico D.F.: Alianza Editorial, 1991).

                                                        (5.) Gabriel Saldívar, Historia de la música en México (Toluca, México: Ediciones del Gobierno del Estado de México, 1987), 249–250.

                                                        (6.) See more in Daniel E. Sheehy, “The Son Jarocho: Style and Repertory of a Changing Regional Mexican Musical Tradition” (PhD dissertation, University of California–Los Angeles, 1979), 23.

                                                        (7.) Aguirre Beltrán and Saldívar mention prohibitions against oratorios in Oaxaca in 1643 and 1689, in Guatemala in 1704 (Aguirre Beltrán, Gonzalo, “Baile de negros.” Heterofonía 3(17): 4–9, 1971, 7), and in Puebla in 1669 (Saldívar, Historia de la música en México, 222). Condemnation of oratorios appeared again in 1746 in response to new oratorios, which were even more scandalous and contained more irreverent content than those of the previous century (Saldívar, Historia de la música en México, 223).

                                                        (8.) Seguidilla is both a Spanish dance with ternary meter whose origin dates to the 15th century and a strophic form that combines lines of five and seven syllables ([7+5] + [7+5]), extensively used in Spanish popular poetry.

                                                        (9.) Jas Reuter, La música popular de México: origen e historia de la música que canta y toca el pueblo mexicano (Mexico D.F.: Panorama Editorial, S.A., 1981), 146.

                                                        (10.) See more in Reuter, La música popular de México, 146–147, and Warman, Sones y Gustos de la Tierra Caliente de Guerrero, Conjunto Ajuchitlán and Conjunto de Bardomiano Flores (Mexico City: CONACULTA, INAH. Ediciones Pentagrama 10. CD. [1st ed. 1971] 2002b).

                                                        (11.) To better understand cultural exchanges and processes between Europe and the greater Caribbean during colonial times, see Antonio García de León, El mar de los deseos. El Caribe hispano musical. Historia y contrapunto (México: Siglo XXI, 2002).

                                                        (12.) Sonecitos del país were arranged by musicians employed by the theater. Saldívar mentions specifically Aldana and Galup as arrangers of such sones for the Gran Teatro Coliseo de la Metrópoli in Mexico City. These were orchestral arrangements that might be performed only a few times before being dropped from the repertoire. He lists “Churrimpampli,” “El casamiento de los indios,” “El fiscalito,” “La rarana,” “La india,” “La india valedora,” “La chupicuaraca,” “Los indios,” “Los negritos,” and others as examples of such arrangements (Saldívar, Historia de la música en México, 256).

                                                        (13.) For a detailed discussion of this genre extensively used in the second half of the 18th century, see Gerónimo Baqueiro Foster, Historia de la música en México: III- La música en el periodo independiente (Mexico City: Secretaría de Educación Pública, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Departamento de Música, 1964), 45–114; and Vicente T. Mendoza, Panorama de la música tradicional de México (Mexico City: Imprenta Universitaria, 1956), 58–60.

                                                        (14.) Otto Mayer-Serra, Panorama de la música mexicana desde la independencia hasta la actualidad (Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 1996), 103.

                                                        (15.) The first aires nacionales arranged for piano appeared during the first decades of Independence with a jarabe arrangement by composer José de Jesús González Rubio (see facsimile in Saldívar, Historia de la música en México, 283–289). Other piano compositions, such as “Variaciones sobre el tema del jarave mexicano” (1841) by J. A. Gómez, “Jarabe nacional” by Tomás León, and “Vals-jarabe” by Aniceto Ortega, borrowed melodies and musical characteristics from the jarabe. Julio Ituarte’s Ecos de Mexico combined and recreated several sones, such as “El palomo,” “Los enanos,” “El butaquito,” “El perico,” “El guajito,” and “Las mañanitas.” See more in Mayer-Serra, Panorama de la música mexicana, 127–129.

                                                        (16.) Jesús Jaúregui, El mariachi: Símbolo musical de México (México D.F.: Taurus, 2007), 52.

                                                        (17.) A very well-known piece in the Terracalenteño repertoire, “El gusto federal,” is the perfect example of a son (gusto in this case) charged with political content. This composition—considered an anthem of Tierra Caliente—celebrates the defeat of French domination under Mexican emperor Maximilian. It was premiered in 1867 in Huetamo, Michoacán, as part of the celebrations for the reestablishment of the Republic by Benito Juárez.

