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Music of Mexico

Periods of Mexican Music

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The various periods of Pre-Columbian (or Pre-Hispanic) history can be divided into several major epochs:  The Pre-agricultural from 10,000 to 5,000 B.C.; the Classic from 0 to 800 A.D.; and the Post Classic from 800 to 1521 A.D.

Throughout these eras music played a very important role in the lives of the people in the various nations of Mesoamerica.  Eventually when they became sedentary, after eons of  nomadic existence, they developed the various art forms, including ceramic art forms which, in turn, were used to produce musical instruments.  These people, whether they may have been nomadic in some instances or whether they had established cities and great urban centers, brought forth very advanced autocratic and military civilizations.  When metal technologies became a reality and when their cosmological perspectives were highly advanced, they developed sophisticated and remarkable musical instruments.  Researchers now maintain that their musical knowledge was so advanced that they produced harmony with 3 or 4 voices before the Europeans.

Through the centuries, a caste of musicians was created, and they developed a musical system based on the laws of acoustics.  There were ceremonies that used descriptive music (dances in imitations of animals), abstract music and music for theatrical and mime shows.  Religious feasts and ceremonies in preparation of war were true rites where each costume, each color, and each dance step had special significance.  That was the reason why dancers, musicians, and singers were exempted from paying taxes.  All types of poetic, dance, and musical activities were protected.  Their importance was equal to that of a religious act or an act of high politics.  There were as many rites and ceremonies as there were musical instruments.  Some were simple,  others were more complicated, covering from a simple rattle to flutes of four or five tubes.

Jose Luis Franco, professor of Anthropological Studies of Mexico, found a family of wind instruments whose sound was unique to Mesoamerica, and many ethnomusicologists say to the whole world.  Such types of musical instruments could be related, by their sound, to death rites, and in many cases they were decorated with skull decorations.  Pre-Hispanic musical instruments vary from era to era and from region to region.  But there are a series of constants and classifications that allow us to observe that, even though there are a series of many groups and civilizations (Mayas, Olmos, Toltecs, Teotihuacáns, Mixtecs, Aztecs, etc.), they shared ways of thinking, ceremonies related to life and death, and a common view of the mysteries of Mother Nature and their own gods, a vision that helped them create great civilizations.

The Nahuatl Legend about the Origin of Music:  Teotihuacán thrived between 200 and 850 A.D.  When Teotihuacán collapsed, it was believed that the gods died in Teotihuacán and the Teotihuacán priests wandered aimlessly.  One of them reached the sea, and he spoke with Tezcatlipoca and asked him to go to the Sun to obtain singers and musical instruments to honor the memory of the dead gods.  Turtles and fish made a bridge over the sea, and the priest walked on it.  He reached the mansion of the Sun and explained the reason for his visit, but the Sun, refusing to reduce his court, warned everyone to ignore the priest’s pleas, under the threat of being expelled to earth.  But the priest begged with such feeling that Huehuetl and Teponaztli could not resist, and because they answered his call, they were expelled from the  Sun’s  house.  Since then men have known music.

Pre-Columbian Musicians:  Most of the “instrumental” musicians at the time of the Conquest (1519-1521) were killed by the Spaniards.  But many local and folk musicians continued to play their music so that even today there are thousands of Mexicans that play their traditional musical instruments.

One of the best known of the Pre-Columbian personalities was the philosopher/king, poet, mystic, architect, and musician known as Nezahualcoyotl (1402-1482) of Texcoco, a city known for its beautiful buildings and splendid palaces.  He put all his energy into writing, especially his poetry, and also was incredibly involved with astronomy, music, painting, and the divinatory arts.  It is said that he wrote more than 70 songs.

            Mexican Music – Pre-Hispanic album – Juan Reyes

            Raiz Viva – Los Folklolristas

            La Llorona – Chavela Vargas, Joan Baez

            Mexican song sung by Joan Baez, traced to Pre-Columbian (Aztec)  period, roughly 1503.

The history of this song dates back to pre-Columbian times before the arrival of the Spanish and Hernan Cortez who conquered the Aztecs in 1521.  In 1503, before Hernan Cortez had even started his campaign against the Aztecs, Moctezuma, the Aztec ruler, and his priests were awakened in the middle of the night by the wailing of a weeping woman.  In fact, the entire metropolis of over 300,000 people in the city of Mexico-Tenochtitlan heard the cry of this weeping woman throughout the city.  This event was documented in one of the ancient Aztec codices or books.  According to this ancient manuscript, the Aztec ruler, his priests, and the entire city for the next several nights heard the eerie sounds of a woman crying at night throughout this huge metropolitan city.  Moctezuma and his priests interpreted the strange sounds of this weeping woman to denote that something terrible and catastrophic was about to happen to them and their city.   They also believed that according to the divine predictions of their calendar that this omen of the weeping woman meant that Quetzalcoatl (the ancient Toltec ruler Ce Acatl Topilzin  Quezalcoatl)  who had suffered at the loss of his city of Tula in the  tenth century, was on his way back to reclaim his rule in the valley of Anahuac.   Later in 1519 when rumors of white men in floating houses on the waters of the great sea (ships) were communicated to Moctezuma, they were certain that this was the ancient god returning to reclaim his kingdom.  Between 1500and 1519 there were a multitude of  omens  that were interpreted by Moctezuma and his priests that Quetzalcoalt (the Plumed Serpent) was returning as he had promised that he would return on the year of his birth.  In the Aztec calendar this was One Reed, which meant that he would return on the 52nd year (or every 52 years since the Aztec had a 52-year cycle), and this coincided with the year 1519.

After the conquest of the Aztecs by the Spanish and Cortez, even though it turned out that Cortez was not Quetzalcoatl as was previously believed by Moctezuma, nevertheless, the memory was not forgotten that something terrible was associated with the weeping woman heard so long ago.

Today, almost 500 years later, even though the people of Mexico have forgotten about the omens of the return of Quetzalcoatl, or that something dreadful was about to happen to their city, they did not forget the story of the weeping woman, La Llorona.  And they did not forget that her cries means that something dreadful and terrible could come to those who were unfortunate enough to cross  their path.  Today all across Mexico, even across the United States, Mexican and U.S.  Chicanos (Mexican  Americans) know of the weeping woman, La Llorona.  The versions may vary from country to country, region to region, from city to  city, and even from neighborhood to neighborhood within a city, but almost one hundred percent of all Mexicans or “La Raza” know of La Llorona or the “boogie woman.”

La Llorona (The Weeping Woman – traditional, unknown author) Sung by Joan Baez

Todos me dicen el negro, llorona,

            negro pero cariñoso.

Todos me dicen el negro, llorona,

            negro pero cariñoso

Yo soy como el chile verde,llorona

            Picantae pero sabroso.

Yo soy como el chile verde, llorona

            Picante pero sabroso.

Ay, de mi llorona,

            llorona de ayer y hoy.

Ay de mi llorona

            llorona de ayer y hoy.

Ayer maravilla  fui, llorona,

            Y ahora ni sombra soy.

Ayer maravilla  fui, llorona,

            Y ahora ni sombra soy.

Dicen que no tengo duelo, llorona,

            Porque no me ven llorar.

Dicen que no tengo duelo, llorona

            Porque no me ven llorar.

Hay muertos que no hacen  ruido, llorona

            Y es mas grande su penar.

Hay muertos que no hacen ruido, llorona

            Y es mas grande su penar.

Ay, de mi llorona

            llorona de azul celeste

Ay, de mi llorona

            llorona de azul celeste

Aunque  la vida me cueste, llorona

            no dejaré de quererte.

Aunque la vida me cueste, llorona

            No dejaré de quererte.

Everyone calls me the black one, llorona,

            Black but affectionate (or loving)

Everyone calls me the black one, llorona,

            Black but affectionate (or loving)

I am like green chile, llorona

            spicy but delicious.

I am like green chile, llorona

            spicy but delicious.

            Oh, my llorona,

            llorona of yesterday and today

Oh my llorona,

            llorona of yesterday and today

            Yesterday I was a marvel, llorona,    

            And today I’m not even a shadow

            Yesterday I was a marvel, llorona,

            And today I’m not even a shadow.

They say I don’t have pain, llorona,

            because they don’t see me crying.

They say I don’t have pain, llorona,

            because they don’t see me crying.

There are dead that don’t make noise, llorona,

            and their pain is greater.

            There are dead that don’t make noise, llorona,

            And their pain is greater.      

Oh, my llorona,

            llorona of heavenly blue (or blue sky)           

Oh, my llorona,

            llorona of heavenly blue (or blue sky)

Even though it may cause me my life, llorona,         

            I will not stop loving you.

Even though it may cause me my life, llorona,

            I will not stop loving you.

The Conquest

Colonial Period

 Just as the other art forms flourished in New Spain Colonial Mexico),music also blossomed fully in this part of the world.

The Colonial Mexican Period lasted from 1521 to  1821 during the Vice-Regency of New Spain. The cultivation of European music began soon after the arrival of the Spanish, during the Late Renaissance period of Western Music. Musical practices continually coincided with “European tendencies throughout the subsequent Baroque and Classical music period.  It is important to note that, while much music was fashioned in European style, uniquely Mexican hybrid works composed of native Mexican language and European musical practice, appeared as early as the sixteenth century and throughout the colonial period.

Much of the surviving music is sacred music for choir and orchestra that was found at the cathedrals of Mexico City, Puebla, Oaxaca, and Guatemala City, when it formed part of New Spain.  Collections of secular music also survive such as the Cdice Saldívar of guitar music and the Eleanor Hague Manuscript housed at the Southwestern Museum in Los Angeles.

Renaissance Music:

 Antonio de Salazar (Seville, Spain c. 1650—Mexico City, Mexico 1715) was a Mexican composer. [1]

Salazar arrived in New Spain in 1688 as chapel master of Puebla Cathedral, then later held his final position at Mexico City Cathedral.  It is unknown id he had any direct connection to Oaxaca Cathedral though some of his compositions are found in manuscript there.

In his sacred Latin works Salazar was noted for strict contrapuntal style harking back to Palestrina.  The musicologist Bruno Turner considers that Salazar “represents the last of the truly conservative Hispanic composers before the all-conquering Italian style took Spain and its Empire by storm”.

Salazar also composed lighter pieces including Christmas villancicos, including several in the “negrillo” genre imitating the dialects and dances of African slaves.

Hernando Franco (1532 – November 28,  1585) was a Spanish composer of the Renaissance who was mainly active in Guatemala and Mexico.

Franco was born in Galizuela (now part of Esparragosa de Lares, Badajoz Province) in Extremadura, a source region for many people who came to the new World in the 16th century.  He was trained in music as a choirboy, and later apprentice and journeyman, at Segovia Cathedral by Gerόnimo de Espinar, who may also have been a teacher of Thomás Luis de Victoria. While a youth he met and befriended Lázaro del Álamo, who was to precede him as maestro de capilla in Mexico City.

Most likely Franco lent to Nueva España in the 1550s, though there is no record of his activities until 1571 when he appears in the records as maestro de capilla of the cathedral of Santiago de Guatemala, which had been elevated to cathedral rank in 1534.  That magnificent building has been newly constructed in a new site in the valley of Panchoy, present-day Antigua Guatemala, after the city had to be moved from the previous site in Almolonga, beginning in 1542.

Franco left that position in 1574 after a series of budget cuts that affected his salary, and undertook the journey to Mexico.  Here he was fortunate to find the position of maestro de capilla of the new cathedral vacant.  He was appointed the new chapel master in 1575, where his old friend Lázaro del Álamo had been maestro de capilla from 1556 to 1570.

Franco was clearly a well-respected and beloved figure, since he was granted a prebend in 1581, and contemporary documents contain numerous references to his exemplary character and musicianship. He resigned in 1582 during a period of financial difficulties in Mexico City and died in 1585.  He is buried in the cathedral’s main chapel.

Hernando Franco wrote 20 motets which survive, as well as 16 Magnificat settings and a setting for four voices of the Lamentations of Jeremiah.  He seems to have written no masses, an unusual omission for a composer who headed a Spanish chapel choir,    but it is possible that much of his music has been lost.  Some hymns in the Nahuatl language by a composer of the same name (Hernando don Franco) are now presumed to be the work of a native composer who took Franco’s name, as was the custom, on his conversion to Christianity and baptism (if so, they may be the earliest extant notated music in the European tradition by a Native American composer.  