                                                        (18.) For example, mariachi groups performing their own arrangements of sones appeared in Mexico City sponsored by general Lázaro Cárdenas during his presidency (1934–1940), President Miguel Alemán (1946–1952) used the son jarocho “La bamba” as a slogan for his electoral campaign, and Jarocho musicians in Mexico City popularized versions of traditional sones jarochos that they transformed for commercial purposes and to suit urban tastes.

                                                        (19.) Regional musicians imitated musical styles popularized by the movie industry, and local styles were influenced by musicians returning from urban centers to their regions of origin.

                                                        (20.) For further reading on cultural politics being decisive in cultural imaginings, see Ricardo Pérez Montfort, Expresiones populares y estereotipos culturales en México: Siglos XIX y XX. Diez ensayos (Mexico City: CIESAS, 2007). For discussions on both the jarabe and the mariachi as constructions of national culture, see Pérez Montfort, Expresiones populares, 20 and Jaúregui, El mariachi.

                                                        (21.) Yolanda Broyles-González, “Ranchera Music(s) and the Legendary Lydia Mendoza: Performing Social Location and Relations,” in Chicana Traditions: Continuity and Change, eds. Norma E. Cantú and Olga Nájera-Ramírez (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002), 184.

                                                        (22.) For more on this topic, see Anne Rubenstein, “Mass Media and Popular Culture in the Post-revolutionary Era,” in The Oxford History of Mexico, eds. Michael C. Meyer and William H. Beezley (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 637–670.

                                                        (23.) A well-known case is that of Huasteco musicians Nicandro Castillo (1914–1990) and Elpidio Ramírez (1882–1960). They created and introduced the cuarteta (four-line verse stanza), which was added to the traditional coplas (quintillas, sextillas, and seguidillas) used in the son huasteco. Castillo and Ramírez also played an important role in creating the neohuapango or canción huapango (huapango song); César Hernández Azuara, Huapango: El son huasteco y sus instrumentos en los siglos XIX y XX (Mexico: CIESAS, COLSAN, Programa de Desarrollo Cultural de la Huasteca, 2003), 135. These compositions, with fixed music and lyrics, are in cuarteta, and occasionally quintilla, form; lyrics often praise the beauty of the Huasteca region and the people, and features such as long falsetto sections are used as a catchy performance element. Another well-known case is that of Jarocho musicians Lorenzo Barcelata, Andrés Huesca, and Lino Chávez, who transformed their renditions of son jarocho by playing faster, reducing the number of stanzas, and using a larger harp that allowed the musician to play standing. They also came up with musical arrangements appropriate for the stage and created stereotyped images and interpretations of both the musicians and the music. See more in Rafael Figueroa Hernández, Son Jarocho: Guía histórico-musical (Xalapa, Veracruz: Conaculta & Fonca, 2007), 87–90; and Ricardo Perez Montfort, El fandango y sus cultivadores. Ensayos y testimonios (Alemania: Editorial Académica Española/OmniScriptum GmbH & Co. Saarbrücken, 2015), 25–40.

                                                        (24.) For specifics on the Ballet Folklórico de México and further reading, see Olga Nájera-Ramírez, “Staging Authenticity: Theorizing the Development of Mexican Folklórico Dance,” in Dancing Across Borders: Danzas y Bailes Mexicanos, eds. Olga Nájera-Ramírez, Norma E. Cantú, and Brenda M. Romero (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 277–292; and Sydney Hutchinson, “The Ballet Folklórico de México and the Construction of the Mexican Nation through Dance,” in Dancing Across Borders: Danzas y Bailes Mexicanos, eds. Olga Nájera-Ramírez, Norma E. Cantú, and Brenda M. Romero (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 206–225.