Franco’s style is related to that of other Spanish composers of the period, though more conservative, treating dissonance carefully, avoiding  chromaticism and virtuosity; indeed tending towards austerity.  His settings of the Magnificat were influenced by those by Cristόbal de Morales.  The voice range of his works is limited and may reflect the singing abilities of his choirs, which were not up to the musical standards of those in Europe.

Franco is the earliest known composer in Guatemala; his two pieces in the archives of the Guatemala cathedral, a Lumenad revelationem and a Benedicamus Domino, are the earliest surviving manuscripts from the area. Other composers preceded him in Mexico, but he was considered by his contemporaries to be the finest of the 16th century there.

Baroque Music

Ignacio de Jerusalem (Mexican baroque)

The Mexican baroque-galante style at is finest was Ignacio de Jerusalem y Stella, known as “The Musical Miracle”.

Ignacio de Jerusalem (1710-1769) was Kapapelmeister of Mexico City Cathedral after Manuel de Sumaya; he was known by his contemporaries as:  “The musical miracle”.  He was another of the greatest glories of XVIIIth century music.

War of Independence & Nineteenth Century

Many of the rhythms and musical forms that are so well known today developed during the Colonial Period like the jarabe, the corrido,  the son, the valona, la cancion, and the huapango.

Corridors, the ballads of Mexicans are the product of oral tradition (although they may have been preserved on printed sheets called broadsides).    They keep alive the memory of important events and heroes, and those of verses of lasting appeals are passed on from generation to generation, subject of course to changes and variants that may occur.  The number of variants may well attest to the popularity of the given corridor theme or subject.

Mexican Revolution

Golden Era

            Agustin Lara

            Pedro Infante

            Jorge Negrete

El Nuevo Canto/La Nueva Cancion

An Introduction: La Nueva Canción or El Nuevo Canto
(The New Song)

La Nueva Canción or El Nuevo Canto (Spanish for 'new song') is a movement in Latin American music that was developed first in the countries of South America, especially Chile , during the 1950s and 1960s, but also popularized shortly after in Mexico and Central America. It combined traditional Latin American folk music idioms and some had popular rock music, with progressive and often politicized lyrics. It gained great popularity throughout Latin America. La Nueva Canción movement was a folk music revival characterized by social aims often connected to left-wing politics, nationalistic, or progressive movements of self-determination and anti-imperialism. Several Nueva Canción musicians had to go into exile when their countries became right-wing military dictatorships in the 1960s and 1970s.

Prominent Nueva Canción musicians faced different and difficult fortunes during military dictatorships. Víctor Jara was killed by the Chilean military of General Augosto Pinochet when the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende was overthrown with assistance by Henry Kissinger and the U.S. CIA in September 1973. The Chilean musical ensembles Inti-Illimani and Quilapayun also went into exile, the former in Italy and the latter in France . Mercedes Sosa from Argentina went into exile in Spain, while Silvio Rodríguez from Cuba wrote Canción urgente para Nicaragua after the Sandinista Revolution in 1979.

Víctor Jara (above photo) is one of the most emblematic of the Nueva Canción musicians. He was murdered following the 1973 Chilean coup d'etat and his music was outlawed. Even some of the folk instruments, like the quena (Indian flute) and the charango (stringed instrument often made from the armadillo shell) that were played in his music were banned.

Due to La Nueva Canción songs' strong political messages, some of them have been used in recent political campaigns as such Violeta Parra's Gracias a la vida which was used in the Orange Revolution. La Nueva Canción has became part of the Latin American and Iberian musical movement for freedom, liberty, equality, and social justice.

Countries where La Nueva Cancion took root and flowered during this period.

Characteristics of La Nueva Cancion

"La Nueva Canción" also known as the "New Song Movement" or "Trova" is a type of protest/social song. Its lyrics characteristically talk about poverty, empowerment, the Unidad Popular, imperialism, democracy, human rights, and religion. There are some hundreds of songs with influences from British and American pop rock that were popular with college youths.

La Nueva Canción largely draws upon Andean music, Música negra, Mexican folk music, Spanish music, Cuban music and other Latin American folklore. An important source for La Nueva Canción, is the Chilean cueca, a rural song-form.

The '73 Chilean coup affected the genre's growth in Chile , the country where it was the most popular, because the whole musical movement was forced to go underground. During the days of the coup, Víctor Jara, a well known singer, songwriter and maybe the most popular figure of Nueva Canción, was tortured and killed by the new rightist military regime under General Augusto Pinochet. Other groups, such as Inti-Illimani and Quilapayún, found safety outside the country. The military government under General Pinochet ruled until 1989 and went as far as to ban many traditional Andean instruments, in order to suppress the Nueva Canción movement. Following the deposition of Pinochet, the Estadio Chile in Santiago de Chile where Víctor Jara was murdered bears his name.

Most songs feature the guitar, and often the quena, zampoña, charango or cajón. The lyrics are typically in Spanish, with some indigenous or local words mixed in.

While Chile has produced the largest number of Nueva Canción artists, its popularity has been great in almost all Spanish speaking Latin American countries, and it enjoyed some popularity in Spain during the 1970s, where it was initially fueled by the political oppression of the Franquist regime. A well-known Spanish group was Agua Viva.

Musicians & Groups


Brazil - Tropicalismo and Música Popular Brasileira

Canary Islands




El Salvador



Paraguay - Nuevo Cancionero

Puerto Rico



Cuba - Nueva Trova


México - Canto Nuevo

Catalunya - Nova Cançó

United States - Nueva Canción


Los Folkloristas es una agrupación de músicos mexicanos, pioneros en su país en la difusión de la música tradicional latinoamericana. El grupo nació en 1966 en la Ciudad de México con el objetivo de difundir la música folklórica y la nueva canción de México y América Latina. Con una larga trayectoria de más 40 años han participado en el grupo 48 músicos. Desde su fundación Los Folkloristas se han dedicado a la investigación de las expresiones culturales y al rescate de las raíces folklóricas de México y Latinoamérica, incorporando todo este conocimiento a su repertorio.




En sus inicios, "Los Folkloristas" era una numerosa agrupación de músicos aficionados que compartían el gusto por la música folklórica. Se reunían en el "Chez Negro", una cafetería propiedad de Salvador Ojeda, de quien se ha dicho ser el fundador del grupo. Sin embargo, el "Negro" solo duró dos años en "Los Folkloristas", y es en 1972 cuando José Ávila toma la decisión de profesionalizar el proyecto de "Los Folkloristas". Desde 1972, el grupo está conformado por 7 integrantes multi-instrumentistas (5 hombres y 2 mujeres), que han ido cambiando al transcurrir del tiempo.

En 1970 fundaron "La Peña de los Folkloristas" que durante su vida activa fue el centro más importante de enseñanza y difusión de la música latinoamericana en México. y en donde ofrecieron conciertos Víctor Jara, Inti-Illimani, Soledad Bravo, Atahualpa Yupanqui, Isabel Parra, Raúl García Zárate, Los Calchakis, Mercedes Sosa, Silvio Rodríguez, Daniel Viglietti, Pablo Milanés, Nicomedes Santa Cruz y muchos más.

La agrupación ha participado en festivales y conciertos masivos en países como Cuba, Canadá, Italia, Alemania, España, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Bolivia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Chile, Argentina, Panamá, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú y República Dominicana.

Un acontecimiento importante para la agrupación, fue el hecho de ser el primer grupo de música popular y tradicional en presentarse en el Palacio de Bellas Artes (1972), hecho que siguió celebrándose en los aniversarios del grupo durante 35 años. Los Folkloristas han presentado su trabajo en diversos países de América, Europa y Asia y han realizado conciertos al lado de importantes orquestas como la Orquesta Sinfónica de Chicago y la Orquesta Filarmónica de la Ciudad de México.

Siglo XXI

En el año 2002 presentaron al lado del Coro Pro-Música, la Misa Criolla del compositor argentino Ariel Ramírez, y realizaron el estreno del arreglo vocal de "Tierra Mestiza", obra que el compositor, guitarrista y co-fundador de la agrupación, Gerardo Tamez les dedicara en 1976.

A lo largo de su carrera, Los Folkloristas han logrado reunir un acervo de más de 300 instrumentos musicales de cuerda, aliento y percusión provenientes de prácticamente, toda Latinoamérica. Una particularidad de la música del grupo es que no es interpretada por instrumentos eléctricos.

El 28 de junio de 2001 muere René Villanueva, co-fundador, integrante e investigador del grupo, quien además, crea en 1972 el sello "Discos Pueblo", en donde "Los Folkloristas" han grabado toda su discografía.

El 9 de febrero de 2011 muere Salvador "El Negro" Ojeda, uno de los integrantes iniciales de la agrupación.

Una característica de "Los Folkloristas", es el uso de ponchos o jorongos de distintos colores y diseño. Las mujeres, utilizan huipiles.

En 2011, el grupo "Los Folkloristas" recibió el premio "Lunas del Auditorio" en la categoría de Música Tradicional Mexicana.

Integrantes actuales

Integrantes (De 1966 a la actualidad)

  • José Ávila (1966-presente)
  • René Villanueva (1966-2000)
  • Gerardo Tamez (1966-79)
  • Salvador Ojeda (1966-68)
  • Emilia Domínguez (1966-68)
  • Jas Reuter (1966-71)
  • Rubén Ortiz (1966-75)
  • María Elena Torres (1966-75)
  • Rosa Elena Domínguez (1966-68)
  • Jorge Saldaña (1966-68)
  • Juan Antonio Ávila (1966-67)
  • Carlos Ávila (1966-67)
  • Emiliano Ávila (1966-68)
  • Alejandro Ávila (1966-68)
  • Sara Rosa Ávila (1966-68)
  • Carlos Alamillo (1966-68)
  • Emilia Martínez Negrete (1966-68)
  • José Luis Belmar (1966-68)
  • Efraín Trillo (1966-68)
  • Laura Cao Romero (1966-68)
  • Teresa Bourlón (1966-70)
  • Adrián Nieto (1967-presente)
  • Héctor Sánchez (1967-72, 1989-99)
  • Yocasta Gallardo (1968-72)
  • Xóchitl Ferrer (1969-70)
  • Lourdes Reuter (1969-71)
  • Leonor Lara (1972-77)
  • Guillermina de Francisco (1975-77)
  • Efrén Parada (1975-80)
  • Olga Alanís (1977-presente)
  • Norma Cecilia Romero (1978-79)
  • Gustavo López (1979-82)
  • Rosalinda Reynoso (1979-93)
  • Andrés Sierra (1980-82)
  • Martha Moreleón (1982)
  • Carlos Tovar (1983-86)
  • José Luis Gómez (1983-89)
  • Ernesto Anaya (1986-94)
  • Gabriela Rodríguez (1995-2009)
  • Alfonso Hernández (1994-99)
  • Efrén Vargas (1999-2009)
  • Enrique Hernández (1999-presente)
  • Javier Arroyo Rivas (2000-2001)
  • Omar Valdez (2001-presente)
  • María del Pilar Castañeda (2002)
  • Valeria Rojas (2009-presente)
  • Sergio Ordóñez (2009-presente)


(Sello: Discos Pueblo)

Discos de vinilo

  • Volúmen 1 (Repertorio de conciertos en Palacio de Bellas Artes 72-73)
  • Volúmen 2 (Repertorio de conciertos en Palacio de Bellas Artes 72-73)
  • Volúmen 3 (Repertorio 1967-70)
  • Volúmen 4 (Repertorio 1966 - 1968)
  • En Vivo. Palacio de Bellas Artes (1974)
  • Nuevo Canto (1976)
  • México (1976)
  • Raíz Viva (1977)
  • México 2 (1981)
  • Nuestra América (1984)
  • México 3: Nuestras Raíces (1987)
  • Cantan a los niños (1988)
  • Nuestra América Negra (1989)

Discos compactos

  • Nuestra América Negra
  • México: Horizonte Musical
  • Cantan a los niños
  • Viaje por Latinoamérica (Compilaciones)
  • Concierto de Aniversario "Palacio de Bellas Artes" (1991)
  • 25 Años (1992)
  • Coplas y Tonadas (1995)
  • México (Compilaciones)
  • Latinoamérica (Compilaciones)
  • 30 Años (1996)
  • Nueva Canción (Compilaciones)
  • Colores Latinoamericanos (1999)
  • Caminos de Los Andes (Compilaciones)
  • El Son Mexicano (Compilaciones)
  • 35 Años (2001)
  • La Misa Criolla (2002)
  • 40 Años (2006)
  • 45 Años. En vivo (2011)
  • Argentina (Compilaciones)
  • Bolivia (Compilaciones)
  • Ecuador (Compilaciones)
  • Perú (Compilaciones)
  • Venezuela (Compilaciones)
  • Veracruz (Compilaciones)
  • Michoacán (Compilaciones)


Bottom of Form

               Manifesto – Victor Jara (Chile)

            Canto Al Trabajador - Los Folkloristas,  Adrian Nieto

            Tierra Mestiza - Gerardo Tamez

            Juan Sin Tierra – Los Folkloristas

            La Maldicion de Malinche – Gabino Palomares

            Amparo Ochoa

            Ernesto Anaya


History of Mexican Music

Interested in the history of Mexican Music? Want to know where the major influences & instruments in Mexican music come from? Our guide to the music of Mexico gives you the facts & information you want to know.