                                                        (25.) Well known is the case of sones de artesa from the Costa Chica (Guerrero and Oaxaca), a style forgotten in the middle of the 20th century and reconstructed in the 1990s as a symbol of black identity (Laura A. Lewis, “Blacks, Black Indians, Afromexicans: The Dynamics of Race, Nation, and Identity,” American Ethnologist 27.4 (2000): 898–926, 899; Gabriel Moedano Navarro, notes, Soy el Negro de la costa … Música y poesía afromestiza de la Costa Chica. Various interpreters. Mexico City: CONACULTA, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia. Ediciones Pentagrama 33. CD. 2nd ed. [1st ed. 1996], (2001); Carlos Ruiz Rodríguez, Versos, música y baile de artesa de la Costa Chica: San Nicolás, Guerrero y El Ciruelo, Oaxaca. Mexico City: El Colegio de México, A.C., (2004); and Carlos Ruiz Rodríguez, “La Costa Chica y su diversidad musical. Ensayo sobre las expresiones afrodescendientes.” In Cunas, ramas y encuentros sonoros. Doce ensayos sobre patrimonio musical de México, ed. Fernando Híjar Sánchez. Mexico: DGCP-CONACULTA (2009), 39–81.

                                                        (26.) Also named calentanos o terracalentanos by mostly dance troups and folklorists.

                                                        (27.) To mention a few, “La malagueña” and “La petenera” are common to the Huasteco, Terracalenteño, and Costa Chica regions; “El cielito lindo” from the Huasteca region is known as “El butaquito” in the Jarocho tradition; “La india” is common to the Jarocho, Terracalenteño, and Costa Chica regions; “El gusto” is performed in the Tierra Caliente in Michoacán as well as in the Huasteca region; “Los panaderos” is performed in the Tierra Caliente in Michoacán and Guerrero as well as in the Huasteca region; and “El aguanieve” and “El sacamandú” or “El toro zacamandú” are part of both the Huasteco and Jarocho repertoires.

                                                        (28.) See for example Magis, Carlos H., La lírica popular contemporánea: España, Mexico, Argentina. Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 1969, and Garza Cuarón and Ivette Jiménez de Báez, eds. Estudios de folklore y literatura dedicados a Mercedes Díaz Roig. Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 2009.

                                                        (29.) This is the case for sones from Tierra Caliente such as “La chachalaca” (The Chacalaca Bird); sones jarochos such as “La iguana” (The Iguana), “El torito” (The Little Bull), and “La morena,” (The Dark-Skinned Girl); or sones chuscos (i.e., a type of son that imitates movements or features of particular animals in the dance, for example the wiggling of a duck’s tail, an iguana walking or staring at something, or a bull charging) from Tixtla such as “El patito” (The Little Duck), “La iguana” (The Iguana), and “El zopilote” (The Black Vulture), among others.

                                                        (30.) See Thomas Stanford, “The Mexican Son,” Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council 4 (1972): 66–86; the collection of field recordings accompanied by descriptive notes by Beno Lieberman, Eduardo Llerenas, and Enrique Ramírez de Arellano, Antología del Son Mexicano/Anthology of Mexican Sones, 3 CDs (Mexico City, 1985); and Daniel E. Sheehy, “Mexico,” in The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, vol. 2: South America, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, eds. Dale A. Olsen and Daniel E. Sheehy (London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998), 600–625.

                                                        (31.) Gabriel Saldívar, Historia de la música en México (Toluca, México: Ediciones del Gobierno del Estado de México, 1987), 249–250.

                                                        (32.) See Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán, La población negra de México: Estudio etnohistórico. (Mexico City: Secretaría de la Reforma Agraria, SRA-CEHAM, 1981). For other works on Africans in Mexico, see Herman L. Bennett, Africans in Colonial Mexico: Absolutism, Christianity, and Afro-Creole Consciousness, 1570–1640 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003); Patrick J. Carroll, Blacks in Colonial Veracruz: Race, Ethnicity, and Regional Development (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001); Laura A. Lewis, “Blacks, Black Indians, Afromexicans: The Dynamics of Race, Nation, and Identity,” American Ethnologist 27.4 (2000): 898–926; and Velazquez and Gabriela Iturralde Nieto, Afrodescendientes en México, Una historia de silencio y discriminación (Mexico City: CONACULTA, 2012), among others.