The culture of a country can be judged by asking three pertinent questions, i.e. what do they eat? What do they wear? And last but certainly not the least, how do they celebrate? However, in the case of Mexico, one thing can be added and that is, what do they listen to? Undoubtedly, music is something that can give a good impression of the cultures and traditions of a specific region. Mexican music is also one of the important aspects of the culture in Mexico. There are different styles of Mexican music and all of them are steeped in culture and traditions.

Mexico certainly is a rich country pertaining to its resources of different styles of music which were introduced at different points in its history. The history of these music styles is certainly worth exploring. The history and origin of a few of the styles is given herein as it certainly is impossible to account for all of the styles in only a few words.

Latin America has a major influence on this style of Mexican music when the world first became aware of this music genre in 18th century. Since its first introduction, it has transformed and further gave rise to as many as nine music styles, Mariachi is one of them.

Mariachi Mexican Music

This is the music genre of Mexico that needs no introduction as it is something that is in the very root of every Mexican’s heart. After the Mexican Revolution in 1910, it was declared to be Mexico’s national music. In the beginning of the 20th century, it evolved in Jalisco to be played in weddings. In Mariachi, a traditional dress is often used which has a historical association with General Porfirio Díaz who ordered the band to wear charro suits in 1907, for the US secretary. Today, the present form of Mariachi is an evolved form as trumpets were used in 1930 which were utilized in place of cornets which were added in the 1920s. After all those initial developments and transformations, Mariachi gained real popularity and was truly at its zenith in 1950s. Although it has been a little neglected in recent times, traditional Mexican functions cannot be complete without a touch of Mariachi.

Norteño Music

After the introduction of Mariachi, it then further produced some of the styles like Ranchera which really gained momentum and was really popular in Latin America. Ranchera was the style of music that Norteño bands used to play. Norteño is one of those genres of music which have a large fan following in Mexico and USA, alike. Norteño evolved with an intermingling of Mexican son, Czech and Bohemian rhythms. During the 19th century, Czech and Bohemian people brought some new music styles with some added musical instruments like the accordion. The newly introduced music style of those migrants amalgamated with the existing Norteño and started to be played by local bands. That was the start of the evolution and transformation of Norteño the impacts of which can still be seen as the accordion has now become one of the most integral parts of this music genre.

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Statue of Agustín Lara (El Flaco de Oro) in Madrid.

The music of Mexico is very diverse and features a wide range of musical genres and performance styles. It has been influenced by a variety of cultures, most notably indigenous Mexican and European, since the Late Middle Ages. Many traditional Mexican songs are well-known worldwide, including Bésame Mucho (Kiss Me a Lot), La Bamba (The Bamba), Solamente una vez (English version "You Belong to My Heart"), La Bikina (The Bikina), Cielito Lindo (Beautiful Sweetheart), Somos Novios (We Are Lovers; English version "It's Impossible"), El Rey (The King), María Bonita (Pretty María), México Lindo y Querido (Beautiful, Beloved Mexico).

La Cucaracha (The Cockroach), although popularized during the Mexican Revolution, is a Spanish corrido.

National Symphony Orchestra logo

Mexico has a long tradition of classical music, as far back as the 16th century, when it was a Spanish colony. Music of New Spain, especially that of Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla and Hernando Franco, is increasingly recognized as a significant contribution to New World culture.

Puebla was a significant center of music composition in the 17th century, as the city had considerable wealth and for a time was presided over by Bishop Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, who was an enthusiastic patron of music. Composers during this period included Bernardo de Peralta Escudero (mostly active around 1640), and also Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla, who was the most famous composer of the 17th century in Mexico. The construction of the cathedral in Puebla made the composition and performance of polychoral music possible, especially compositions in the Venetian polychoral style. Late in the century, Miguel Matheo de Dallo y Lana set the verse of poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.

In the 18th century, Manuel de Sumaya, maestro de capilla at the cathedral in Mexico City, wrote many cantadas and villancicos, and he was the first Mexican to compose an opera, La Partenope (1711). After him, Ignacio Jerusalem, an Italian-born composer, brought some of the latest operatic styles as well as early classical (galant) styles to Mexico. His best-known composition is probably the Matins for the Virgin of Guadalupe (1764). Jerusalem was maestro de capilla at the cathedral in Mexico City after Sumaya, from 1749 until his death in 1769.

Jalisco Symphony Orchestra

In the 19th century the waltzes of Juventino Rosas achieved world recognition. Manuel M. Ponce is recognized as an important composer for the Spanish classical guitar, responsible for widening the repertoire for this instrument. Ponce also wrote a rich repertoire for solo piano, piano and ensembles, and piano and orchestra, developing the first period of modernistic nationalism, using Native American and European resources, but merging them into a new, original style.

OFUNAM playing at Sala Nezahualcóyotl.

In the 20th century, Carlos Chavez, is a notable composer who wrote symphonies, ballets, and a wide catalog of chamber music, within varied esthetic orientations. Another recognized composer is Silvestre Revueltas who wrote such pieces as The night of the mayas, Homenaje a García Lorca, Sensemayá based on a poem by Nicolas Guillen, and orchestral suites like Janitzio and Redes originally written for motion pictures. Jose Pablo Moncayo with compositions such as Huapango, and Blas Galindo with Sones de Mariachi, are also recognized as adapters of Mexican sons into symphonic music. A later contributor to this tradition, Arturo Márquez is also internationally known by his orchestral mastery and melodic vivacity.

In 1922, Julian Carrillo (violinist, composer, conductor, theoretician and inventor), created the first microtonal system in the history of classical music. During subsequent years, he also developed and constructed harps and pianos able to play music in fragments of tone, like fourths, sixths, eighths and sixteenths. His pianos are still manufactured in Germany and are used to play Carrillo's music, mainly in Europe and Mexico.

Juan Torres Robles (organ player) and two of his admirers.

Another contemporary Mexican composer was Conlon Nancarrow (of American birth), who created a system to play pianola music, using and developing theories of politempo and polimetrics.

Some avant-garde composers leading Mexican music during the second half of the 20th century were Alicia Urreta, Manuel Enríquez, Mario Lavista and Julio Estrada. Some of them also contributed to the academic development of music teaching in American universities, a work also enriched by Daniel Catán, Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez, Guillermo Galindo, Carlos Sandoval, Ignacio Baca-Lobera, Hebert Vázquez, Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon and Samuel Zyman. In the other side of the Atlantic the composers of a new generation, Javier Álvarez, Ana Lara, Víctor Rasgado, Juan Trigos, Hilda Paredes, Javier Torres Maldonado, Gabriel Pareyon, and Georgina Derbez, also have contributed to the academic and artistic life.

Traditional Folk

Traditional types of Mexican folk music include various types of ensembles and forms. Types of ensembles include banda, conjunto calentano, conjunto huasteco, conjunto jarocho, mariachi, trio, and marimba. Different musical forms include canción Ranchera, Son Huasteco, Son jarocho, Mexican Danzón, Mexican Bolero, Son istmeño, Son Jaliscience, Chilena, Son Calentano, Son Planeco, and Canto cardenche.


An example of a corrido song sheet or sheet music, this one from 1915 at the height of the Mexican Revolution.

Corrido music is a popular narrative song of poetry form, a ballad. Various themes are featured in Mexican corridos, and corrido lyrics are often old legends (stories) and ballads about a famed criminal or hero in the rural frontier areas of Mexico. Some corridos may also be love stories. Also, there are corridos about women (La Venganza de Maria, Laurita Garza, La tragedia de Rosita and la adelita) and couples, not just about men. Some even talk about fiction or a made up story by the composer. Contemporary corridos written within the past few decades feature more modern themes such as drug trafficking (narcocorridos), immigration, migrant labor and even the Chupacabra. A common example is "la Cucaracha" which is derived from an Arabic sailors song from the Moores prior the Reconquista. The corrido has a rhythm similar to that of the European waltz; corridos, like rancheras, have introductory instrumental music and adornos interrupting the stanzas of the lyrics. However, unlike rancheras, the rhythm of a corrido remains fairly consistent, rancheras can be played at a variety of rhythms. Corridos often tell stories, while rancheras are for dancing.


José Alfredo Jiménez tomb in Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato, attracts visitors from around the world.

Ranchera is a genre of the traditional Mexican music originally sung by only one performer with a guitar. It dates to the years of the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century. It later became closely associated with the mariachi groups which evolved in Jalisco. Ranchera today is also played by norteño (Conjunto) or banda. Drawing on rural traditional folk music, ranchera developed as a symbol of a new national consciousness in reaction to the aristocratic tastes of the period. Traditional rancheras are about love, patriotism or nature. Rhythms can be in 3/4, 2/4 or 4/4, reflecting the tempo of, respectively, the waltz, the polka, and the bolero. The most popular ranchera composers include Lucha Reyes, Cuco Sánchez, Antonio Aguilar, Vicente Fernandez and José Alfredo Jiménez, who composed many of the best-known rancheras, with compositions totaling more than 1000 songs, making him one of the most prolific songwriters in the history of western music. The word ranchera was derived from the word rancho because the songs originated on the ranches and in the countryside of rural Mexico. Rancheras that have been adapted by conjuntos, or norteño bands from northern Mexico and the southwestern US, are sometimes called norteños, from the Spanish word for northern.


Norteño group

Another important music style is musica norteña, from northern Mexico, which has been the basis for such sub-genres as musica de banda. Musica Norteña, like musica Tejana, arose in the 1830s and 40s in the Rio Grande region, in the southern Texas. Influenced by both Bohemian music and immigrant miners, its rhythm was derived from European polkas, which were popular during the 1800s. This type of Mexican music has derived from singers like Ramon Ayala, Los Tigres del Norte, and many more.


Banda El Recodo

Banda music was created with the imitation of military bands that were imported during the Second Mexican Empire, headed by emperor Maximillian I of Mexico in the 1860s. Banda sounds very similar to polka music. Polish immigrants established themselves in the state of Sinaloa. It was further popularized during the Mexican Revolution when local authorities and states formed their own bands to play in the town squares. Revolutionary leaders like Pancho Villa, also took wind bands with them wherever they went. Banda has to this day remained popular throughout the central and northern states. It has, however, diversified into different styles due to regions, instruments and modernization. Today people associate banda with Sinaloense. This originated in the 1940s when the media distributed Banda el Recodo repertoire as exclusively from Sinaloa when it was actually regional music from all over Mexico.

Although banda music is played by many bands from different parts of Mexico, its original roots are in Sinaloa, made popular by bands such as Banda el Recodo from Sinaloa.

Banda Sinaloense experienced international popularity in the 1990s. The most prominent band was Banda el Recodo which is renowned as "the mother of all bands". Unlike tamborazo Zacatecano, Sinaloense's essential instrument is the tuba. Sometimes an accordion is also included. Some well known artists include Banda El Recodo, La Arrolladora Banda El Limón de René Camacho, Banda Los Recoditos, Banda Cuisillos, Joan Sebastian, Chalino Sánchez, El Chapo de Sinaloa, Banda Machos,

Tamborazo Zacatecano

Tamborazo Zacatecano originated in the state of Zacatecas and translates to drum-beat from Zacatecas. This banda style is traditionally composed of 2 trumpets,2 saxophone, a trombone and the essential bass drum. La Marcha de Zacatecas (The March of Zacatecas) by Genaro Codina is a perfect example of this type of music. La March de Zacatecas is a Mexican patriotic song, the anthem of the State of Zacatecas and considered the 2nd national anthem of Mexico.

In recent years the genre has been tainted with blood and violence, with the deaths of: Valentín Elizalde (known as "El Gallo de Oro" (golden rooster)), Sergio Vega "el shaka", and the lead singer of the band K-paz de la Sierra, Sergio Gomez. All these murders have been linked to drug dealers bands.