                                                        (33.) Gabriel Moedano Navarro, “El estudio de las tradiciones orales y musicales de los afromestizos de México,” Antropología e Historia. Boletín del INAH 31 (1980): 19–29; Rolando Antonio Pérez Fernández, La música afromestiza mexicana (Xalapa, Mexico: Universidad Veracruzana, 1990); J. Arturo Chamorro Escalante, “La herencia africana en la música tradicional de las costas y las tierras calientes,” in Tradición e identidad en la cultura mexicana, eds. Agustín Jacinto Zavala and Álvaro Ochoa Serrano (Zamora, Michoacán: El Colegio de Michoacán, 1995), 415–448; and Carlos Ruiz Rodríguez, “Estudios en torno a la influencia africana en la música tradicional de México: vertientes, balance y propuestas,” Revista Transcultural de Música/Transcultural Music Review 11 (2007). Available online.

                                                        (34.) Daniel E. Sheehy, “The Son Jarocho: Style and Repertory of a Changing Regional Mexican Musical Tradition” (PhD diss., University of California at Los Angeles, 1979).

                                                        (35.) Randal Ch. Kohl, Ecos de “La Bamba”: Una historia etnomusicológica sobre el son jarocho de Veracruz, 1946–1959 (Mexico City: Ataranzas, 2007).

                                                        (36.) Antonio García de León, Fandango: El ritual del mundo jarocho a través de los siglos (México: CONACULTA, Instituto Verano de la Cultura, Programa de Desarrollo Cultural del Sotavento, 2006).

                                                        (37.) See Ricardo Pérez Montfort, “Testimonios del son jarocho y del fandango: apuntes y reflexiones sobre el resurgimiento de una tradición regional hacia finales del siglo XX,” Antropología 66 (2003): 81–95; and “Desde Santiago a la Trocha: La crónica local sotaventina, el fandango y el son jarocho,” Revista de Literaturas Populares 10.1–2 (Special Edition-Monograph on “El son mexicano”): 211–237.

                                                        (38.) See Jessica Gottfried Hesketh, “El fandango jarocho actual en Santiago Tuxtla, Veracruz” (master’s thesis, University of Guadalajara, 2006), and “Cambio y continuidad en los sones de fandango: Puebla y Veracruz,” Revista de Literaturas Populares 10.1–2 (Special Edition-Monograph on “El son mexicano”): 319–345.

                                                        (39.) Ricardo Pérez Montfort, El fandango y sus cultivadores. Ensayos y testimonios (Alemania: Editorial Académica Española/OmniScriptum GmbH & Co. Saarbrücken, 2015). Amparo Sevilla Villalobos, ed., El fandango y sus variantes, III Coloquio Música de Guerrero (Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 2011).

                                                        (41.) Raquel González-Paraíso, “Music of the Tierra Caliente del Balsas (Calentano Music) and Violinist Don Juan Reynoso Portillo” (master’s thesis, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2004).

                                                        (42.) See Carlos Ruiz Rodríguez, “Apuntes sobre la música y baile de artesa de San Nicolás Tolentino, Guerrero,” in Lenguajes de la tradición popular: fiesta, canto, música y representación, ed. Yvette Jiménez de Báez (Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 2002), 167–178; Versos, música y baile de artesa de la Costa Chica: San Nicolás, Guerrero y El Ciruelo, Oaxaca (Mexico City: El Colegio de México, A.C., 2004); “La Costa Chica y su diversidad musical. Ensayo sobre las expresiones afrodescendientes,” in Cunas, ramas y encuentros sonoros. Doce ensayos sobre patrimonio musical de México, ed. Fernando Híjar Sánchez (Mexico City: DGCP-CONACULTA, 2009), 39–81, and “Del fandango al baile de artesa: Declive, resurgimiento y sobrevivencia de una tradición musical de la Costa Chica,” in El fandango y sus variantes, III Coloquio Música de Guerrero, ed. Amparo Sevilla Villalobos (Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 2011), 249–266. Jorge Amós Martínez Ayala, editor and notes, Vámonos a fandanguear!… (Michoacán, Mexico: El Colegio de Michoacán, A.C. GVF 2451. CD, 2001); Jorge Amós Martínez Ayala, “¡Voy polla! El fandango en el Balsas,” in La Tierra Caliente de Michoacán, ed. José Eduardo Zárate Hernández (Zamora, Michoacán: El Colegio de Michoacán, 2001b), 263–385; Jorge Amón Martínez Ayala, ed., … de tierras abajo vengo: música y danza de la Tierra Caliente del Balsas michoacano (Michoacán, Mexico: El Colegio de Michoacán, A.C. CDDETIERRAS 01. CD, 2002); Alejandro Martínez de la Rosa, De la Sierra Morena vienen bajando, zamba, ay, que le daMúsica de la Costa Sierra del Suroccidente de México, Testimonio musical de México 54 (Mexico City: INAH & CONACULTA, 2012); Jorge Amós Martínez Ayala, “‘Solo que la mar se seque no me bañaré en sus olas’: Las relaciones musicales entre la Tierra Caliente y la Costa,” in El fandango y sus variantes, III Coloquio Música de Guerrero, ed. Amparo Sevilla Villalobos (Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 2014), 229–248; and Alejandro Martínez de la Rosa, “De la Montaña, la Tierra Caliente y la Costa: música y baile de tarima en Guerrero,” in El fandango y sus variantes, III Coloquio Música de Guerrero, ed. Amparo Sevilla Villalobos (Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia), 203–228.