Mariachis playing at the Tenampa in Mexico City

The Mariachi style is a type of folk ensemble that perform ranchera, son de mariachi, huapango de mariachi, polka, corrido, and other musical forms. It originated in the southern part of the state of Jalisco during the 19th century.[1] The city of Guadalajara in Jalisco is known as the "Capital of Mariachi".[2] The style is now popular throughout Mexico and the Southwestern United States, and is considered representative of Mexican music and culture.[3] This style of music is played by a group consisting of five or more musicians that wear charro suits. The golden age of mariachi was in the 1950s, when the ranchera style was common in movies. Mariachi Vargas played for many of these soundtracks, and the long-lived band's long career and popular acclaim has made it one of the best-known mariachi. These movies became very popular in Latin America and mariachi's became very popular in places such as Colombia and Peru until this date.[4]

Mariachi Instruments

There are different theories as to the provenance of the word mariachi. Some say it comes from the French word mariage because it was the type of music often played at weddings. However, mariachi originates from a part of Mexico that the French never visited and, even it they had, it began before their arrival in 1864. Another theory is that the word comes from the indigenous name of the Pilla or Cirimo tree, whose wood is used to make guitars. It has also been said that the name comes from a festival in honor of a virgin known as Maria H. that musicians played for and that over time they were given this name.[1]

The traditional mariachi band consists of the violin, the vihuela, guitar, a guitarrón (large bass guitar) and a trumpet. Other instruments may also be seen in a mariachi band, such as the flute, French horn, accordion, or organ are used. These instruments are used for specific arrangements.[5]

Mexican music was popularized in the United States in the late 1970s as part of a revival of mariachi music led by performers like Linda Ronstadt.[6] Other famous mariachi performers include Pedro Infante, Vicente Fernández, Pepe Aguilar, Pedro Fernández, Alejandro Fernández, Antonio Aguilar, and Miguel Aceves Mejia. Some of the best-known examples of Mexican music in the United States is "La Cucaracha" and the Jarabe tapatío (referred to as the Mexican Hat Dance in the United States).

Mexican Son

Mexican Son music was developed from the mixture of Spanish music with indigenous music from different regions, hence the music exhibited lots of variation from differents places, both in rhythm and instrumentation. Mariachi can be considered one type of Mexican son. Mexican son also includes various miscellaneous styles. The guitar is universally present in nearly all Mexican son sub-genres. Other instruments may include trumpets, violins, and accordions.

Son Jarocho group Zarahuato performing at the Museo de Arte Popular.

Mexican son has been rural for most of its history, and requires audience participation for zapateado, or foot-stamping done in a counter-rhythm. Most bands use string instruments and improvised lyrics. In the 1940s, Mexican music began its rise to international fame, just as Cuban music was topping charts across the globe. Since then, Mexico has absorbed influences from across Latin America, most especially include Colombian cumbia, which is now as much or more known as a Mexican trend than a Colombian one.

Mexican pop music derives from a mixture of Spanish, African and Aztec or other indigenous sources. Related to Cuban son montuno and Venezuelan joropo, Mexican son arose in the 18th century. It is similar to, but historically and characteristically distinct from, Cuban son montuno, despite the similarity in nomenclature. Nine or ten styles of Mexican son have been popular, including mariachi.

Jarana yucateca del Ayuntamiento de Mérida



Some major exponents are Leo Acosta, Tino Contreras, Juan García Esquivel, Luis Ocadiz, J.J. Calatayud, Leo Acosta, Arturo Castro, Chilo Morán, Popo Sánchez, and Eugenio Toussaint. Antonio Sanchez is also a very well known jazz drummer from Mexico City.

Latin alternative

The Villalobos Brothers performing at Carnegie Hall's Isaac Stern Auditorium

An ecletic range of influences is at the heart of Latin alternative, a music created by young players who have been raised not only on their parents' music but also on rock, hip-hop and electronica. It represents a sonic shift away from regionalism and points to a new global Latin identity.

The name "Latin alternative" was coined in the late 1990s by American record company executives as a way to sell music that was -literally—all over the map. It was marketed as an alternative to the slick, highly produced Latin pop that dominated commercial Spanish-language radio, such as Ricky Martin or Paulina Rubio.

Artists within the genre, such as Maldita Vecindad y los Hijos del Quinto Patio, Nortec Collective and Café Tacuba, have set out to defy traditional expectations of Latin music.

Mexican Ska

Ska entered Mexico in the 1960s, when both small bands like Los Matemáticos and big orchestras like Orquestra de Pablo Beltrán Ruíz recorded both original ska tunes and covers of Jaimacan hits.[8] After early new wave bands of the early eighties like Dangerous Rhythm and Kenny and the Electrics incorporated Ska into their post-punk sound, a more punk influenced brand of Ska started being produced in Mexico City in the late eighties, and the genre enjoyed its highest popularity during the early 2000s, even though it is still very popular today. Mexican Ska groups include Panteon Rococo (Mexico City), La Maldita Vecindad (Mexico City), Mama Pulpa (Mexico City) and Tijuana No! (Tijuana, Baja California; originally named Radio Chantaje).


Café Tacuba performing in Pontevedra, Spain.

The Mexican rock movement began in the late 1950s and early 1960s, rapidly becoming popular, and peaking in the 80s and 90s with real authentic sounds and styles. One of the early Mexican Rock bands came out of the predominantly Mexican barrio community of East Los Angeles, "Los Nómadas." (The Nomads) They were one of the first racially-integrated bands of the 50s, consisting of 3 Mexican Boys, Chico Vasquez, Jose 'J.D.' Moreno, Abel Padilla, and a Caucasian boy Billy Mayorga Aken. The adopted son of classical guitarist Francisco Mayorga and Mexican movie actress Lupe Mayorga, Aken was mentored by family friend, jazz guitarist Ray Pohlman and would later become rocker Zane Ashton, but his association with the boys would be a lifelong one. Mexican Rock combined the traditional instruments and stories of Mexico in its songs. Mexican and Latin American Rock en Español, remain very popular in Mexico, surpassing other cultural interpretations of Rock and Roll, including British Rock.

In the 60s and 70s, during the PRI government, most rock bands were forced to appear underground, that was the time after Avándaro (a Woodstock-style Mexican festival) in which groups like El Tri, Enigma, The Dugs Dugs, Javier Batiz and many others arose. During that time Mexican Carlos Santana became famous after performing at Woodstock. During the 80s and 90s many Mexican bands went to the surface and popular rock bands like Café Tacuba, Caifanes, Control Machete, Fobia, Los de Abajo, Molotov, Maná, Ely Guerra, Julieta Venegas and Maldita Vecindad achieved a large international following. The latter are "grandfathers" to the Latin ska movement. Mexico City has also a considerable movement of bands playing surf rock inspired in their outfits by local show-sport lucha libre.[citation needed] In the late 90's, Mexico had a new wave "resurgence" of rock music with bands like Jumbo, Zoé, Porter, etc., as well as instrumentalists Rodrigo y Gabriela.

Extreme metal has been popular for a long time in Mexico, with bands such as Dilemma, The Chasm, Xiuhtecuhtli, Disgorge, Brujeria, Transmetal, Hacavitz, Sargatanas, Mictlayotl, Yaoyotl, Ereshkigal and Calvarium Funestus. The Mexican metal fanbase is credited with being amongst one of the most lively and intense, and favorites for European metal bands to perform for.


Luis Miguel in Mexico city

The Mexican music market serves as a launching pad to stardom for a lot of non-Mexican artists who are interested extending the market-range of their music. Such was the case with Julio Iglesias, Enrique Iglesias, Shakira, Chayanne, Alejandro Sanz, Aventura, Juanes, Mecano, Daddy Yankee, Wisin & Yandel, and Ricky Martin, among many others. According to the America Top 100, Mexico had over 90 hits in Latin America during 2006, almost a third more than its closest competitor, the United States.

For the last thirty years, Mexican pop music has been led by teen pop bands and their former members. Specially seminal teen pop bands of the last decades have been Timbiriche, OV7 and RBD. Unlike teen pop bands elsewhere, the Mexican audience tends to prefer mixed gender combos over boys or girls bands. Other successful teen pop bands are Magneto, Jeans, Kabbah and Garibaldi.

The best known Mexican pop singers nowadays are: Anahí, Luis Miguel, Alejandro Fernández, Thalía, Lucero, Marco Antonio Solís, Paulina Rubio, Alejandra Guzmán, Gloria Trevi, Cristian Castro, Belinda Peregrín, RBD and Dulce María.


Some of the best Mexican composers for electronic and electroacoustic media are Javier Torres Maldonado, Murcof and Manuel Rocha Iturbide, the later conducting festivals and workshops of experimental music and art, in Mexico City and Paris. Some exponents are Nortec Collective, Wakal, Kobol (band), Murcof, Hocico and Mexican Institute of Sound.

Other music of Latin-american roots

Other popular forms of music found in various parts of Mexico – mostly with origins in other parts of the Caribbean and Latin America include rumba, mambo, bolero, and cumbia. Rumba came from the black Mexican slaves in Veracruz, Mexico City, and Yucatán. The style began in Cuba and later became famous in the black community of Mexico. From the beginning of the 20th century, bolero arrived to Yucatán, and Danzón to Veracruz. Both styles became very popular all over the country, and a Mexican style of both rhythms was developed.

In the 1940s, the Cubans Perez Prado, Benny More emigrated to Mexico, they brought with them the mambo, which became extremely popular specially in Mexico City, later on mambo developed into Cha cha chá which was also very popular.

Some renowned trios románticos were Trio Los Panchos, Los Tres Ases, Los Tres Diamantes and Los Dandys. Trio Bolero, a unique ensemble of two guitars and one cello.


Rigo Tovar

The history of Cumbia in Mexico is almost as old as Cumbia in Colombia. In the 1940s Colombian singers emigrated to Mexico, where they worked with the Mexican orquestra director Rafael de Paz. In the 50s they recorded what many people consider to be the first cumbia recorded outside of Colombia, La Cumbia Cienaguera. He recorded other hits like Mi gallo tuerto, Caprichito, and Nochebuena . This is when Cumbia began to be popularized in Mexico with Tony Camargo as one of the first exponents of Mexican Cumbia. Cumbia had made its mark in Mexico D.F where mostly the people dance to it are called "Chilangos" which were people that were born in the main district. The dances have transformed throughtime by the style and with its new moderation.

In the 70s Aniceto Molina also emigrated to Mexico, where he joined the group from Guerrero, La Luz Roja de San Marcos, and recorded many popular tropical cumbias like El Gallo Mojado, El Peluquero, and La Mariscada. Also in the 70s Rigo Tovar became very popular with his fusion of Cumbia with ballad and Rock.

Today Cumbia is played in many different ways, and has slight variations depending on the geographical area like Cumbia sonidera, Cumbia andina mexicana, Cumbia Norteña, Tecno-cumbia.

Popular Mexican Cumbia composers and interpreters include Rigo Tovar y su Costa Azul, Celso Piña, Los Caminantes, Grupo Bronco, and Selena.

Table (traditional music ensembles)

Traditional ensembles and instruments


Bowed Strings

Plucked Strings

Wood Winds

Brass Winds

Other Aerophones

Membranophone Percussion

Idiophone Percussion



guitar, vihuela, guitarron









clarinet, saxophone

tuba, trombone, trumpet


tambora, tarola


Conjunto norteño


bajo sexto, double bass




drums, tarola


Conjunto jarocho


requinto jarocho, jarana jarocha, leona, harp




pandero octagonal

marimbol, quijada, güiro

Conjunto huasteco


huapanguera, jarana huasteca






Marimba orquesta


double bass





marimba, güiro

Conjunto calentano


guitarra sexta, guitarra panzona, double bass






Conjunto de arpa grande


harp, guitar, vihuela, double bass






Jarana yucateca


double bass

clarinet, saxophone

trumpet, trombone



cymbals, güiro

Conjunto de son de tarima


vihuela, guitar





cajón de tapeo

Conjunto mixteco


guitar, bajo quinto






Trío romántico


guitar, guitarra requinto






Tamborileros de Tabasco



flauta de tres hoyos



tamboril, tamboril requinto


Orquesta típica


bandolón, guitar, salterio




snare drum


Flauta y Tamboril



flauta de tres hoyos



tambor de marco, tamborcito










Conjunto de Costa Chica






friction drum


Tamborileros del norte








Violín y tambora











ocarina, caracol, flauta de tres hoyos



huehuetl, tambor de u, kayum

teponaztli, ayoyotes, sonaja


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