                                                        (43.) J. Arturo Chamorro Escalante, Sones de la guerra: rivalidad y emoción en la práctica de la música p’urhepecha (Zamora, Michoacán: El Colegio de Michoacán, 1994); and Arturo Chamorro Escalante, Abajeños y sones de la fiesta purépecha (Mexico City: CONACULTA, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia. Ediciones Pentagrama 024. CD, 1999).

                                                        (44.) César Hernández Azuara, Huapango: El son huasteco y sus instrumentos en los siglos XIX y XX (Mexico City: CIESAS, COLSAN, Programa de Desarrollo Cultural de la Huasteca, 2003).

                                                        (45.) Rosa Virginia Sánchez García, Antología Poética del Son Huasteco Tradicional (Mexico City: Cenidim, 2009).

                                                        (46.) Available online.

                                                        (47.) Arturo Warman, Michoacán: sones de Tierra Caliente. Various artists (Mexico City: CONACULTA, INAH. Ediciones Pentagrama 015. CD. 2002a); Sones y Gustos de la Tierra Caliente de Guerrero, Conjunto Ajuchitlán and Conjunto de Bardomiano Flores (Mexico City: CONACULTA, INAH. Ediciones Pentagrama 10. CD. [1st ed. 1971] 2002b); Sones de México: Antología (Mexico City: CONACULTA, INAH. Ediciones Pentagrama 07. CD. 2002c); and Sones de Veracruz (Mexico City: CONACULTA, INAH. Ediciones Pentagrama 06. CD. 2002d).

                                                        (48.) J. Arturo Chamorro Escalante, Mariachi Antiguo, Jarabe y Son: Símbolos compartidos y tradición musical en las identidades jaliscienses (Guadalajara, Mexico: Secretaría de Cultura. Gobierno del Estado de Jalisco, 2006).

                                                        (49.) See Alex E. Chávez, “Huapango Arribeño: A Mexican Musico-Poetic Tradition at the Interstices of Postmodernity (1968–1982),” Latin American Music Review 33.2 (2012): 186–226; and Sounds of Crossing: Music, Migration, and the Aural Poetics of Huapango Arribeño (Duke University Press, 2017).

                                                        (50.) Raquel González-Paraíso, “Re-contextualizing Traditions: The Performance of Identity in Festivals of Huasteco, Jarocho, and Terracalenteño Sones in Mexico” (PhD diss., University of Wisconsin at Madison, 2014).

                                                        (51.) Great collection of Mexican traditional music, covering indigenous and mestizo musical traditions. Each CD includes notes on the recordings and/or the musical genres. Available online.

                                                        (52.) Collection various genres of Mexican music, including popular, folkloric, traditional, and music of classical Western tradition. Preserving and cataloging sound culture is central to this sound library. Collections such as that of Henriquetta Yurchenco and Raúl Hellmer are significant as they contain a great number of Mexican traditional music recorded by both researchers. Available online. The National Center of Research, Documentation and Musical Information Carlos Chávez (Cenidim) is one of the four national research entities of the National Institute of Fine Arts (INBA), and its mission is the study and knowledge of music in Mexico, as well as its rescue, conservation, and divulgation. Jazz and Western classical music mainly. LPs, program notes, cassette tapes, microfilms. Available online.